Posts Tagged ‘inequality’

Exposing and Defeating the Fascist Creep

April 7, 2017

Fascist Creep

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission. Originally published on 7 April 2017

In light of the fact that Donald Trump is president, and that his consigliere Steve Bannon has publicly expressed a favorable view of the Italian fascist and SS enthusiast Julius Evola; considering the possibility that the neofascist Marine Le Pen’s Front National could win the 2017 elections in France; and given the explosive violence targeting Muslims, Jews and people of color in the US since Trump’s election, the time is certainly right to read and widely discuss Alexander Reid Ross’s new book, Against the Fascist Creep (AK Press, 2017).

As the title suggests, Reid Ross is concerned here with the “fascist creep,” which is related to the idea of the “fascist drift,” or the disturbing attraction many 20th-century leftists felt for this new reactionary ideology. Fascists reject mainstream conservatism as decrepit and corrupt (see the contemporary alt-right’s repudiation of the GOP), and while they violently oppose liberalism, socialism and anarchism, they paradoxically wield left-wing notions, such as solidarity and liberation, as part of their ultranationalist schemes for a falsely classless society, which is to be characterized by “natural hierarchy.” Fascism also relies heavily on myth, in the sense that its proponents seek to restore a “golden age” that supposedly existed in the putatively heroic past by means of “national revolution” against the existing liberal-parliamentarian order. This romantic-revolutionary element represents another commonality in the creep between fascism and leftism, considering the nostalgia for the precapitalist “lost paradise” that sometimes drives left-wing passions. In fact, Reid Ross writes that fascists gain ground precisely by deploying “some variant of racial, national, or ethnocentric socialism,” opportunistically inverting the internationalist goals of socialism. Clearly, fascists and leftists differ principally on the question of egalitarianism, with the latter defending equality by organizing against capitalism, the state, borders, patriarchy and racism, while the former use these oppressive systems to reproduce inequality, domination and genocide.

As Reid Ross explains, US fascists rely on the “radical” or far right cesspool of authoritarian nativists, white supremacists, conservative “revolutionaries” and neoconservatives to mainstream their views, recruit, gain popularity and ultimately seize power. Indeed, we now confront a nightmarish playing-out of this scenario with Trump’s rise to power. Yet the situation is distinct in Europe, where fascists have drawn heavily from the revolutionary-leftist tradition to advance their aims. In this sense, Against the Fascist Creep is a clear warning to the left.

Fascist Origins

Reid Ross situates the historical origins of the fascist creep in imperialism, white supremacism and ableism, considering the models that prior Euro-American colonialists had handed down to Hitler and Mussolini, as during the “scramble for Africa” and the genocides of Indigenous peoples. Moreover, there was a clear connection between the Nazis’ mass murder of people with disabilities, the Holocaust (otherwise known as the Shoah), and Hitler’s plans to annihilate the Slavs and other non-Aryan peoples after defeating the Soviet Union. Jew-hatred, or anti-Semitism, characterizes fascism from its beginnings through to its Nazi embodiment and the present. Yet challengingly, Reid Ross demonstrates the “crossover” between fascism and revolutionary causes, such as syndicalism and ecology, as well. The latter is seen in the commonalities among Romanticism, völkisch ultranationalism and nature conservation — for both Hitler and his National Socialism devotee Savitri Devi [an Anglo-European who embraced Hinduism] were vegetarians who loved animals, and the German Democratic Ecology Party has promoted Holocaust denial, while Earth First! has at some times in its history bolstered white supremacism through its appeals to Nordic paganism. The overlap between fascism and syndicalism is illuminated by the example of the original fascist creep, Georges Sorel, a revolutionary enthusiast of the “myth” of the general strike, whom Mussolini would declare as “our master,” and who in turn supported Il Duce. Sorel’s followers, founders of the Cercle Proudhon, emphasized this French anti-Semitic anarchist’s anti-parliamentarianism while downplaying Proudhon’s relative egalitarianism, leading to the paradoxical creation of the ultranationalist idea of national syndicalism that partly inspired Italian Fascism. Reid Ross explains that Mussolini sought to integrate syndicalism into a corporate state while repressing the left and projecting an image of societal regeneration.

