south africa & some anarchist responses to mandela’s death (2014)


 A sequel to “Mandela can go  to hell”

April 24th 2014

mandela the queen

Comments on some anarchist responses to Mandela’s death and other aspects of the contradictions in South Africa and elsewhere.

 A critique of reflections on Mandela’s death by Michael Schmidt, “Backspace”, Ian Bone and Emile.

Written by Siddiq Khan and Sam Fanto Samotnaf.


‘Though none of us had read Marx, we were still too Marxist.’

 – Errico Malatesta


It’s indicative of the mind-numbing colonisation by ruling ideas that even those who claim to oppose this society regurgitate many of its most deceitful manipulations. Some of the anarchist responses to Mandela’s death illustrate this, and that’s one of the reasons for this text. Undoubtedly in this age of indifference, this may seem like merely another in-group  irrelevance. But there are significant generalizations  to be made from this analysis that take it out of this narrow realm, and where we felt it would be pertinent, we have stated them. Doubtless there are others you can make for yourself. It is largely because of these generalizations that we include here critiques of 3 largely trivial pieces on Mandela’s death – “Backspace”’s, Ian Bone’s and Emile’s. Michael Schmidt’s obituary is more significant. There are also significant facts about South Africa which might very well be unknown to many readers, which also make this text of wider use.

We also include 5 addendums, the first being a reproduction of part of  a text   about the ANC, written in 1985, the second being a list of various aspects of opposition to the current misery of daily life in South Africa over the last month or so, with links to mainstream news articles, the others being a discussion between Sam and SK on differences in nuance between us.

South Africa's former President Nelson M

1. Left Jabber, Right Uppercut

 Reappraising the Legacy of an Icon, Michael Schmidt[1]

We ought not to act and speak as if we were asleep.’

– Heraclitus

I had the privilege to meet Mandela several times during my career as a journalist, watching my country’s dramatic transition unfold on the ground, with all of its tragedies and triumphs; on most occasions he was all business; I only saw him once in the relaxed and smiling mode in which he was best known and so beloved, for he had taken a huge burden on his shoulders and was mostly all business. He was by turns frighteningly stern and disarmingly charming, rigorously strict and graciously forgiving, a fierce revolutionary and a conciliator, a formidable intellect and a wisecracker, austere and chilled. Though a complex figure, he is justly considered as a colossus of global stature for sacrificing his life to inspire the South African masses to push forward to the irreversible defeat of the last white supremacist regime—and in doing so to inspire other popular struggles against injustice worldwide.”

It’s strange for a self-professed revolutionist to think it a privilege to meet an individual who, arguably, was far more effective in supporting capitalist misery and in getting the poor to identify with him than any other individual in history. But that’s how celebrity works, at least for those in awe of it (as Jeremy Paxman[2] only said to me  the other day– “Name-dropping’s such a crashing bore”). For those who have nothing but contempt, if not hatred, for the disarming manipulations of the global spectacle, this is like saying I had the privilege to meet Lenin or Stalin once. In fact, Schmidt compares Mandela with Lenin (rightly, unfavourable to both of them) in the rest of his article. And most of his article is aimed at attacking the Mandela myth. So why the need to begin with a paragraph that makes him seem admiring of Mandela? (though to be precise, this is the 2nd paragraph, the first being more ambiguous). Why does someone who calls himself an anarchist, supposedly utterly opposed to the state and to capitalism in general, somehow feel the need to say they were “privileged” to have met the personification of this misery even when he tries to debunk much that would make it seem like a privilege to have met the bastard? Is it because the neoliberal spectacle manipulates the emotions and intellect to such an invasive and subtle degree that even those who know full well the brutality of South Africa whether during or after apartheid , who call themselves anarchists, feel the need to play to the gallery, to first of all flatter the manipulated illusions of the poor victims of Mandela’s politics in order to later disillusion them?  Admittedly Stalin, when he died, was mourned even by some inmates of the Gulag, but when he died, there were no anarchists who prefaced their critique of this former developer of capital accumulation with “I had the privilege of meeting Stalin several times…. Though a complex figure, he is justly considered as a colossus of global stature for dedicating his life to inspire the Russian masses to push forward to the irreversible defeat of German Nazism—and in doing so to inspire other popular struggles against fascism worldwide.”

