28 February 2014

Aimé Césaire

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 7b

Aimé Césaire

In any research of African writers, the name of Aimé Césaire crops up constantly. He was one of the early ones, giving an example to others. Like Frantz Fanon, he was born on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean, and he taught Fanon when Fanon was a boy.

Like many other writers who are part of the African Revolutionary heritage, Aimé Césaire’s original writing is hard to find on the Internet. Thus the fact that his Discourse on Colonialism is available on the Internet is a great good fortune.

Whatever else, it is a wonderful piece of writing, and thoroughly class-conscious. For example, Césaire writes:

“It is a fact: the nation is a bourgeois phenomenon.”

This is a simple statement of a fact that dozens of other writers, who should have seen it, have failed to note.

Have a treat. Read Aimé Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism” now, for pleasure as much as for political profit. This is the Francophonie at its best.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 1955, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

27 February 2014

Cheikh Anta Diop

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 7a

Cheikh Anta Diop

Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese nuclear physicist, studied in Paris from 1946 until his return to Senegal in 1960.

In 1951 Diop submitted a thesis in which he argued, correctly, that ancient Egypt was African and not some other thing. After a struggle, he received a doctorate for this work in 1960.

The problem had been that among ancient civilisations, such as those of Mesopotamia, Persia, Mycenae and Greece, that of Egypt was by far the oldest. All of them could be treated as “white”, and racists did so. But in fact Egypt was clearly not “white” in any real sense. It was African, and closely related to black Africa, perhaps even more so then, than it is now.

With his insistence on the African-ness of Ancient Egypt, Diop triumphed. No doubt the prejudice remains, and especially outside of the realm of science it remains. But Diop’s work stands and will stand for ever more.

Diop wrote a number of books on African culture and civilization, of which “Civilisation or Barbarism” (1981) was the last full work published. Please download the extract from that book, linked below.

The extract has been chosen to represent Diop’s characteristic line of enquiry, and to show the respect that he had for philosophy, and for the necessity of philosophy.

But what is also clear from the book is that Diop was a scholar of Marxist literature. The title of the book is borrowed from Chapter Nine of Frederick Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”. This book is not separate from, but is a continuation of, Marxist scholarship. Cheikh Anta Diop was undoubtedly a revolutionary intellectual as well as a writer of Africa.

In Dakar, Senegal, there is an entire University named after Cheikh Anta Diop. In Yeoville, Johannesburg there is a school named after him. He is one of the legendary scholars of Africa.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilisation or Barbarism, 1981.

26 February 2014

Bantu Stephen Biko

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 7

Bantu Stephen Biko

A shocking proportion of the revolutionary writers whom we are featuring in this African Revolutionary Writers series were assassinated by the Imperialist enemy. These include Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral and Ruth First; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Patrice Lumumba; and still to come in the series, Huey Newton, Thomas Sankara, Walter Rodney and Muammar Gaddafi.

Steve Biko is another one of the revolutionary intellectuals who were cold-bloodedly killed by the guilty ones who could not bear the power of his words and the frankness of his accusations. We honour him, and are sure that he will always be honoured in South Africa and in the world.

Many books, films and songs have been made about Steve Biko. There is a Steve Biko Foundation, and a Steve Biko Memorial Lecture is given each year by a famous person.

According to the Steve Biko Foundation web site, Biko was “among a breed of African thinkers universally who include W.E.B. Dubois, Aime Cesaire, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Amilcar Cabral, Cheik Anta Diop, Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon, among others.” All of these are included in our African Revolutionary Writers series, and so is Steve Biko. But was Biko the same as these others, and even if so, was he different to others again who are not on the Steve Biko Foundation’s list, or even on ours?

In other words: Having honoured Biko, how do we read him critically? How do we place him? Biko’s present-day supporter, Xolela Mangcu, has recently called Biko “South Africa’s philosopher leader – but not philosopher king”. But if Steve Biko was a philosopher, he might have been expected to develop a comprehensive philosophical system, as Hegel or Kant did, for example. But Biko, whose famous, but short, collection of articles and speeches is called “I Write What I Like”, did not actually like to write much, and did not attempt to write a general philosophy, or any other kind of dedicated book-length work for that matter.

