Beyond the GNU and its deceits: the poverty of analysis

by Jul 5, 2024Article

More than 60% of those who have the right to vote in South Africa responded with deafening indifference or calculated rejection to the recent parliamentary electoral process. They simply did not think that the ‘democratic’ election had any meaning in their lives. And who can blame them for their distrust of the destructive cynicism of the system against working class, unemployed, urban and rural lives – structured to ensure a permanent state of desperation and hopelessness for the majority of the population? The post-apartheid capitalist state has failed to resolve the fundamental contradictions of racist capitalism, given its commitment to an ideological and political orientation which has deepened the grip of neoliberal policies against the hopes that imbued the democratic struggles against apartheid. The post-apartheid state has only increased the grip of global corporate regimes and imperialist states, which have declared war on the global poor. This grip has also been fostered by the countless commentaries in the media about the promises of the GNU. They refer to ‘liberalism’s last stand,’ a ‘new dawn’ based on ‘cooperation’, presenting ‘unique challenges’, promising ‘stability’ and an ‘opportunity to ‘reinvent’ South Africa. And nearly every such commentary is filled with phrases about ‘constitutionalism’ and the ‘rule of law’ even though, in the hands of the comprador elite, these institutions are daily shredded into meaninglessness. 

Deceptive analyses of the electoral outcomes have avoided the reality of the structural and multi-dimensional crisis facing this and other societies. We are mired in inequality and unemployment…we have extraordinary levels of food insecurity, hunger and poverty, landlessness and corruption, violence and neglect.

Rule of law…for some

These capricious media voices are intent on focusing the mind on interpretations of the possibilities of this or that combination of parliamentary government, constitutionalism, and the rule of law. They ignore the scorn of such rule by powerful states like Zionist Israel and the USA, as we have seen in the ICJ case against Israel. No amount of harking on the virtues of the rule of law will eradicate the hypocrisy of those who use it as justification for unequal power, against the demands of democratic accountability. Fairness and ‘equality before the law’ have been turned into their opposite – rule by the power of might; the privilege to subjugate, oppress and exploit, abandoning the world to the hegemony of corporate power. This permits that corporate power to rule (through law) the systems of food production, access to medicines, water, electricity, clean air, health, education and every necessary public good and service to which human beings are entitled by right, and by virtue of their labours in the workplaces and institutions of this world. 

Deceptive analyses of the electoral outcomes have avoided the reality of the structural and multi-dimensional crisis facing this and other societies. We are mired in inequality and unemployment (close to the worst, if not actually the worst in the world in South Africa). We have extraordinary levels of food insecurity, hunger and poverty, landlessness and corruption, violence and neglect, both gendered and more generally, dysfunctional health and education systems and environmental destruction. 

Unless these fundamental issues affecting the lives of workers and the unemployed in urban and rural communities are addressed, no rearrangement of the seats in parliament is likely to resolve anything. Nor will the populist orientations of political parties, which rely on the ideas of a chauvinistic and increasingly right-wing nationalism, provide answers to the dominant forms of power. Nationalism’s demagogic appeals cannot ever be a substitute for democratic and humane rulership, or resolve the deepest contradictions faced by this society and others like it. We can see how the global polycrisis and the grip of corporate ideas on public consciousness have given rise to chauvinistic and neo-fascist regimes, in the war on the global poor and the planetary environment. 

We see this not only in Gaza, Sudan, Haiti, the Sahel, Myanmar and elsewhere, but also in the destructive ecocide that we witness daily. These regimes have, moreover, decimated the strong and independent institutions of workers, and won over their leaderships into the agenda of capital accumulation. They have subverted the possibilities of democratic accountability, through their extraordinary power over the systems of communication and the dissemination of knowledge. 

Fundamental change is on the agenda.