And let there be no doubt about it: despite its enormously greater subtlety, neoliberalism is every bit as brutal and destructive of people’s lives as Stalinism was. To talk of nothing of  the sad lives of most of those  reading (or writing) this, the 22,000 kids globally who die each day of avoidable diseases, starvation or malnutrition amount to over 8 million a year, considerably more than were killed in Nazi death camps or Stalin’s collectivization programme, are an obvious symptom of this brutality. And to most people, it’s not even shocking but a reason to sigh with relief – “At least I’m not in that situation”.

In Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus a black bodyguard of Mandela says to a few white former Special Branch defenders of apartheid turned also into Mandela’s bodyguards, “Madiba doesn’t like it if you don’t smile when you push people away”.  It’s the style of the new owners, the style that pushes people down further, the style of service with a smile (service  to themselves, of course), pushing people further away with as much honey as vinegar. If you can give the appearance of pushing people down not with the hard coldness of the Afrikaans, but with a change of personality, with an endearing smile – pushing people down as much by the overwhelming seduction of a compensatory culture as by the viciousness of the cops and the intensified need for money. Part of neoliberalism’s subtlety is in the image of progress it promotes, something better than Nazism or Stalinism, a chimera of progress of which Mandela was a significant figure. And it’s already developing the potential for far far worse than Stalinism if it isn’t shattered by a very bloody explosion of rage and humanity.

When Schmidt says of Mandela that he was “sacrificing his life to inspire the South African masses to push forward to the irreversible defeat of the last white supremacist regime—and in doing so to inspire other popular struggles against injustice worldwide.”, this is just garbage myth-making fitting in with the iconisation Schmidt derides in the rest of his article, and contradicted by much of his own version of the facts. Certainly the social explosion in South Africa was an inspiration in other countries but Mandela had little to do with it. Rioting youths in Tottenham (London) in October 1985 shouted “South Africa! South Africa” – not “Mandela!” because it was the scenes of anti-cop burning and looting that encouraged their own anger, not the song “free free Nelson Mandela “ incessantly churned out by lefties and liberals. It wasn’t the idea of sacrifice to a cause (always a political distortion and co-optation of the genuinely courageous need to take significant risks with one’s life) that inspired young people throughout the townships, but the lust for life expressed in “the potlatch of fire, flaunting their fearlessness, dancing and gyrating through the ruins of their ghettoes, an effusion of intensity, defiance and libido.” (“South Africa 1985: the organisation of power in black and white”,  Sam Thompson & Norman Abraham).

Schmidt focuses on the inspiration of one special indispensible leader as the inspiration for the South African masses in the same way as the rulers usually focus on the one troublemaker without whom no-one would be agitated. Across “the rainbow nation”, the neoliberal rulers are accusing a “third force” of being responsible for the fierce struggle waged as we speak by those at the sharp end (just like their ancestors Hendrik Verwoerd[3] and Joe McCarthy blamed the proletarian revolt of their own time on “communist agitators”). But in their own words:

“S’bu Zikode [leader of a shack-dweller’s organisation in South Africa] is not making us to rebel. It is the condition of our lives that is making us rebel.”(Today Even More of us are S’bu Zikode; Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement, October 2013)

Anarchists like Michael Schmidt (co-author of a long academic treatise on the historiography of the international anarchist movement[4] and erstwhile big-man of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front[5]) can themselves be considered to be modern leaders – of anarchism. The great men – and they are generally men – of this movement generally do happen to be “great theorists” too – according to its own, generally academic, historians – a trait it shares, not coincidentally, with its historical rival, Marxism.

 “We are concerned not with the coup d’etat [seizure of the state] of Trotsky and Lenin, but with the coup du monde [seizure of the world].”

Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds, Alexander Trocchi

Mere political-economic revolt (the coup d’etat) must be intellectual precisely because it must come to grips with things only at the level of political-economy – a highly specialised process. The “coup du monde” must be broadly cultural, where culture is defined as “the ensemble of means through which a society thinks of itself and shows itself to itself, and thus decides on all aspects of the use of its available surplus-value. That is to say, it is the organization of everything over and beyond the immediate necessities of the society’s reproduction.” In any movement of self-affirmation, such a culture must be against ruling culture, creating an antagonistic practice which continuously criticises  the poverty of all existing forms in which people are permitted to relate to themselves, one another and the world (artistic roles & artefacts, personal identities involving family and friendship, sex and religion, skin-colour and ethnicity). It must develop something beyond culture: its suppression as a separate specialized activity and its realization in social explosions and daily searching.

To concretise what we mean here we can refer to the conflict of cultures during the South African movement of the 70s and  80s (though there are undoubtedly other examples to compare, in the following cases, we compare music as part of the status-quo v. music as genuine opposition). The New York Herald Tribune reported from this period (mid-1980s): “A South African company is selling an anti-riot vehicle that plays disco music through a loudspeaker to soothe the nerves of would-be troublemakers…the vehicle also carries a water cannon and tear gas.” Contrast this with what’s said in the film Amandla about the South African struggle from the mid-70s through to the 1980s about this movement’s songs: “There’s no initial previous arrangement as to who starts what song. As a song finishes, another one starts one and in that process there’s lots of compositions coming up – a new song. And a person might have tried to sing what he’s presented with one or two people during the day and as he leads and the other two back him up and then you’ve got an entirely new song. The song might take 3 minutes or 3 months to compose and no-one knows who wrote it”. In other words, music being no more a specialist creation than conversation or ideas. The film  also describes how terrified the heavily armed cops were when a massive demonstration was approaching at a fairly good speed chanting some of these songs, that the singing enhanced their fear, despite their enormous superiority of weaponry (a fear which was demonstrated when riot policeman Erasmus shot seventeen-year-old Mngcini ‘Big Boy’ Mginywa from Grahamstown at a funeral because, he told the judge, the people ‘were singing in their language and this causes riots’.”). [this last bit was added on13/5/14]

When the specialists of pure political-economic revolt honour the falsified images of great men (maybe with the subconscious hope that, one day, they too will have cheerleaders to praise their own iconic personas) by calling them “an inspiration” to those whose rebellion was inspired not by beautiful images but by ugly reality, they ape the pernicious perspective of the deadly enemy. As those at the sharp end of ‘democracy’, ‘reconstruction and development’, ‘truth and reconciliation’ and the other spectacles of modernised apartheid[6] know all too well, when the price of rebellion is a barrage of police bullets what moves one to act is not a noble ideal, but a material misery.

It is enough to compare the lucid perspective of Raoul Vaneigem with the ludicrous story  (as articles are called in the jargon of modern journalism) of Schmidt to convince anyone with any fire still flowing through their veins precisely which of the two mutually-exclusive perspectives will prove most useful to them:

In its concrete and tactical form, the concept of class struggle constituted the first marshalling of responses to the shocks and injuries which people experience as individuals; it was born in the whirlpool of suffering which the reduction of human relationships to the mechanisms of exploitation created everywhere in industrial societies. It issued from a will to transform the world and change life.

Such a weapon needed constant adjustment… A single energy, wrested from the workers as easily now during their leisure time as during their hours on the shopfloor, drives the turbines of Power which the custodians of the old theory [That of the First International, which both anarchism and Marxism share as their historical & theoretical foundation – S.K] blithely lubricate with their purely formal opposition.  

Anyone who talks about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life — without grasping what is subversive about love[7] and positive in the refusal of constraints — has a corpse in his mouth.