As is known, the “demonstration effect” of Mussolini’s seizure of power through the October 1922 March on Rome influenced Hitler and the Nazis to declare “national revolution” and lead the Munich “Beer Hall Putsch” against the Bavarian government. With Hitler imprisoned following this failed uprising, Gregor and Otto Strasser pushed Nazi ideology toward völkisch national socialism, proposing the mass deportation of Jews, the redistribution of property, and syndicalist integration. Following Hitler’s release, tensions raged between these competing factions — the SA (or Brownshirts) and SS (or Blackshirts) — as the Strassers, Ernst Röhm and the SA increasingly became a liability to the German ruling class, which sought to employ the Nazis against the workers. In 1930, Otto Strasser was expelled from the Nazi Party for supporting strikes, and he went on to found the “Black Front” and “Freedom Front” to undermine Hitler, but this “left faction” was eliminated with the SS’s assassination of Röhm, Gregor Strasser and other SA leaders on the Night of Long Knives in July 1934.

Meanwhile, the German Communist Party (KPD) considered a Nazi takeover preferable to the continuation of the Weimar Republic, and even in some ways worked with Hitler to undermine it, echoing the Stalinist conception that the social-democratic opposition was “social fascist.” Nevertheless, one must not overlook the courageous self-defense efforts of the communists and the social democrats in the Red Front Fighters’ Alliance (RFB) and Antifascist Action (AFA), as well as the Reichsbanner, respectively. The rest, from Hitler’s takeover in January 1933 to World War II and the Shoah, is well known history, though Reid Ross’s observation that Nazism in power served capitalism and tradition bears echoing, as it belies the fascist claim to revolutionism and commitment to workers’ interests. This dynamic is reflected well in the substantial investment and political support afforded to Hitler and Francisco Franco by US corporations.

Post-War Fascism

Unfortunately, the defeat of the Axis would not mark the end of fascist intrigue, as Nazi war criminals were rehabilitated in West Germany and served US imperialism in the Cold War. Evola, Otto Strasser and their followers continued to mobilize after WWII, particularly against NATO’s presence in Europe — so as to “liberate” the continent — and in favor of the “strategy of tension” to strengthen state power, as seen in Italy and Latin America. Strasser’s advocacy of a “third position” beyond capitalism and Stalinism influenced fascist and “national communist” movements in France and Italy, while the Evolian Alain de Benoist developed the theoretical underpinnings of the Nouvelle Droite (“New Right”), which opposes equality in favor of apartheid, “difference” and “diversity,” and calls for whites to mobilize pride for their ancestral, pagan past against the ostensible impositions of the Judeo-Christian, liberal-multicultural system.

Transitioning from the Cold War to the present, Reid Ross identifies several continuities between historical and contemporary fascist creep. This plays out in five theaters:

• The “Radical Right”: The non-fascist ethnocentric populism of the far right is crucial in the fascistization process. In the US, this has involved Willis Carto promoting the ideas of global racial apartheid in the Right journal and working with white and Black nationalists to oppose the supposed common enemy of Zionism. The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan under David Duke’s leadership, accelerating settler-colonial fantasies about creating a “white homeland” in the Pacific Northwest, and the emergence of the neo-Nazi “Order” terrorist group represent other important historical examples of the cross-over between the far right and fascism in the US. Moreover, the Patriot and Minutemen movements — allies to Pat Buchanan, the Tea Party and Trump — are strongly tied to the idea of private property, while the collaboration of the “Chicago School” of market fanatics with Augusto Pinochet’s fascism is well known. An admirer of Pinochet and Franco, the rabid anti-Semite Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National, followers of the Nouvelle Droite, represent the French Radical Right, while the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) — which narrowly lost the 2016 presidential elections — has advanced Holocaust denialism from its beginnings.

The Third Position: Neo-Nazi nostalgia for Strasserism as an alternative to Hitler was diffused in the 1980s through punk music, particularly that of the band Death in June and the general “Rock Against Communism” impetus that arose in response to the “Rock Against Racism” directed at skinheads. Strasserism also informed the White Aryan Resistance’s (WAR) efforts to instigate racial war in the US at this time, particularly in the idea of a “Wolfstadt” to be declared in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Troy Southgate’s concept of “national anarchism,” whereby left and right would unite against the State and create new decentralized societies based on strict racial separation.

