/ 7 June 2013

Nonracialism must include all humanity

Nonracialism Must Include All Humanity

In “The roots of anti-Indian ­racism” (May 24), Andile Mngxi-tama acknowledges Neville Alexander’s contribution to the national question, but controversially asserts that “in his last years he seems to have ­abandoned his own thesis for a ­vulgar class analysis of the matter of identity”.

This is a repetition of an earlier theme. Previously in the Mail & Guardian, Mngxitama (“Biko bio-graphy found wanting”, October 5 2012), argued: “The ideological weaknesses of post-Biko black ­consciousness are deep. In part, they explain its demise and how people such as Neville Alexander played no small part in diverting black consciousness from race to class and bizarre notions of ‘scientific socialism’, which smothered the life out of a living idea.”

Mngxitama misrepresents Alexander’s ideas. Do the weaknesses of the Black Consciousness Movement not perhaps arise from the fact that we find ourselves in a different historical phase? Of course, anti-racism is for us a matter of principle, but the primacy of social class is indisputable in this post-apartheid juncture.

Surely, the black consciousness tendency can only remain radical if it connects ideologically with social class, otherwise the movement ends up as a caricature of Steve Biko’s radical ideas.

The fact is that the political elite in Southern Africa are “black” people who are co-managers of capital. The Marikana tragedy revealed that this ruling elite will act like any other. We should remind ourselves of the unforgettable words of Amílcar Cabral: “We do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people.”

In his book Thoughts on the New South Africa, published this year, Alexander expressed the view that the way forward for the Black Consciousness Movement lies in the Marxist debates about a “class-in-itself” versus a “class-for-itself”.

This provides a theoretical escape route from the postmodernist divisiveness of identity politics. In fact, the ideal of nonracialism – for which Alexander struggled very hard – represents a pivotal theme of the Enlightenment, in that it is inclusive of all of humanity. Indeed, the debate on “class-for-itself”, as expressed in Karl Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, can hardly be described as “vulgar” class analysis.

Nevertheless, it is pertinent to ask: Is black consciousness (or African nationalism) a manifestation of a class-in-itself? Perhaps the challenge for the left is to co-organise the Azanian working class into a class-for-itself. – Shaun Whittaker, Windhoek