The amount of Biko’s writing that is available on the Internet appears to be limited to the main text linked below, which is a transcript of an interview that he did with the US scholar Gail Gerhart. In this interview, answering Gerhart’s question about the origins of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), Biko says:

“… others of course are much more avid readers than I am. They do a lot of reading, they do a lot of writing, interpretation, and so on. So that element has that kind of effect. What I'm saying is that it's a complementary effect upon a basic attitude formed primarily from experience, from an analysis of the situation as one sees it.”

Asked about PAC leader Robert Sobukwe, Biko says: “I have never heard him express an opinion about the details of the ideology, which makes him again a very admirable guy. Unlike ANC ranks and other ranks, his major concern is about continued opposition to the system… There's no more PAC, there's no more ANC; there's just the struggle. And this is the kind of ideology that they're talking.”

This looks as if what Biko had in mind was an ideology of no ideology, and a movement of activism without much writing.

Right at the end, Biko concludes:

“… the growth of the townships in the pattern that they are now growing makes communication also all that much easier. Communication not necessarily through shared platforms, shared meetings and so on, but communication of ideas through a shared, common stimulus. Because everybody has to stay in a specific area. I'm talking here mainly about the African population. If I go to Jo'burg I know automatically, I don't have to choose: I just have to go and stay in Soweto, whether I could afford a house in Lower Houghton or not.

“So this thing of talking for or on behalf of the masses is nonsense, because you live with them, you stay with them; you make your inputs primarily because you are there, and no physical distance or intellectual distance is ultimately created. A guy who's a priest or a teacher or something like this in an area is forced by circumstances to relate to the neighbors that society has created for him. He doesn't choose neighbors. So that he carves his place in that community. Alright, he might be regarded as a man of major import, primarily because he can put several words together much faster than anybody else, but the important thing is that even he himself sees himself as a member of that community. And in this whole conscientization program, this is what makes ideas so easily flow across amongst people; this common ghetto experience that blacks are subjected to.”

It’s difficult not to recognise, in this final passage, the preferred classlessness of the middle classes, which is a version of the very same liberalism (though in that case it was the white variety) that Biko rejected so emphatically in life, and explicitly in the earlier parts of this particular interview.

Ngugi wrote, of the early literature of African liberation: “Were there classes in Africa? No! cried the nationalist politician, and the writer seemed to echo him.” (The Writer in a Neo-Colonial State, 1986)

If the intellectual, as well as “a priest or a teacher”, or Xolela Mangcu or Julius Malema for that matter, or Fikile Mbalula the proponent of “vibrancy”; if all of these can take for granted that they are at one with the masses, with no “intellectual distance” from the masses, then the problem of the alienation of the intellectual is solved, the vanguard and the mass are one, and no special “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” will be required.

This is where the Communist University finds itself differing with the martyr Steve Biko, with all due respect to his memory. The problem of class is a real one - just as real as the problem of race. The problem of pedagogy is a real one. The nature of the vanguard is a problem, yes, but the vanguard is still a necessity. The nature of neo-colonialism, based on class, is a real problem.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Steve Biko, Interview with Gail Gerhart, 24 October 1972.

21 February 2014

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6c

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi the Academic

Ngugi’s (attached) essay “The Writer in a Neo-colonial State”, first published in 1986 in a publication called “The Black Scholar”, and subsequently as part of the 1993 book “Moving the Centre”, helps this project of ours considerably.

Ngugi taught at Nairobi University and later in the USA. As much as he is a novelist, he has also been an academic.

In this essay Ngugi takes a long look back over the period from the end of the Second World War, and divides it roughly into three - the fifties, the sixties, and the seventies; liberation struggle; victory and independence; and neo-colonialist reaction. He considers the way that the literature affected these passages of history, and was affected by them.

We have not used such a schema, nor did we start with the Second World War, but Ngugi’s overview does chime in with our series to an extent. Clearly, in nearly all the countries of Africa, neo-colonialism has taken hold, and maintained its grip. Ngugi problematised it in his way, and so have we, in our way.

In 2011, a quarter of a century after Ngugi’s essay was written, an African country – Libya – was attacked by the imperialists with full-scale military force, bombed, shelled, rocketed and invaded. Libya was the first country in Africa to become independent after the world wars, and it was the only one to have achieved parity, in its general standard of living, with the European countries on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea from Africa.

Now Libya is being catastrophically underdeveloped. Neo-colonialism is still with us but now armed, brutal, direct, naked colonialism is back, as well.