• National Bolshevism: Though first suggested by Strasser, the unseemly idea of melding red and brown into “national Bolshevism” took off in Russia and Germany following the collapse of the USSR. The Evolian Alexander Dugin — a major ally of Vladimir Putin’s — hailed the “radically revolutionary and consistent fascist fascism” surging in post-Soviet Russia as ultranationalists mercilessly attacked foreigners in the streets and Boris Yeltsin and Putin leveled Grozny, capital of Chechnya. Fascists from all over Europe joined either side in the Yugoslavian Civil War as well. More recently, Dugin has promoted his “fourth political theory” — an amalgam of fascism, irrationalism and traditionalism — by uniting “anti-imperialists” with “national conservatives.”

• Fascists of the Third Millennium: The 1990s and early 2000s saw neofascist groups continue creeping by infiltrating the anti-globalization, ecology, animal rights and anarchist movements, attempting to reorient them into pro-fascist directions. This phenomenon of entryism has typified the national-anarchist, “pan-secessionist” and “autonomous-nationalist” tendencies (see below). During this time were born Golden Dawn (Greece) and Jobbik (Hungary), while the British National Party (BNP) swelled in popularity; all of these groups follow the Nouvelle Droite and the Third Position.

• Autonomous Nationalism: Perhaps the most bizarre neofascist formation is that of the “autonomous social nationalists,” who mimic their German anarchist predecessors the Autonomen in style and militancy, supporting syndicalism, radical ecology and insurrectional street-fighting tactics against capital and the State — only that they also violently target immigrants, Jews, leftists and Roma, seeking the creation of an “authentic” völkisch future for Germany. Autonomous nationalists have also been active in Bulgaria and Ukraine, particularly during the run-up to the “revolution” that occurred in the latter country in 2014.

Contemporary Fascism and Resistance

In the book’s conclusion, Reid Ross examines several contemporary fascist trends that illustrate the text’s main concerns, including the overlap between the “American Third Position” and the neo-Nazi American Freedom Party vis-à-vis the US libertarian-propertarian movement, the contradictory support and repulsion for Israel expressed by neofascists, the Orientalist impetus for “CounterJihad” and the idea of Occupy Wall Street bringing left and right together against the system. The author also raises the morbidly fascinating tendency of some known white nationalists publicly supporting people of color rebelling against US police as a means of accelerating state collapse. This seemingly contradictory posturing in fact brings up the larger tendency of “pan-secessionism,” which is related to national anarchism, as its proponents seek to support Indigenous revolutionaries, Black militants, white supremacists and radical ecologists in organizing collective secession from the capital-state system. In point of fact, Reid Ross raises the case of Michael Schmidt, a Strasserite third-positionist and formerly well-known syndicalist historian whom the author courageously and rather controversially exposed in September 2015, as typifying these disturbing neoreactionary trends. Reid Ross also rightly identifies the contemporary alt-right’s approach as desiring to deepen the ongoing crisis so that the retrograde ideologies this phenomenon represents can “come out on top,” while knowingly observing — in an echo of Albert Camus — the crossover among post-anarchist nihilism, anti-civilizational deep ecological thought and neoreaction.

Reid Ross’s newest volume is an excellent and disconcerting study of fascism’s origins, development, present and possible futures. Against the Fascist Creep deserves the broadest possible audience. Hopefully, it can help to inspire a new mass movement to resist all authoritarian ideologies, whether emanating from the State or the “autonomous” grassroots. To overcome the severe threat that fascism and neofascism pose to the Earth and its peoples, only mutual aid and cooperation on a vast scale can succeed. We must press forward by struggling militantly against Trumpism, the “radical” right, Third Positionism, “autonomous nationalism” and authoritarian leftism alike. Against these myriad political and philosophical absurdities, let us advance global anti-authoritarian revolution.

Advertisements

Announcing the Sixth Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair!

August 4, 2016

LA ABF

(Traducción al Castellano abajo)

=======================================

The 6th Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair 2016 – Saturday, October 8th

Call-Out for Presentation and Workshop Proposals!

