16 October 2007

From The Sublime To The Gorblimey

Although Marx and Lenin both had a well-developed sense of the ridiculous, it is but seldom in the revolutionary literature that jocularity is held to be the necessary revolutionary quality that it surely must be, if only because proletarian revolution aims at the recovery of humanity in full.

Joe Slovo did once say that a sense of humour was required if people were to hope to be able to understand dialectics. SACP GS Dr Blade Nzimande and his Deputy Jeremy Cronin prefer to lead by example. Each is quick to exploit any opportunity for mirth.

Mirth, like other aspects of humanity such as love, for example, is not yet class-exclusive. For that we should be extremely grateful, and feel free to enjoy the jokes of the bourgeoisie as much as any others.

Anthony Butler is an academic at UCT. He publishes a regular column in the Johannesburg Business Day that often brings a smile to the faces of his friends and his opponents alike. See the one linked below. It can serve as our “codification” for today.

Butler’s generous consideration also extends to the sorrows of exile, which he recognises as “desperate” and “agonising”, unlike other commentators who have tried to depict exile as something easy and not oppressive. Yet still he contrives to separate exiles from others, as if none of the exiles had any prior history of action inside the country under the old regime. Whereas in most cases their exile was the direct consequence of such action, and this sequence of action and exile did not stop, but went on into the 1990s. Many are the individuals who were active inside the country, were then imprisoned (some on Robben Island) and only after that went into exile. Jacob Zuma is one such individual.

From singling out the exiles, Butler moves to singling out the communists. By this point good humour has vanished and been replaced by unpleasant fantasy, in which things are freely represented as their opposites. His purpose is to misrepresent the idea of the vanguard party of service by making it out as a grotesque “monopoly of wisdom about the character of social and political change, and an obligation to act on behalf of the masses in the light of this superior insight”.

By falsifying the relationship between vanguard and mass, Butler is looking for a “triple whammy”. First he wants to traduce the SACP. Second, he wants to tar the ANC with the same brush. And third, he wants to hide his own unsatisfactory relationship with the masses, by accusing others. Because it is he, Butler, the bourgeois academic, who is elitist, prescriptive, condescending, and usurping. The evidence is right there in his writing. Yes, he is affable, observant and smart, but he is also a snob and a hypocrite. It is he, and not the Party, who is really claiming “entitlement to command” and “monopoly of wisdom”, while seeming to preach against these things.

It would be nice if Butler could consider the possibility that his position in relation to the masses, and that of the vanguard Party, should not essentially be different. If Butler, or the Party, are going to have an honest and legitimate relationship with the masses, it will only be in a relationship of service to the masses. That service would be, precisely, to develop “a scientific understanding of history” and to put that understanding at the disposal of the masses.

The vanguard is a servant and not a master. To instead speak of an “obligation to act on behalf of the masses” is to describe a great revolutionary sin, sometimes known as “substitutionism”. This sin undoubtedly can exist. It does exist among the Robespierrean petit-bourgeoisie. But to say that such a common (bourgeois) delusion is authored by the Party is a vile lie.

The organisation-building work of the Party in South Africa over the last nine decades, including the building of an autonomous ANC and an autonomous COSATU, is incontrovertible testimony of its proper understanding of the mass-vanguard relationship. A constant battle has been fought against “substitutionism”. This battle still continues. Butler should open his eyes. The picture above is of Lenin, who described the mass-vanguard relationship very well in his book “
What is to be done?”.

We meet tonight in the SACP Boardroom, 3rd floor, COSATU House, 1 Leyds Street, Braamfontein, at 17h00. The topic/”codification” is the abridged COSATU CC resolutions.

Click on this link:

Behind Mbeki’s bid to hang on, Butler, B Day (952 words)


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