There is an immense amount of wisdom in Ngugi’s essay. Do, please, read it.

Ngugi concludes: “as the struggle continues and intensifies, the lot of the writer in a neo-colonial state will become harder and not easier.”

This is our lot. For as much as heroes have gone before, and for as much as the written record is priceless and indispensable, yet we who remain will have to do it all again, and in conditions of even greater difficulty. We have no right to expect less, or to expect less of ourselves.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, The Writer in a Neo-colonial State, 1993.

Alex La Guma

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6b

Alex La Guma

Among the revolutionary writers of Africa, the South African novelist Alex La Guma started relatively early. He was only two years younger than Ousmane Sembène (and he died 22 years before Sembène).

The attached document contains two chapters from La Guma’s 1972 book “In the Fog of the Season's End”. Clearly it is a struggle novel: tough, realistic and committed.

Alex La Guma’s works included A Walk in the Night and Other Stories, (1962), And a Threefold Cord (1964), The Stone-Country (1967), In the Fog of the Season's End (1972), A Soviet Journey (1978), Time of the Butcherbird (1979).

Alex La Guma was the son of the outstanding South African revolutionary James La Guma, a member of the Communist Party of South Africa from the year that his son Alex was born – 1925.

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of work like this in the liberation struggle. It is work that leaves no doubt. The reader is compelled. As much as, or more than, the propaganda output of the liberation movement, the communist parties, and the anti-apartheid solidarity movements in the world, novels such as these planted an anchor for the struggle that could not be shifted.

These books need to be read; and new books need to be written, songs sung, pictures painted, et cetera, et cetera, to anchor the struggle again in such a way that it cannot be doubted. This is what Alex La Guma, among other novelists, did. He anchored the revolution in the hearts of the people.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Alex La Guma, In the Fog of the Season’s End, extract, 1972.

20 February 2014

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6a

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi the Novelist

The attached document is the final Chapter of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s great novel, “Petals of Blood”.

Like Ousmane Sembène’s masterpiece, “God’s Bits of Wood”, “Petals of Blood” is a novel of struggle, with many characters. The last chapter debriefs the main characters, one by one.

“God’s Bits of Wood” was set in the past. “Petals of Blood” imagines a future, or a sequel to independence, a kind of “development”, in various senses of the word. The imaginary new town of “Ilmorog” becomes a patchwork, or a concretisation, of different elements of Kenya life in the time of neo-colonialism.

Ngugi was detained without trial in 1977 for a year. Even in his fictional work it is clear that Ngugi is a committed revolutionary, with quite a thorough grasp of revolutionary theory.

This is one of many books of Ngugi’s, and Ngugi is one of many African writers. Those who were relatively more artistic and less politically organised have also been a strong part of the liberation movement.

In this series of ours, Eduardo Mondlane’s writing has already shown how significant have been the artistic productions in the anti-colonial struggles.

In the neo-colonial anti-imperialist struggle the artists are equally as crucial, and perhaps, as writers, they are under even greater pressure.

A new generation of anti-imperialist artists and writers is now needed.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Petals of Blood, extract, 1977.

19 February 2014

Ousmane Sembène

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 6

Ousmane Sembène

The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when the majority of African former colonies regained their national sovereignty, were also the boom years for the paperback book-publishing business worldwide.

Companies such as Penguin Books and Heinemann popularised many African authors in English or in English translation during this time.

Ousmane Sembène’s 1960 “God’s Bits of Wood”, written in French and first published only 15 years after the end of the anti-fascist world war, has an outstanding place in the history of the African revolutionary novel. The download linked below contains characteristic extracts from the novel.

As you will see later in this course, Ngugi wa Thiong’o mentioned “God’s Bits of Wood” in the final chapter of his great novel “Petals of Blood”, and also in his famous critical essay “The Writer in a Neo-colonial State”.

The novel is about a strike among railway workers on the line between Dakar, Senegal, and Bamako, Mali, in the time of the French colonial empire, and based on a real strike that took place in 1947. It is a wonderful story, full of characterisation, events and atmosphere, and optimistic, full of hope. Large parts of “God’s Bits of Wood”can be read on Google Books.

Ousmane Sembène was also an outstanding film-maker. According to his Wikipedia entry, “he realized that his written works would only be read by a small cultural elite in his native land. He therefore decided at age 40 to become a film maker, in order to reach wider African audiences.” For similar reasons, Ngugi was later to return to writing in his native language, Kikuyu.