Bookfair and workshops October 8th

11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
CIELO Galleries/Studio
3201 Maple Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90011

Press Contact: info@la.anarchistbookfair.com
Website: https://la.anarchistbookfair.com

Please save the date for Saturday, October 8th, 2016, for the Sixth
Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair at Cielo Galleries!  Please join us as
we relaunch this radical space for discussion and organizing after a
three-year hiatus. This year’s bookfair themes are displacement,
gentrification, and ecological crisis.

As members of the Bookfair Collective, we believe it is critical to
express protest and rebellion against the highly authoritarian
capitalist-State system that by its very nature offers nothing more
than endless war, vast social inequality, and utter ecological ruin.
We seek to promote solidarity and unity among the various struggling
communities of Los Angeles, Southern California, and the occupied
region of the U.S. Southwest.

In light of the ongoing mass-refugee crisis, ever-worsening climate
change, and the profound plight of the global working classes as
juxtaposed with an explosion in the number of billionaires worldwide
and the mirror-image of the international resurgence of the far-Right,
we feel it is necessary to bring this space back as a testament to the
realities and potentialities of popular resistance movements in
Southern California and beyond.

We believe that anarchist ideas and practices retain all their
relevance today, and are indeed more important now than ever before,
especially amidst the depth of imperialist militarism and ecological
destruction for which capitalism is responsible.

How we advance collective counter-power against a system that is
prepared to destroy humanity and nature simply to uphold privilege and
irrationality is our challenge.  We hope you will join us in asking
the questions, finding the answers, and discovering the joy and power
of solidarity in the struggle for the creation of a better world.

You can download applications to present a workshop or be present at
the bookfair as a vendor by accessing our website at
http://la.anarchistbookfair.com. Admission to the bookfair is free of
charge.  We are currently seeking sponsors who wish to support this
year’s fair. We hope to see you on October 8th!

Love and solidarity,

The LA Anarchist Bookfair Collective

=======================================

La Sexta Feria Anarquista del Libro de Los Ángeles – el sábado, 8 de octubre 2016

¡Anuncio para Solicitudes de Presentaciones y Talleres!

La Feria Anarquista del Libro y los Talleres tendrán lugar el 8 de octubre

11 a.m. a 7 p.m.
CIELO Galerias/Estudio
3201 Maple Ave, Los Ángeles, CA 90011

Contacto de Prensa: info@la.anarchistbookfair.com
Sitio web: https://la.anarchistbookfair.com

¡Les pedimos el favor de agendar el sábado 8 de octubre del 2016 para
la Sexta Feria Anarquista del Libro de Los Ángeles en las Galerias
CIELO!  Acompáñenos mientras que reiniciemos este espacio radical para
la discusión y organización tras una pausa de 3 años.  Los temas de la
Feria de este año son desplazamiento, emburguesamiento, y crisis
ecológica.

Siendo integrantes del Colectivo de la Feria Anarquista del Libro,
creemos que es crítico expresar la protesta y rebelión en contra del
sistema autoritario capitalista-estatista que según su propia
naturaleza no nos ofrece nada más que un sinfín de guerras,
desigualdades vastas, y destrucción ecológica.  Nos gustaría promover
la solidaridad y unidad entre las comunidades en lucha de Los Ángeles,
el sur de California, y la región ocupada del sudoeste de EUA.

Tomando en cuenta la crisis masíva de l@s refugiad@s, el cambio
climático que se agudiza, y el aprieto profundo de las clases obreras
del mundo yuxtapuestos con una explosión en el número de
multimillonari@s al nivel mundial y el reflejo del resurgimiento
transnacional de la extrema derecha, nos parece necesario reestablecer
este espacio para dar luz a las realidades y potencialidades de
movimientos populares de resistencia en el sur de California y más
allá.

Estamos ciert@s que las ideas y prácticas anarquistas retienen toda su
relevancia actualmente, y que de hecho son más importante hoy en día
que en cualquier otro momento histórico, en particular entre la
profundidad del militarismo imperialista y la perdición ambiental por
cual el capitalismo está responsable.