In Schmidt, it’s the hierarchical focus on an individual and the semi-idolisation of one man, in Vaneigem it’s the inter-relation between the masses of individuals and their own miserable experience, that motivates them. The fact that the rest of Schmidt’s story goes on to criticise Mandela merely in terms of his state policy – compared, implicitly, with possible alternative state policies rather than with the revolutionary abolition of the state – only demonstrates how its idealism is inseparable from subordination (all the more insidious for its duplicitous implicitness) to the statist, authoritarian, capitalist terms of its supposed opponents. Unlike such masterpieces of mystification, the ruthless critique of Mandela in terms of his role as a great man in the spectacle of class society makes a genuine contribution to the radical disillusionment so invaluable to those whose raging passion has hurled them headlong into the great game of revolutionary transformation.

That said, there is a portion of truth mired in all such misguided muck, and it is important for our own project that we recognise it. Whereas the relation of proletarians to their own practice is pivotal to any potential future uprising, their relation to their own representation, false as such effigies may be, reveal significant truths regarding proletarian self-activity. These truths, as noted in Mandela can go to hell, are religious in origin. Equanimity in the face of overwhelming adversity, magnanimity even in the fiercest of conflicts, courage and good cheer in the heat of battle, such human qualities are characteristic of the sages and prophets who populate the treatises of middle- and far-eastern religions. “Abiding joy, the habitude of good humor,” according to those knowledgeable about such matters “was considered by the Vatican in the canonization proceedings that authorize the veneration of a blessed or a saint as one of the essential characteristics of beatitude.”

 These are precisely the personal qualities venerated in modern heroes like Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Such people inspire admiration not merely because they are great men – in fact, others in equally high-ranking positions are often reviled precisely for possessing opposing personas. Regardless of whether such characterizations are accurate or not, the point is that what people find inspirational about such qualities is their positive effect on personal conduct. Such salutary personal conduct alone is not enough to produce equally salutary results in the public sphere; the desire for a mythical “right leadership” springs from such idle dreaming. The presence of these qualities in leaders may be fairly irrelevant, but in the everyday struggles of proletarians their influence is undoubtedly necessary, though by no means adequate by itself. Mass struggle for a new world provides the necessary context. But devoid of such personal qualities, the individual and collective conduct of millions in struggle seems unlikely to produce a very happy result. Which is not to idolise such qualities – sometimes they are necessary and are expressed authentically, sometimes they’re totally inappropriate, and sometimes, applied dogmatically,  they help defeat social movements. In short, it is necessary to recognise not only that the criticism of religion remains the prerequisite of all criticism, but also that you can’t adequately criticise, let alone supersede, religion without at the same time realising it.[8] [see Addendum 3]

Against the miserable magnanimity of Mandela and the ridiculous reconciliation of Tutu, you must be able to balance the true, down to earth forms of these qualities. Take a look at, for example,  the life of  Louise Michel,  who fought for the violent  overthrow of the old world at the barricades of the Paris Commune and continued after its defeat to participate in the movement for expropriation, joining the starving proletarians of Paris when they looted the bakeries of the city in 1883. Besides being awarded with deportation and numerous arrests for her efforts, she recieved the gift of an assassin’s bullet which nearly ended her life. Nevertheless, at the trial of her attempted assassin she proceeded to testify passionately on his behalf against a prison sentence in the belief that her true enemy was the bourgeois order rather than its poor puppets. [ See Addendum 4]

We are the last ones to argue for indulgence towards collaborators, but it is an historical fact that the persecution of perceived “reactionary elements” by a segment of township residents – who assumed the militant role of revolutionary purity and imposed such standards on those they judged lacking in this quality – has had disastrous consequences during the struggle, hardening the antagonism between migrant-workers in the hostels and permanent residents and contributing towards the conditions which drove these workers into the arms of opportunists such as Buthelezi & Inkhata[9]. The internecine turf-wars fueled by this situation in the mid to late 80s prepared the ground for the wholesale slaughter which broke out during the crucial 1989-1994 pre-election period, where tens of thousands were massacred – far more than had been killed by the apartheid security forces in all the previous years combined – and the revolutionary aspirations of the preceding years were drowned in a bloodbath. Mass acceptance of a legalistic negotiated settlement was no doubt brought about in a large degree through hope of relief from this terror by a return to order, even as this growing acceptance was a precondition for the continued terror which today takes the ubiquitous form of “crime”. But this is a large subject that demands to be done justice in its own place and time.