It should be obvious to us all that society must be changed fundamentally, raising the question of how to confront the power of the existing regimes of control. There are no easy answers. But what is obvious is that those who are committed to genuine social change must develop a fuller appreciation of the relationship between mobilisation, consciousness, and organisation. Space does not permit such a fuller exploration here. It requires a much deeper examination of historical and contemporary political, social, organisational forms developed in the struggles against oppressive and exploitative regimes. Historically, these have taken a variety of forms, especially as they arose in the struggles against feudalism, capitalism and colonialism. There is a huge body of literature, experience and thinking about this history which must be studied continuously. 

New and emergent ways of contesting power and hegemony must be a critical element for the rise and development of genuinely democratic and eco-conscious socialist societies. Such consciousness also implies wider forms of social mobilisation, around the multiplicity of issues faced by working-class communities.

Seeding an alternative

That historical experience is augmented today by forms of struggle that are emerging daily, against corporate globalisation and the varieties of capitalism it has spawned everywhere. Communities of the working class — including the unemployed, the urban and rural poor — are developing forms of political consciousness. We need to examine more closely their principles, forms of action, strategies, tactics and theorisation. 

We need a more detailed and careful examination of the useful experiences of such communities, and the many experiments for drawing theoretical and practical lessons. They point to important ways to challenge both the structural and systemic attributes of the prevailing global and national systems of power, through the unceasing process of developing socially useful knowledge, and by the active practices seeding the possibilities for an alternative social system. 

These practices, despite some fragilities, represent the hope and possibility for freedom from the rigours of exploited and oppressed lives. They signify livelihood initiatives not dependent on exploitative wage labour, systems of food sovereignty, care, and environmental action. They are taking back the commons through solidaristic and collective action, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world. They arise from the principles of solidarity and collective action for genuine and accountable democratic development, for struggling ultimately for the best forms of organisation towards a democratic socialist vision. 

Most importantly they are also about developing networks of collaboration in social movements and organisation, locally and beyond. They are an expression of new forms of leadership and cooperation that arise in the lives of working-class communities, committed to a new and redemptive vision for a humane and caring society — banishing the growing spectre of barbarism that confronts the world now. Only those who cannot see, hear, feel, or understand will fail to notice the emergence of these cumulative processes of developing alternatives against the destructive force of capitalist control.

I think that the alternative forms of resistance now emerging have not been studied or practiced sufficiently amongst radicals to understand their potential for wider application in the struggles against oppressive regimes. This is especially because of the extraordinary growth, diffusion, and hegemony of the dominant forms of power and the pervasive influence of historically developed forms of opposition to it. 

New and emergent ways of contesting power and hegemony must be a critical element for the rise and development of genuinely democratic and eco-conscious socialist societies. Such consciousness also implies wider forms of social mobilisation, around the multiplicity of issues faced by working class communities. It must bring together socio-economic, political, cultural, eco-socialist and other modes of resistance to the hegemony of corporatisation. It entails a reliance not only on the development of radical consciousness amongst organised workers (acting as a class for itself), but also on the communities and social movements outside the workplace. These are key to understanding conceptions of social reproduction — the unpaid labour of work and care done at home – and the critical value of social mobilisation and organisation around what is called ‘service delivery,’ i.e., the democratic responsibility of the local state coming from its democratic mandate. 

For radicals committed to an alternative society, these initiatives provide, by implication, a perspective on both historical and contemporary forms of mobilisation and organization, in the struggle against the power of corporate global systems, and the support of militarised states. Such mobilization, and the educational and other strategies for the development of wider consciousness, are now even more urgent. We face a tide of reactionary policies and mechanisms used to support the global drift towards neo-fascist, religio-nationalist, authoritarian, militaristic and dictatorial regimes, and their power over forms of communication, education, research and learning. 

The continued assault against human beings and the environment can only be halted by all those committed to an alternative to this society and for a democratic eco-socialist future. 

 

Enver Motala is an Associate of the Centre for Integrated Post-School Education and Training at NMU and of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at UJ.

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