12 October 2010

Mahmood Mamdani

African Revolutionary Writers, Part 7

Mahmood Mamdani

The Communist University will meet on Thursday 14 October 2010 at the University of Johannesburg Doornfontein Campus Library at 17h00.

This seventh part of our “African Revolutionary Writers Series” was supposed to have material from Bantu Stephen Biko’s “I Write What I Like”; Cheikh Anta Diop’s “Civilisation or Barbarism”; and Albert Memmi’s “Coloniser and Colonised”. Our course is in development. The last three weekly parts, still to come, are more complete.

What remains for this week is an extract from Mahmood Mamdani’s “Citizen and Subject” (downloadable extract linked below).

Like Issa Shivji and Walter Rodney, both of whom we will come to later, Professor Mamdani is a product of the famous Dar-es-Salaam campus. He is now head of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in his native Uganda, and previously served in many capacities including at Columbia University, New York, USA, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Note that Mamdani's sense of the word “subject” in this work is different and opposite from the usual communist one. Here it means a subordinate person, as opposed to a free person. It is typical of the English language that, just when you need certainty, it gives you ambiguity.

In the book, Mamdani’s principal insight is to recognise the class alliance typically sought by the Imperialists in neo-colonial Africa countries. According to Mamdani, the Imperialists prefer to ally with the most backward rural feudal elements, commonly called “traditional leaders” or “chiefs” in Africa, in opposition to the modernising bourgeoisie and proletariat of the cities and towns.

Mamdani regards South Africa as the classic case in this regard, although he quotes many other examples. Mamdani’s analysis stands in contrast with a common presumption, namely that the Imperialist monopoly-capitalists tend to work through “compradors”, who are local aspirant bourgeoisie, or bourgeoisie-for-rent, who do the Imperialists work for them.

Such compradors do exist, and clearly they exist in South Africa. Yet Mamdani’s scheme reflects the facts and history of Imperialism in Africa better, at least up to now. Imperialism is in general hostile to the national bourgeoisie. The typical neo-colonial war of recent decades, including the Iraq war, is a war of Imperialism against a national bourgeoisie that wants national sovereignty and control over its country’s national resources.

In the light of this analysis it becomes easier to see why it is that the South African proletariat has long been, via the ANC, in alliance with parts of its national bourgeoisie, for national liberation, against the monopoly-capitalist oppressors with their Imperial-globalist links.

The Imperialists make a marriage of convenience with the most retrogressive social power that they can find – tribalism – in a pact to hold Africa where it was under colonialism: partly rich, but mostly dirt poor. In South Africa the Imperialists relied heavily on Bantustan leaders and on the Inkatha Freedom Party, but the ANC was able to form better links with the rural as well as with the urban masses, thus achieving a class alliance that could and did dominate the country in terms of mass support. The (national) Bourgeois and Proletarians are the modernisers and the democrats, who are compelled by necessity to combine together to fight for the democracy that forms the nation.

Please download and read this text via the following link:


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