1 February 2011

A bridge for the poor?

Development, Part 3b

A bridge for the poor?

“Barking dogs and building bridges” is Lauren Royston’s subtle and patient demolition of the simplistic bourgeois platitudes of Hernando de Soto.

De Soto is a Peruvian and the author of a book called “The Mystery of Capital” published in 2000. He later visited South Africa. He was broadly advocating globalised capitalism, and claimed to have found a way of incorporating the poorest of the poor within a regulated, universal framework of property and economic practice.

Royston does not take a heavy axe to de Soto but recognises that he had achieved a remarkable propaganda success (by now, in 2010, largely forgotten) in a field where academics like herself and the advocacy groups “Leap” and “Afra”, among many others, had found themselves being ignored for years, or decades. Though they may have hated de Soto’s ideology, yet they were in some measure happy that de Soto had secured wide publicity for the “extra-legal” (i.e. outside the law) arrangements by which poor people manage their lives.

Royston’s scholarship takes us from Grahamstown, 1850, via the Glen Grey Act and parts of  KZN to Cosmo City, Phola Park and Thokoza, and to a firm understanding of the enduring empirical condition of South Africa’s petty-bourgeois and peasant poor.

In terms of this course on Development, this week’s several texts (and there is a fourth one to come, tomorrow) are intended to open us to a much more detailed and a much less vague understanding of our class allies.

The petty-bourgeoisie and the peasants are not “progressive”. Unlike the proletariat, they do not have a glorious future ahead of them. On the other hand, nor are they “Trojan horses” for the big bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie feeds off the small bourgeoisie in many ways, as Rosa Luxemburg could see. Yet, again, the petty-bourgeoisie and the peasantry share one great characteristic with the big bourgeoisie: they seek private wealth and property.

The petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry are the soil from which the big bourgeoisie (the big owners, the bankers, and the capitalist employers of thousands) have sprung. But they are also the soil from which the proletariat has sprung, but in the case of the latter, only because of utter dispossession – complete absence of property.

Looking at these classes very specifically, and with evidence of their nature in front of us, it becomes clear why, within the National Democratic Revolution, the proletariat is allied with the peasantry and/or the petty-bourgeoisie. They must be with us and not with our opponents.

Once again it becomes clear that development is class struggle. What can happen, and what does or does not happen, is determined by the competing class interests within the overall political economy of the country, as Royston points out.

Image: Cadastral overlay on a satellite image from an Internet site describing a recent first-time property survey of Bhutan, the world’s last remaining feudal state, presumably to assist the encroachment of banking and capitalistic property relations in that country.

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