Gandhi in South Africa: An Interpretation

It is surely something of a paradox to begin a series of seminars on “Lives of South African Philosophers” by discussing a historical figure who was neither South African nor, at least in the strict sense, a philosopher.  But I want to argue that M. K. Gandhi’s years in South Africa—from 1893 to 1914—and his writings of that time provide an indispensable lens through which to view South African intellectual life during the twentieth century.

South African intellectual life today is largely cut off from its past. It may be orientated to a greater or lesser extent toward the problems of South African society. But it looks elsewhere for its philosophical premises and theoretical perspectives—above all to the advanced capitalist societies of Western Europe and North America, with their long-established traditions and well-resourced academic systems... READ MORE

Third Worldism

The theory and practice of socialist internationalism has gone through several transmutations since it was given its basic form by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels’ innovation was to link what had until then been primarily a normative idea to a distinctive analysis of the ways in which common class interests came to be shared across national boundaries and to a new strategic perspective for revolutionary struggle. This change was signaled by the replacement of the old motto of the League of Communists, “All men are brothers,” with “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” Since then the meaning of internationalism has shifted along with the global patterns of power and resistance.


The Russian Revolution was the first revolution to be made with consciously internationalist intent. Its isolation after the defeat of revolution in the West brought to an end the assumption that socialist internationalism could take its lead from the advanced capitalist countries.... READ MORE

The New Politics of Afrikaans

One of the main themes of Nelson Mandela’s presidency was that of reconciliation. In his inaugural address as President of South Africa in May 1994, he chose to convey this in Afrikaans: ‘wat verby is, is verby’ (what is past, is done with). In the years that followed, he came to embody this spirit, visiting the widow of Dr Verwoerd in the whites-only settlement of Orania, wearing the Springbok jersey to support South Africa during the rugby world cup, and the like.

Mandela’s prison experience played a crucial role in shaping his perceptions of Afrikaner history and politics and the Afrikaans language. He urged his fellow-prisoners - often against their instincts - to study Afrikaans and the history of the Afrikaners, and he himself enjoyed the poetry of Opperman and the novels of Langenhoven. In his political writings in prison, he urged the liberation movement to ‘speak directly to the Afrikaner and fully explain our position... READ MORE

Contradictions of the New South Africa

Those of us whose memories go back to the insurrectionary years of the mid-1980s—when millions of oppressed people were drawn into struggle in townships, factories, mines, schools, colleges and universities—will recall how regularly the language of contradiction was used to analyse what was happening from day to day, and to move people forward into action. In mass rallies, at funerals, and in smaller meetings, speakers would urge their audiences to think dialectically about their situation, to recognize its contradictions, and exploit these to the full. Ten years later [in 1995], many of the same comrades who urged us then to think dialectically, urge us to be realistic instead.

What is this realism, which has won so many new converts? What does it mean to be realistic? It means to limit your aspirations and demands to what you are able to achieve - that is, to what you are able to achieve... READ MORE

How Revolutionary Consciousness Develops

An Essay on Trotsky's Legacy


In commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky—that is, in coming together from our varying backgrounds of belief, commitment, and experience to mark the occasion collectively—we are doing three things, at least. First, we are acknowledging a life of immense moral grandeur, a unique testimony to the invincibility of the revolutionary spirit. Second, we are making our modest contribution to redressing the massive historical injustice done to Trotsky, by the decades of official slanders heaped upon him, and thereby we are also perhaps making it more difficult for such slanders to take the place of argument within the worker’s movement in future. (We should also remember that his assassin, after his release from prison in Mexico, was awarded a generous pension in the Soviet Union and decorated with the Order of the Red Banner.)... READ MORE