La cuestión de cómo avanzar el contrapoder contra un sistema que está
preparado a destruir la humanidad y la naturaleza simplemente por
mantener las relaciones actuales del privilegio y la irracionalidad es
nuestro desafío.  Esperamos que nos puedan acompañar en hacer las
preguntas, hallar las respuestas, y descubrir la alegría y el poder de
la solidaridad en la lucha para la creación de un mundo mejor.

Se pueden descargar las solicitudes para presentar un taller o tener
presencia en la Feria Anarquista del Libro como vendedor accediendo el
sitio web de http://la.anarchistbookfair.com.  Entrar a la Feria es
grátis, aunque estámos buscando patrocinador@s que quieran apoyar el
esfuerzo de la Feria Anarquista del Libro este año.

¡Esperamos verles el 8 de octubre!

Amor y solidaridad,

El Colectivo de la Feria Anarquista del Libro de Los Ángeles

Kim Stanley Robinson: The Kerala on Human Equality and the Earth as Garden

February 5, 2015

lotus flower

A selection from “The Age of Great Progress” describing the Travancori League, from Kim Stanley Robinson’s alternative-speculative history, The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), p. 522:

“The Kerala laughed, looked at Ismail and gestured at the colorful and fragrant fields.  ‘This is the world we want you to help us make,’ he said.  ‘We will go out into the world and plant gardens and orchards to the horizons […] and terrace the mountains and irrigate the deserts until there will be garden everywhere, and plenty for all, and there will be no more empires or kingdoms, no more caliphs, sultans, emirs, khans, or zamindars, no more kings or queens or princes, no more qadis or mullahs or ulema, no more slavery and no more usury, no more property and no more taxes, no more rich and no more poor, no killing or maiming or torture or execution, no more jailers and no more prisoners, no more generals, soldiers, armies or navies, no more patriarchy, no more clans, no more caste, no more suffering than what life brings us for being born and having to die, and then we will see for the first time what kind of creatures we really are.”

Paul Cezanne, "In the Woods"

Paul Cézanne, “In the Woods”

“South Africa’s Untold Tragedy of Neoliberal Apartheid” by Jérôme Roos

December 8, 2013

SA blood

In light of the recent death of Nelson Mandela, the “father” of post-Apartheid South Africa, I am reposting this excellent reflection by Jérôme E. Roos on a recent trip to the country.  The essay was originally published in Reflections on a Revolution (ROAR) on 12 November 2013.

Twenty years after apartheid, the old freedom fighters of the ANC have come to reproduce the same structures of oppression against which they once arose.

We were driving down the N3 highway on our way back home from the Eastern port city of Durban, passing by the endless lines of improvised shacks that constitute the Katlehong township just outside Johannesburg, when we saw the flashing blue lights of a police car in the distance. As we approached, a horrific scene revealed itself. A local slumdweller, probably somewhere in his thirties, lay dead on the side of the road, his body awkwardly twisted into an impossible position, his eyes still wide open. Some two hundred meters ahead, a car had pulled over on the curb, its driver casually leaning on the vehicle while talking to a policeman. No one had even bothered to cover up the body. This man just lay there like a dead animal — another road kill in endless wave of needlessly extinguished lives.

Every year, more than 14.000 people are killed on the road in South Africa, an average of 38 per day — nearly half of whom are pedestrians. Of the other half, many die as overloaded buses, micro-vans or so-called bakkies crash during the daily commute from the townships to the city to work as waiters, clerks or house maids. Just today, a bus full of commuters slammed into a truck on a narrow and potholed road to Pretoria, killing 29. But in the aggregate, tragedies like these are only numbers in a cold statistical series. The front pages of the country’s newspapers remain splattered with horror stories and graphic photos of brutal killings, as fifty people are murdered daily. Another 770 people die from AIDS every day. A total of 5.7 million, or 18% of South Africans, is HIV/AID infected, the highest infection rate in the world. Needless to say, one of the bloody red lines that runs through the broken social fabric of this heartbreakingly beautiful country is that human life is accorded shockingly little value.