Schmidt continues: “Speaking for myself, I recognise—as the world at large has (even including a friend of mine who is a former apartheid Military Intelligence officer)—that Mandela’s firm commitment to peaceful negotiation, and his magnanimity in eschewing the bitterness that could have resulted from 27 years of incarceration, instead forgiving his enemies so as to build a democratic country, provided the country’s people with the watershed required to break with the past. This forgiveness is usually cited as his greatest attribute and the foundation of his status as a great statesman, as was his prodigious memory which enabled him to remember by name everyone he met, laying the foundation of his reputation for intimate knowledge of and care for those he interacted with in an attitude of humility. Regardless of the pragmatism that obviously underwrote Mandela’s opposition to igniting a race-war, or a revolutionary war, for that matter—for such a war would be unwinnable and would decimate both sides—this achievement, which enabled a peaceful first democratic election for all races in 1994 is rightly hailed as the high-water mark of my country’s history.”

There are so many things here that make one doubt whether Schmidt is at all committed to attacking the horrors of this society. First off, giving a friend who was a former apartheid Military Intelligence officer as a positive reference for admiring Mandela’s historical role is somewhat contorted logic. Rather like giving David Cameron’s admiration of Mandela as a positive reference. It would be like saying “even David Cameron who in the 80s wanted Mandela hanged, has come round to recognising that Mandela’s magnanimity in eschewing the bitterness that could have resulted from 27 years of incarceration, instead forgiving his enemies so as to build a democratic country, provided the country’s people with the watershed required to break with the past.”. In fact,  “this achievement, which enabled a peaceful first democratic election for all races in 1994 is rightly hailed as the high-water mark of my country’s history” (Schmidt) was the  achievement of not merely forgiving, but pretending to break with the past by forgetting it. One can, maybe, learn to forgive someone if the material conditions have been changed to the extent that it would be impossible for them to repeat their past behaviour, though even this would require some fundamentally different behaviour on their part which expressed some shame about their past. The “achievement” of democracy obviously did not even begin to achieve such a change.

Schmidt claims that “a revolutionary war…would be unwinnable and would decimate both sides”. Now obviously if you reduce such a war to just something confined to what Schmidt calls “my country” this war is unwinnable. It might well be unlikely to be won on an international scale also but unlikely is not the same as impossible. And certainly such a possibility is ruled out once you resign yourself to its unwinnability.  And not just ruled out, but in ruling it out you reduce all your attempts to challenge it to a mere pretence, cynically going through the motions. In accepting the inevitability of such a no-win situation you contribute to this unwinnability becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy;  you stop  genuinely committing yourself to the only way of becoming human and humane, you stop striving to break out of isolation and roles by struggling to recognize other people’s contradictions and their history as well as your own and you stop taking the risks that advance such possibilities. You remain essentially what this society wants you to remain: a spectator. And if it is a priori “unwinnable” then barbarism and indifference has already won. But, above all, this praise for Mandela – on the basis that he prevented a massacre – ignores the fact that post-apartheid South Africa involves economic massacres.

Take, for one instance, the vastly increased nasty forms of criminal activity way way beyond what they were during the revolutionary movement, clearly brought about courtesy of the intensified domination by the brutalising economic system: once violence is turned away from contesting the objective causes of misery, it always turns inwards into gang fights or just attacks by different sections of the poor on each other. Mokonyane noted that during the 3-month Alexandra bus boycott of 1957:

Our brothers, who are ordinarily called tsotsis (young delinquents) and who often enough rob their fellow Africans, were busy helping the old people along the road and telling people from the reserves not to board the buses. They provided very vigorous pickets….With very little to do, the police were compelled to manufacture and preside over petty offences such as traffic offences against pedestrians. In fact there were only three serious crimes in the three months of the boycott”[10]

