Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Understanding what Julius Malema means for South Africa

You may feel the current imbroglio over discipline serves the ANC right. The party has only itself to blame for Julius Malema. He is the product of its heady promise of a ‘revolution', but is somewhat out of favour with the leadership at the moment because he is doing things that could actually bring revolution about.

After the alarming upheavals across Africa recently, Mr Malema cannot be indulged anymore. Socialism was ruled out as a system post apartheid, if indeed it was ever in the ANC's plan: different interests can read the Freedom Charter as for and against. What has counted since 1994 is that SA settles down to earn a living in a capitalist world and that ANC loyalists are well provided for in the mixed economy they preside over.

Mr Malema does not understand or care about such compromises. As a young man with nothing to lose and much to gain, he can easily rock the overloaded ANC boat - and in what is euphemistically called SA's ‘party-dominant democracy' that imperils the entire ship of state. If it's not socialist revolution, what other kind of revolution could Mr Malema intend - or, horror of horrors, unwittingly unleash? That is the question.

Many are suspicious he is the champion of people whose lives he visibly does not share. In everyday language, they cannot understand how he can be a ‘communist' and a commonplace capitalist at the same time. Not that people are lost for words. They can explain how he contrives to speak for the poorest of the poor when his personal preferences are clearly for the richest of the rich. They can interpret the expensive cars, watch and whisky, the veiled threats and menaces against ‘whites': Mr Malema is a hypocrite, a populist, a demagogue - are three of the more polite ways his opponents put it.

That still leaves a political explanation outstanding. Can Karl Marx in any way go hand in hand with what some openly call Mr Malema's fascism?

Before venturing a view on that very sensitive subject, let something be absolutely clear. Nothing is more mistaken than to lift experiences from other places and times and suggest they necessarily or even might follow here and now. History is not a set of laws or the moral tale it is often said to tell. It is a hugely complicated and constantly changing passage of interacting events that, with study, can leave you a tiny bit less than totally ignorant of the human predicament. That is all.

In that light, we can agree Marxism springs from the highest ideals of humanity - the community of all, internationalism and peace - and that fascism is not an ideology in any sense. Fascism is a politics of coercion which, if it entails anything besides verbal and physical violence, promotes extreme nationalism cultivated through a fervent nativism shading into racism, with all three being embodied in a messianic leader ready to be martyred for the sake of ‘the people'. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.

However, such theoretical differences have always had a way of vanishing in practice. Certainly in Europe communism and fascism were implacable enemies: their street brawls in Germany after World War I finally ended in the World War II fight to the death between Comrade Stalin's USSR and Herr Hitler's Third Reich. But in both cases, the revolutionary party-state had extinguished civil liberties much earlier. The difference in reality was only between a dictatorship of the proletariat and a dictatorship of the Volk.

Outside Europe, communism readily teamed up with new and growing national feelings. In China in the early 1920s and in the long war against Japan, communists and nationalists were on the same side. Later the two worked together to end French rule in Indo-China and to replace the corrupt regime in Cuba; in SA the story was the same. Nativism-nationalism fought to free lands from colonial rule; communism fought to free peoples from capitalism. Both marked out the imperial west, and its apparently hypocritical democratic values, as the permanent enemy and threat.

Julius Malema plays with a complex inheritance: African and European; white and black; cultural and universal. Imperialism, Marxism, democratic centralism, fascism, all driven by a crusading zeal to dominate, hold out deceptive ends. Whether the intrusive former youth leader means good or ill for SA, we must decide. He cannot tell us when he cannot tell the outcome himself.


Bert said...

Paul, I don't think, from what I have read of Malema's utterances, that he knows which ideological position he really represents - I believe that you are right about him preaching a 'communism' of sorts, while living the bling life of a capitalist. As far as the Lonmin episode is concerned, however, I would not prematurely condemn the miners (supported by Malema for his own anti-Zuma ends), but wait until the circumstances surrounding the strike have been exposed, because I have a nasty suspicion that the miners have a good case about Lonmin exploiting their labour. If it is true that their pay averaged R4000 a month, they have a legitimate claim, namely that one cannot exist on that.

Bruce Cooper said...

I believe Malema's aim is quite simple - the acquisition of lucre.

The man has no moral or ideological reference and will use whatever populist tool is at hand to serve his self-enriching ends.

Broadly speaking, he is your typical African tyrant in the making.

Bruce Cooper

Anonymous said...

I think it all depend on which side you are speaking to , if you are black South African exploited by monopoly capital or have no land you will understand that SA democracy mean nothing to us . It is not an ideological but a moral issue, our people are cramped in squatter camps with no basic services, they get killed for demanding a living wage,considering all this things one would conclude that our is not a proper democracy,solution is necessary to correct the ills of oppression.

Paul Whelan said...

Anonymous, You are right and it is of course a moral issue. But it is also an 'ideological' issue in the sense that one has to weigh the different solutions that are proposed and decide which may work or not. Ours is not in my view a 'proper democracy', as you say. But finding the right solution to that problem is the task.

Anonymous said...

I understand where you are all coming from. As a middle class black South African its very stressfull fo me to watch my fellow blacks suffering like this in this land of milk and honey but honey for the rich only. Sharing is not a sin. I m prepared to loose evrything though I'm not rich for the sake of the majoritu SAfrican benefitting. Majority of us blacks support what Malema stands for. I'm prepared to sacrifice evrything for the majrity poor people benefiting.

Paul Whelan said...

Anonymous - All I would say is that it is not called for, or even necessary, that you should give up everything, kind though that is. There should be justice for all and we must work towards that as an ideal. I do not believe we get there by overthrowing everything and starting again. Let us move together from where we are, here.

Waxingwenyana said...

I can not understand why should other people blame EFF for proposing the nationalisetion of the mines and institutions like banks,and also the redistributing of Land back to its rightfull owners.blacks does not own any piece of land outside Africa,we can not even allowed to own a big institution outside Africa.what we want is not in europe,what we want is not in america,but what we want is here in South Africa.

Anonymous said...

We must understand people malema is not fighting against whites,what malema stand for is the freedom of economy to all south africans more axpecialy to black people because we are the majority of this country.and we are the most safaring in this land of our grendparents parents.Nationalization,taking the land without compernsation is the most powerful weaporn that we should carry to fight the poverty to the people of their land

Anonymous said...

This revolution is not malema's..we are clear us poor people of this Country ,we want our land back , we are tired of capitalism and am glad malema share my sentiments. Am angry at the system when I look at the poor black people and look at rich whites . Your comments make me sick and my wound cut deeper .ANC is white party protecting their interests at our expense.

Papalima said...

It appears if there are a plenty people craving for a civil war, by taking/expropriating anything they wish without compensation. Well, if this is what they want, this is what they will get.