Making Universities into Factories

Performance review: it sounds like a good idea. We can hardly imagine academic life without individual and collective review and assessment—among friends, colleagues and students; within departments, faculties and institutions—of what we are teaching, how we could do our job more effectively, how we balance the demands of teaching and research, how our teaching and research best contributes to the intellectual life of society and indeed the broader society

itself. This has surely been part of academic life since its beginnings in Plato’s Academy in Athens in the fourth century BCE.


Across the centuries, there have been many different ways in which academics have reflected on their tasks. The major questions explicitly or implicitly guiding the process have changed over time and differed from one context to another: Have we grasped the nature of reality? Are we cultivating the virtues needed by our society? Are we serving God’s will?... READ MORE

The Double Lives of South African Marxism

In April 1986, Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff (1986a) introduced a special issue of Monthly Review by describing the struggle against apartheid as ‘crucial to the whole history of our time.’ South Africa was unique, they argued, because:


It is so far the only country with a well-developed, modern capitalist structure which is not only objectively ripe for revolution but has actually entered a stage of overt and seemingly irreversible revolutionary struggle.....There is no other country in the world that has anything like the material and symbolic significance of South Africa for both sides of the conflict that rends the world today. A victory for revolution, i.e., a genuine and lasting change in basic power relations in South Africa, could have an impact on the balance of global forces comparable to that of the revolutionary wave that followed World War II. On the other hand, a victory for counter-revolution—the stabilization of capitalist relations in South Africa, even if in somewhat altered form—would be a stunning defeat for the world revolution (Sweezy and Magdoff 1986b: 5–6).... READ MORE

Ancient Cultures and Modern States

Middle Eastern Struggles in Historical Perspective

In this talk I will not focus on the current, ongoing struggles of the Kurdish people and the current situation in the Middle East more broadly. Instead I will try to provide a longer historical perspective within which the current situation can be viewed.

I wish that I was sufficiently well informed to speak with authority on the current situation of the Kurdish people, their challenges and prospects, and the importance of their fate for the rest of us.

I hope that my talk will bring out something of the significance of their struggles for humankind as a whole.


My approach to the topic has been much influenced, I think, by the context of Palestine solidarity work... READ MORE

Mediterranean Cosmopolitanism

Once upon a time, the Mediterranean Sea was—as its name suggests—the centre of the world. It was experienced that way by its inhabitants and by travelers from other parts, for the two thousand years or more from the rise of the Greek polis until sometime after the opening of the sea-route around the Cape to India and the discovery of America in 1492. The borders of the Mediterranean world were described by Alcibiades in the fourth century BCE, when he reminded the young men of Athens of their oath to “account wheat and barley, and vines and olives, to be the limits of Attica.” These four crops later set the limits of Rome, and defined the territory in which its successors—Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, Venice and others—contested for supremacy.


The eastern Mediterranean region was the birthplace of the earliest human civilization —that is, where literacy and urban life began.[3] It was not the only place where civilization began. But the Mediterranean region was unlike China, India and central America in the diversity of languages, religions, cultural traditions and sources of political... READ MORE

Palestine Solidarity across Generations

In his report to the inaugural AGM of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (South Africa) on 20 October 2012, Martin Jansen said that active membership of the Cape Town branch of the PSC (SA)—known for most of its history as the Palestine Solidarity Group—had not really grown over the years. Younger people have come to PSG/PSC meetings recently. But they soon stop coming and lose contact. This raised the question of how to get young South Africans involved in solidarity with the people of Palestine—a cause that often seems to them remote or intractable or ancient.

I’m prompted to respond to this question because I’ve been involved in the University of Cape Town Palestine Solidarity Forum since early 2010, and I’m aware of how different its organizing style is from that of the older PSC (SA). he UCT PSF style of organizing emerged partly in response to the needs of young people and partly at their initiative. (The group of 15 or 20 that discussed the formation of UCT PSF in 2010 was about equally divided between staff and students. Its first committee was dominated by staff. Since its launch in August 2010... READ MORE