“They Only Care About Power, Not People”

All of this became painfully obvious in August last year when militarized police forces violently cracked down on a wildcat miners’ strike in the platinum town of Marikana. In the ensuing bloodbath, the most serious bout of state violence since the Sharpville massacre of 1960 and the end of apartheid in 1994, 34 workers were killed after being peppered with machine gun fire at close range. Needless to say, the Marikana massacre brought back painful memories of police brutality under white minoritarian rule. This time, however, the policemen and politicians responsible for the massacre were mostly black and represented the same party that had once led the struggle against racial oppression: the ruling ANC of President Jacob Zuma and the iconic freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. The Marikana massacre was the most powerful expression yet that little had changed below the surface. The violence of the state simply reasserted itself anew under the ANC.

Today, the ANC faces a growing crisis of legitimacy. While it is still on course to win next year’s elections, disillusionment with the party and its leaders has become widespread even among its traditional support base: poor people living in the shantytowns. “The ANC today is all about power, not the people,” union organizer Teboho Masiza said during the one-year commemoration of the massacre in August this year. “They are supposed to be here to listen to the problems of the people of South Africa. But they are nowhere to be seen. They only look after themselves.” Andile Nkoci, a young miner from the East Cape, said he felt betrayed: “They have abandoned us. They are only looking to make money for themselves.” Another miner, Alton Dalasile, more recently echoed the exact same frustration: “They have abandoned and betrayed us. The ANC is no longer the party of the poor man, the working man. They care only about enriching themselves.”

The Authentic Tragedy of the World’s Liberal Conscience

The story of South Africa over the last 20 years must qualify as one of the most authentic political tragedies of our era. Once upon a time, not very long ago, the country was held up as an example to the world. In 1994, when the apartheid regime finally came to an end and South Africans overwhelmingly elected Mandela as their first democratic President, the world looked to South Africa with a mix of hope and expectation. In this new era of globalization, the Rainbow Nation seemed destined to break down the lines between social and racial divisions. Legal scholars hailed the country’s new constitution as the most progressive in the world. Truth and reconciliation committees were to set up to transcend old grudges and to come to terms with the country’s racist past. The new South African flag, combining elements of the ANC’s party flag and the national flags of Britain and the Netherlands, was meant to symbolize a new harmony converging from racial segregation into “unity-in-diversity”. The new anthem combined elements from the Xhosa and pan-African liberation hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa) with the old Afrikaner anthem, Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Voice of South Africa).

But don’t forget: these were the halcyon days of a triumphant neoliberalism. The Cold War was over, communism had been defeated, the Gulf War had reasserted American hegemony in the world, and Francis Fukuyama had just thrown the doors of the radical imagination shut by publicly declaring the End of History. From now on, global capitalism and liberal democracy were to reign supreme. South Africa, as it emerged from the depths of institutionalized racism, became a progressive beacon of this new world order — and Mandela its very conscience. In this brave new world, Mandela was a former revolutionary turned philosopher-king; an elder of the global village who came to represent not only the suffering and aspirations of black Africans, but also the hopes and desires of Western progressives. Mandela mingled with world leaders, the European royalty and multi-billionaires; he hung out with popstars and sports legends, but he also maintained a close friendship with Fidel Castro and Muammar Khaddafi. Father Madiba, in a way, was above politics. Or was he?

The Post-Racial Apartheid of Neoliberal Globalization

Today, both the revolutionary narrative of the ANC militants and the liberal narrative of the world’s progressives ring increasingly hollow. Racial segregation may have been institutionally lifted, but the socio-economic segregation that undergirded it continues unabated. South Africa is still one of the most shockingly unequal places in the world, ranking second (after Lesotho) on family-level inequality. In this middle-income country, forty-seven percent of the population still lives in poverty, which is actually two percent more than back in 1994. Unemployment formally stands at 25 percent, but the rate goes up to 50 percent for young black men. Twenty years later, blacks on average still earn six times less than whites. While a couple of pejoratively called “black diamonds” have made it to the top, crafting a small indigenous elite that slowly takes up residence in the old vestiges of white privilege, for the vast majority of South Africans nothing has really changed.