Ousmane Sembène died in his eighties, in 2007.

Did the African writers create a “genre”? At least one could say that they were typically open and keen to portray life and personalities as they were. They represented a revolutionary, generally optimistic (but sometimes tinged with disillusion) popular imagination that was widespread in those years, at least among African intellectuals. One of the highlights of those years was “FESTAC”, The Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture, held in Nigeria in 1977, where the young Fela Kuti played, among others.

Is there continuity today? No. It is not the same today. Culture is now more “globalised”, as a result of a reactionary, neo-liberal offensive. The paperback book does not have the same high place in popular culture as it did in the past. The sense of a general African anti-Imperialist popular cultural wave has lost some of its momentum, for the time being.

But we are working on the problems! And Ousmane Sembène’s masterpiece, “God’s Bits of Wood”, remains an inspiration to us.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Ousmane Sembène, God’s Bits of Wood, extracts, 1960.

15 February 2014

Comrade Mzala

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5c

Comrade Mzala

“Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot” (attached) by Comrade Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo) was written in 1985, the year of the ANC’s Kabwe (Zambia) conference.  

It is our final item in Part 5 of the African Revolutionary Writers series.

Sixteen years after the Morogoro conference, and nine years after the 1976 events in which Mzala himself took part, victory was clearly certain, yet the path still had to be understood and pressed forward with determination and vigour.

What Mzala shows, and this is even more clear when taken together with the writings of Moses Kotane, Govan Mbeki and Oliver Tambo that we have used in this series, is that the armed struggle initiated on 16 December 1961 was crucial.

Any criticism of the armed struggle as such, whether it concentrates on MK or on any particular operations, misses the point that is made crystal clear by Mzala. The rice was always going to be cooked inside the pot, i.e. inside the country. The armed struggle was the way back to the “pot”. Both by example as well as by direct contact, the adoption of armed struggle by the ANC (which was also a turning away from “passive resistance”) was essential. If there had been contradiction between the liberation movement and the popular masses on this point, it could have been disastrous.

The point is made very strongly when Mzala quotes Che Guevara thus: “…guerrilla warfare is war by the entire people against the reigning oppression. The guerrilla movement is their armed vanguard; the guerrilla army comprises all the people of a region or country.”

Mzala even finds support for his argument from a “racist general”, writing in the Johannesburg “Star” in 1973, saying: “The objective for both sides in a revolutionary war is the population itself . . . military tactics and hardware are all well and good, but they are really quite useless if the government has lost the confidence of the people among whom it is fighting.”

Mzala, writing in anticipation of victory, is careful to note that the popular masses cannot be taken for granted, illustrating this caution by reference to the Spanish experience.

But for us, now looking at the armed struggle in retrospect, this text is a powerful reminder of its crucial necessity and the central part that it has played in South Africa’s liberation, to date.

Comrade Mzala was the author of the book “Gatsha Buthelezi - Chief with a Double Agenda”, published by Zed Books in 1988. An account of the attempted suppression of that book in South Africa from 1991 can be downloaded here (556 KB PDF).

There is a short biography of Jabulani Nxumalo on the SACP web site here, and an obituary written shortly after his death by Brian Bunting, here.

The Communist University’s “Mzala” archive is here.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Jabulani Nxumalo (Comrade Mzala) Cooking the Rice Inside the Pot, 1985.

14 February 2014

Oliver Tambo

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5b

Oliver Tambo

This thoroughly confident speech of O R Tambo’s in December 1969 (attached) was made not long after the ANC’s Conference in May of that year that had adopted the famous Strategy and Tactics document.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, an equal or greater set-back had been the arrest of the top revolutionary leadership at Lilieasleaf Farm, Rivonia, Johannesburg on 11th July 1963, including Govan Mbeki who featured here yesterday.

The 1960s, we can see now, were far from being an interlude. What was laid down in those years is what was going to come to pass. That meant, in Tambo’s words, that “the enemy is headed for inevitable and ignominious defeat.”

The speech was broadcast on the anniversary of the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the “new national army” as Tambo called it.

Tambo’s typically broad historical sweep, in this short speech, includes an acknowledgement of PAIGC, the revolutionary liberation movement led at the time at the time by another in this series, Amilcar Cabral, which was about to achieve a stunning victory.

