21 September 2009

Peasants’ Revolt

[CU for Wednesday, 23 September 2009]

The National Democratic Revolution is based upon a clear understanding of objective, dynamic class politics, and it proceeds from a class alliance against the oppressor class, towards the fullest possible democracy. There is an interrelationship between the underlying class realities, and the subjective organisational politics of democracy. In these posts, we have tended either to concentrate upon one side of this dialectical relationship, or the other.

The previous two parts of this series have been about the organisation and mobilisation of the NDR in the 1940s and 1950s. This part is more about objective class realities, or in other words, about Political Economy. The following one will be about organised politics again, and then the final two parts will be of a more synthetic nature, dealing with both subject and object together.

Looking forward, the last revolutionary confrontation is bound to be between the big bourgeoisie and its gravedigger, the proletariat that it must constantly bring into being. Yet it is far from the case that in the present time all other classes have died out in South Africa.

Class alliance is essential for the isolation and defeat of the oppressor, to deny the oppressor the comfort of support, and to prevent the oppressor from isolating and defeating the working class. The politics of class alliance were practiced in Karl Marx’s time; before that, in the Great French Revolution; and afterwards in the Russian and the Chinese Revolutions, to name but two out of many. The hammer-and-sickle emblem of our party signifies class alliance between workers and peasants.

In order for a class alliance to be possible, the other classes must also be somewhat class conscious, as well as the working class. They may have to be assisted by the working class, and by the intellectual partisans of the working class, ourselves, the Party. Yet there is rather little in the way of class-conscious literature about South Africa’s large petty-bourgeois class, who are for the most part poor people; and little of a directly political nature about the agricultural petty-bourgeoisie, who are the peasantry; or about the oppressors of the rural petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry, who are South Africa’s bureaucratised feudal class.

The classic exception to this intellectual famine is communist journalist and Rivonia trialist Govan Mbeki’s “Peasants’ Revolt”, published in 1964 (see the link below). Works such as “Landmarked”, by Cherryl Walker (Jacana, 2008) tell us that the huge misery of rural displacement and impoverishment has still neither been ameliorated nor turned in a sufficiently positive direction.

Dar-es-Salaam-trained intellectual Mahmood Mamdani’s 1996 book “Citizen and Subject” brings more facts and insights about peasants and workers. The chapter linked below is the book’s summing-up. Note that Mamdani's sense of the word “subject” is different and opposite from the normal, communist one. Here it means a subordinate person, and not a free person.

Lastly, and because of the pitifully small literature devoted to the petty bourgeoisie, we go to France in the 1950s for an account of the phenomenon of “Poujadism”. This was a petty-bourgeois uprising that allied itself, in its beginning and at local level, with the communists, until it degenerated towards near-fascism. In their relations with the intermediate classes, history shows that the communists must proceed with great care and not lose concentration; but also that these classes are real and can potentially have a self-conscious beneficial development. The account is written from a somewhat sectarian point of view.

[Pictures: Pondoland Revolt, taken by Eli Weinberg; Govan Mbeki]

Click on these links:

Peasants' Revolt, C8, Chiefs in the Saddle, Govan Mbeki (5708 words)

Citizen & Subject, C8, Linking the Urban and the Rural, Mamdani (7236 words)

The case-history of Poujadisme, Foster (1714 words)


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