Of course, there are good reasons for this. Apartheid fell as neoliberalism rose, knocking down old walls on its quest for globalized market access but forever erecting new ones in its concomittant quest for cheap labor and natural resources. Samir Amin once wrote that “the logic of this globalization trend consists in nothing other than that of organizing apartheid on a global scale.” Apartheid here is not meant as a metaphor; it is what a philosopher might call anontological category of the neoliberal world order. As Slavoj Žižek has argued, “the explosive growth of slums in the last decades … is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times.” Shantytowns continue to arise around South Africa’s cities and mines as workers migrate in the hope of securing a humble living, even as new gated communities and shopping malls protected by private security guards bearing assault rifles spring up to cater to the consumerist desires of an emerging interracial elite. The Rainbow Nation may be blind to race at the top; but it still reproduces apartheid-era segregation at the bottom.

The Oppressive State and the Political Philosophy of Rights

None of this is a coincidence. In a way, the tragic outcome of the ANC’s liberation struggle was encoded into the very DNA of the party’s vanguardist strategy. First of all, the ANC decided to take over existing institutions — political and economic institutions that were based on systematic exclusion and massive inequality — and thereby ended up unwittingly reproducing these same oppressive structures with a new elite formation. Secondly, as Lawrence Hamilton explains in his book The Political Philosophy of Needs, the ANC leadership deliberately embraced a particular ideological vision of how to “transform” the country: a vision he refers to as the “political philosophy of rights”, in other words: liberalism. South Africa’s new constitution was the clearest manifestation of this: everything was put to work to secure the rights of individuals to vote and be represented, to own property, and to not be discriminated against in any way. Little attention, however, was given to questions of political participation, genuine popular sovereignty, and the satisfaction of basic human needs.

This state-centered and rights-based approach never truly broke with the legacy of apartheid; it merely extended the franchise while keeping the structural logic of separation between people and power, between property-owners and wage-earners, intact. Partly because of the reigning neoliberal ideology of the time, and partly out of fear of reproducing the Zimbabwean experience where Mugabe’s violent land expropriations had led to a white exodus and economic collapse, Mandela and the ANC opted for a gradualist approach that actually ended up turning the ANC into an agent of apartheid itself. Legally, the property rights of white landowners took priority over the human needs of local shackdwellers. Workers’ rights were increasingly hollowed out as the right to unionize gave way to the “right” to be “represented” by a corrupt and ANC co-opted union leadership. The state-oriented approach and the political philosophy of rights thus locked poor South Africans into a logic of representation and top-down decision-making whereby human needs, social autonomy and political participation came to be subordinated to the formation of a new political and corporate elite of former ANC revolutionaries.

Towards Autonomy and a Political Philosophy of Needs

But there are signs that things may be changing. In 2005, a completely different type of movement burst onto the scene when a large group of poor shackdwellers set up a roadblock in Durban to protest against the eviction of an informal settlement. The so-called Abahlali baseMjondolo, or shackdwellers’ movement, has since spread to Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg. With tens of thousands of members, Abahlali now constitutes the single largest grassroots organization of poor South Africans. Unlike the reactionary maverick, corrupt multi-millionaire and former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, who is now contesting the ANC on a Chávez-inspired populist platform, Abahlali stresses its autonomy from state institutions, political parties, businesses and NGOs, and rejects both the ANC and its principal rivals in the opposition, drawing instead on self-organization and direct action to secure improvements in living conditions, to defend communities under threat of eviction, to reclaim urban land for social redistribution, and to democratize society from below.

The ANC and all other so-called revolutionaries betrayed the poor the moment they made it their aim to take over the institutions of apartheid and reproduce them in a different form. But with the ANC’s crisis of legitimacy deepening following the Marikana massacre, more and more people who do not feel represented are being driven towards the only sensible conclusion. Earlier this year, in March, one thousand shackdwellers stormed a piece of land in Cato Crest in Durban, occupied it, and called it Marikana in honor of the slain miners. The action was just one more expression of the dawning realization around the world that, in these times of universal deceit, only an insistence on radical autonomycan take the revolution forward. In South Africa, the only way to overcome the social segregation that continues to needlessly kill hundreds every day, is to embrace a political philosophy of needs that focuses on the empowerment of communities; that operates through democratic participation and militant direct action; and that — instead of trying to ‘emancipate’ South Africans by becoming more like their former oppressors — actively breaks out of the cycle of exploitation by building interracial autonomy from below.