The unbanning of the ANC and the return of Tambo to South Africa were not achieved until more than twenty years later. Yet it is easy to see why the ANC used to say in those years: “Victory is Certain!”

In the next and last item in this fifth part of our African Revolutionary Writers series we will see, through the eyes of Comrade Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo), how the theory and practice of armed and political struggle drew inexorably towards its goal.

These four pieces of writing from “Africa’s Oldest Liberation Movement”, taken together, should leave no doubt as to the systematic and deliberate nature of the ANC’s project, and the all-round exemplary way in which it has been carried out, to date.

You can read more of O R Tambo’s speeches here.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Oliver Tambo, Broadcast on the 8th Anniversary of Umkhonto we Sizwe, 1969.

13 February 2014

Govan Mbeki

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5a

Govan Mbeki

The main item today is Chapter 7, “The New Offensive: The ANC after 1949”, from “The Struggle for Liberation in South Africa” by Govan Mbeki, published in 1992 (attached).

Right at the beginning of this chapter Mbeki recalls the joint ANC/CPSA protest against the Suppression of Communism Act on May Day 1950, and the massacre of 18 people on that day by the National Party regime that had come to power in 1948. This is something South Africans should always remember on the May Day holiday each year.

Consequent to this massacre, 26 June 1950 was observed with a stay-away as Freedom Day. Freedom Day was observed again when the Defiance of Unjust Laws campaign was launched in 1952 and again in 1955 when the Freedom Charter was adopted on that date at the Congress of the People in Kliptown.

Note that 26 June, our original Freedom Day, having to do with the protests against the banning of the Communist Party - is not a Public Holiday in South Africa. 24 September was made a public “Heritage Day” holiday at the insistence of the Inkatha Freedom Party (see here).

Govan Mbeki concludes this chapter with a very good section on the “Africanists”, in terms of events in which he himself, as he records, was involved in a major capacity. The first occasion was when the Africanists tried to hi-jack the ANC leadership from the Treason Trialists, taking advantage of the fact that they were locked up.

“Black exclusivism,” says Mbeki, “presents a misguided solution”.

“What has characterised all groups that claimed to be opposed to government policies - groups that either broke away from the ANC like the PAC, or others like the Liberal Party, Unity Movement (NEUM), Inkatha and Black Consciousness Movement - has been that instead of opposing the government directly, they have mounted campaigns aimed at thwarting those initiated by the ANC,” writes Mbeki, and proceeds to tell the whole Sharpeville story, when 69 people were shot, fifty years ago, on 21 March 1960; and then he relates the immediate aftermath.

“At a meeting of the joint executives of the Congress Alliance in June 1961, the situation was reviewed and a decision was taken that in all future stay-at-homes, the possibility of the use of force could not be excluded,” writes Mbeki

To read Govan Mbeki’s book on-line, click here.

The question of armed struggle was settled by the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe on 16 December of that year, 1961.  In tomorrow’s item we will see how O R Tambo, as the President-General of the ANC, reflected upon all this heritage in 1969, which was also the year of the ANC’s Morogoro Conference, where the original “Strategy and Tactics” document was adopted.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Govan Mbeki, The Struggle for Liberation in South Africa, 1992, Chapter 7.

12 February 2014

Moses Kotane

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 5

Moses Kotane

The African National Congress of South Africa is sometimes called “Africa’s Oldest Liberation Movement”. In this limited series we are not attempting a comprehensive sampling of the abundant South African Revolutionary writing. But in this part we will look at four South African revolutionary writers, together.

Starting with Moses Kotane, we go on to Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo and “Comrade Mzala” (Jabulani Nxumalo). The first is a letter, the next is a book chapter, the third a radio broadcast script, or transcript, and the fourth is an article for the ANC publication “Sechaba”.

It is a mistake to think that Kotane’s famous “Cradock Letter” (download linked below) was the origin of the Africanisation of the Communist Party of South Africa. The well-known Black Republic Thesis, imposed on the South African Party by the Comintern, was far earlier in time (1927-1928). From soon after its founding in 1921 the CPSA had been a majority-black Party, though this was not always reflected in the top leadership, and especially not in the beginning.

But Kotane’s plain and direct 1934 letter does perhaps mark a real turning point because of the impact that it had, and because of the consequences. Kotane became General Secretary of the Party in 1939, and then of the SACP, and remained in that office until his death in 1978. He was also Treasure-General of the ANC for several years.

Kotane worked hard to make the Alliance between the Party and the ANC a solid and permanent one, and his name is historically associated with the Party’s approach to the National Question, which has been so influential in South African history up to the present time.

Here is Kotane’s even shorter summary of his short letter from Cradock:

“My first suggestion is that the Party become more Africanised or Afrikanised, that the CPSA must pay special attention to S Africa, study the conditions in this country and concretise the demands of the toiling masses from first hand information, that we must speak the language of the Native masses and must know their demands. That while it must not lose its international allegiance, the Party must be Bolshevised, become South African not only theoretically, but in reality, it should be a Party working in the interests and for the toiling people in S Africa and not a party of a group of Europeans who are merely interested in European affairs.”

The book from which this text was taken (“South African Communists Speak”1981) gives the following note below the “Cradock Letter”:

“The Independent African National Congress (Cape) had been formed in 1931 by Elliot Tonjeni and other left-wing members who had been driven out of the Cape ANC by the dictatorial action of the chairman ‘Professor' Thaele. Tonjeni had been banished to the Eastern Cape by Justice Minister Pirow, and the Independent ANC drew most of its support from country branches in the region.”

Taken all together, the four pieces of writing in this part should provide a good outline of South African revolutionary history, and a good sampling of the South African revolutionary writing style.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Moses Kotane, ‘Cradock Letter’ to Johannesburg District Committee, 1934.

11 February 2014

Ruth First

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4c

Ruth First

Ruth First was a revolutionary leader, in her own right, of the Young Communist League of South Africa, of the Communist Party of South Africa before it was banned in 1950, of the Congress of Democrats, in all the campaigns of the 1950s, and in the clandestine South African Communist Party, before and after being forced into exile in the 1960s.

Ruth First was a lifelong militant of South Africa’s liberation movement, and a martyr to its cause.

But also, Ruth First wrote seriously and profoundly about other countries than her own, and about the African countries in general from the point of view of a scholar, teacher and journalist.

Aquino de Bragança, the Director of the Centre of African Studies where Ruth First had been co-Director at the time she was slain by the South African bomb, wrote after her death of “her personal struggle to unite political militancy and intellectual work”. It is clear that she excelled in both ways.

Revolutionary leaders need to be readers, and also to be writers. Ruth First’s work shows why.

Of the two attached and linked items, the chapter from Ruth First’s book “Black Gold” called “Workers or Peasants?” is the one that relates to Mozambique. Ruth First’s work in other countries was not unrelated to the South African struggle. This particular summary reveals in a way that becomes shocking, the awful effect of South Africa’s predatory relationship with Mozambique on that country as a whole, and on the migrant labourers and their families in particular.

Ruth First draws some conclusions, which might at this stage be challenged, concerning the co-operatisation of rural Mozambique as a component of socialism, or more broadly, of “development”.

It might be that a better course of action would have been to simply guarantee a market to the peasants, and then to let them organise themselves within that secure market environment, whether through co-operatives or in diverse other ways. In other words, there may have been more than the two ways to go that Ruth First describes in her concluding paragraphs. Read the piece to see what is meant here.

In the chapter, “The Limits of Nationalism”, from Ruth First’s book on Libya, what is described most clearly is the class dynamic of a state that rests upon the support of the petty bourgeoisie (or “petite bourgeoisie” as First tends to call it). This is a class that typically expanded very quickly after the independence of African countries, First says. It is a class that wants to do everything according to its spontaneous, common-sense bourgeois lights. First describes how in Libya, previously existing organisations were disbanded, to be replaced by new ones created from the top down.

There are aspects of this very fine piece of writing that may apply to South Africa today, and which also to some extent explain both the strength and the weakness of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya of the late Muammar Gaddafi, still in evidence today after the intervention and bombing of Libya by NATO, the sword of the “international community” (Imperialism).

Other books by Ruth First include “South West Africa”, 1963; “117 Days”, 1965; “The Barrel of a Gun: political power in Africa and the coup d'état”, 1970; “Portugal's Wars in Africa”, 1971; “The South African Connection”, 1972 (with Jonathan Steele and Christabel Gurney); and “Olive Schreiner”, 1980 (with Ann Scott). Earlier, Ruth First had worked for the Guardian/New Age, under the editorship of Brian Bunting.

Ruth First’s own archive of her work is available for viewing on microfilm at the Historical Papers Archive, located in the William Cullen Library at Wits University, Johannesburg. The web site of this public institution is at http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Ruth First, Workers or Peasants? 1983, and Ruth First, Libya - the Elusive Revolution, 1974.

10 February 2014

Agostinho Neto

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4b

Agostinho Neto

Agostinho Neto, the first President of MPLA, and the first President of the independent republic of Angola, was a great writer - a poet - as well as a great revolutionary leader.

The attached document, also linked below, is as good an example as could be found of how, through radio, speech, and eventually through the translation and compilation of the same into a pamphlet by the solidarity movement, the kinds of words which held the liberation movement together, and also publicised it, were made and multiplied.

Now, in 2014, it may be thought that the propagation of such words was easy in those days, or automatic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The liberation movements were outsiders. Their supporters in other countries, whom Neto here mentions and acknowledges, were few, and were not in the “mainstream”. The countries which now parade as “the international community”, as “NATO”, the “ICC”, and in other guises - in other words the governments of the metropolitan Imperialist countries - in those days were solidly and quite openly supporting colonialism. Portugal, for example, was then (and has never since ceased to be) a conspicuous member of NATO, which is actually the armed wing of imperialism.

In these particular writings Neto does not, as the writings of Mondlane and Cabral that we have quoted did, reflect explicitly on the place of intellectual work in the national democratic revolution.

Instead, this set of three items, presented together as a pamphlet, directly exemplifies such intellectual work in practice.

It is hard not to be moved by these words even after the passage of more than 40 years. They still have the immediacy and the urgency that they had when they were spoken by Agostinho Neto and when they were heard by the three different audiences to which they were addressed.

These words carry truths and lessons that still need to be learned, and re-learned.

In a different mood, some of Agostinho Neto’s poems, translated into English, can be read if you click here.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Agostinho Neto, Messages to Companions in the Struggle, 1972, Part 1, and Part 2.

08 February 2014

Amilcar Cabral

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 4a

Amilcar Cabral

The text for this week (attached) is Amilcar Cabral’s speech on National Liberation and Culture. This speech was originally delivered on February 20, 1970, as part of the Eduardo Mondlane Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. That is more than forty years ago, yet the speech is as fresh and as relevant as if it had been written yesterday, and based on appraisal of our present circumstances.

Foreign domination

“can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned,” wrote Cabral. Attempted assimilation is “a more or less violent attempt to deny the culture of the people in question.” It does not work. In fact there are no ways in which the coloniser can succeed.

“…it is generally within the culture that we find the seed of opposition, which leads to the structuring and development of the liberation movement,” says Cabral.

“…national liberation takes place when, and only when, national productive forces are completely free of all kinds of foreign domination. The liberation of productive forces and consequently the ability to determine the mode of production most appropriate to the evolution of the liberated people necessarily opens up new prospects for the cultural development of the society in question, by returning to that society all its capacity to create progress,” says Cabral.

Cabral develops the idea that “…we must take into account the fact that, faced with the prospect of political independence, the ambition and opportunism from which the liberation movement generally suffers may bring into the struggle unconverted individuals. The latter, on the basis of their level of schooling, their scientific or technical knowledge, but without losing any of their social class biases, may attain the highest positions in the liberation movement,” he warns.

Cabral concludes

“…the liberation struggle is, above all, a struggle both for the preservation and survival of the cultural values of the people and for the harmonization and development of these values within a national framework.”

In Portuguese: A luta continua!

Cabral’s “The Weapon of Theory” was used in the introductory part of this course.

The importance that this outstanding revolutionary Amilcar Cabral placed on cultural and intellectual output is plain to see. The Mozambican scholar Aquino de Bragança, colleague of another intellectual (and like Cabral, martyr) Ruth First, called intellectual work “an instrument of the revolution”. It is the ground upon which the revolution stands.

Aquino de Bragança was himself killed in the 19 October 1986 air crash in which President Samora Machel also died, thirteen years after the murder of Amilcar Cabral.

We are not yet safe enough to think that the killing of political intellectuals and political cadres is a thing of the past, or that attempts at “organized repression of the cultural life of the people” have ceased.

At least 13 of our revolutionary writers were violently killed. One of them was killed since the course was first given, and now.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Amilcar Cabral, National Liberation and Culture, 1970.