For another, poverty and deaths through AIDS (and usually through easily and cheaply curable AIDS-related tuberculosis, the spread of which is directly linked to economic misery: see the few paragraphs on AIDS in the introduction to South Africa, Now and Then[11]) has meant a significant reduction in life expectancy compared with the apartheid era. So all that garbage about preventing a massacre is even worse than the way the French Communist Party justified their manipulation of the movement in France in 1968 (“if we hadn’t done that, de Gaulle would have machine-gunned thousands like the bourgeoisie did in 1871”). It says much for “anarchists”’ critique of bourgeois democracy that Schmidt claims that the small anarchist movement in South Africa “ welcomed with great enthusiasm—and critical—the coming of democratic governance under Mandela in 1994.” concerns

Compare Schmidt’s claims with this, from The Big Sell-Out, written by Dan Mokonyane, from the small group “The Movement for a Democracy of Content”, before 1994:

After the elections the purely formal democratic demands may be met but the real problems of the black masses will still be there: landlessness, homelessness, poverty, squalor, etc. These problems cannot, and will not be solved by prayer, negotiations, or, indeed, even legislation from a parliament whether of national unity or of national disunity. Those who own the land and wealth of South Africa and are battening on the backs of the black masses will not budge – they must be moved, expropriated and dispossessed of our land and wealth. Everything else is a cruel joke on the backs of the black masses. But where the masses have started to seize the land, empty classrooms and houses owned by whites whilst blacks are homeless, the SACP[12]/ANC has rushed to stop them, dangling as a remedy the recipe of the vote!…

The conception of a struggle with a storm of blood in order to achieve or just affirm the persistence of capitalism is both cruel, wasteful and bizarre but to want to achieve revolutionary change by negotiations exaggerates the power of eloquence (which SACP/ANC has in very short supply anyway) to something little short of lunacy. Too many priests and the increase in religious desiderata are misleading the innocents in the ANC/SACP that, as the song goes: “Faith can move mountains” but this is being too wedded to fairyland! Beyond the nebulous world’s glittering bubbles there is a real world, mundane perhaps for the new discoveries of the benefits of market forces, but indicated by such facts as who actually owns and controls the land and means of production…

On Mandela’s release, the unbanning of both the SACP/ANC conglomerate, the PAC and ever since then, South Africa, has seen an orgy of massacres, carnage, rapine and anything else the degraded and putrid instruments of white rule can produce, visited on the black masses. Working together with white rule, Buthelezi, the surrogate, and Mandela, the quisling, have presided upon these crimes on the black masses as proof of their adherence to white rule and their unfailing trust in it and the benefits of capitalism, privatisation and the so-called market forces. Mandela has to beg the white herrenvolk, haters and butchers of the black masses, not to leave South Africa but to remain bosses upon our people…

And, so after several massacres covering more than 350 years, the black masses are given the formal vacuities of the ballot paper whilst the land and wealth are in the hands of white rulers and crumbs in the (also bloodstained) hands of the nationalist elite…

Schmidt says, “I do not focus on the unquestionable legitimacy of his anti-apartheid struggle including its armed facet. But this “legitimacy” must be questioned if future struggles are not to succumb to the attractions of external “heroes”. The claim that Mandela was a leader who earned his place and was given the trust and respect of others because of past actions plays along with dominant myth-making and smoothes over all contradictions. For instance, the Alexandra bus boycott of 1957 was won by autonomous organisation, amongst which were Mokonyane and other members of “The Movement for a Democracy of Content”[13]. Though the ANC and (at least intellectually) Mandela participated, the success of the boycott – perhaps the most significant success during that epoch and one of the first successful mass struggles against the apartheid government – had nothing to do with Mandela or the ANC, as they were the most willing to compromise, whereas the masses involved in this 5-month struggle held out till they won.

Many swindle attempts have been made by so-called authorities to “settle” the miseries of the people (how sympathetic can these sympathetic exploiters be?) ALL of which have ben rejected as swindle by mass public meetings in all affected areas….WE CANNOT SELL OUR 14 WEEKS STRUGGLE FOR A 12 WEEK “SETTLEMENT” (ACCORDING TO THE A.N.C.)….Some groups on the Boycott Committees must be immediately exposed. The ANC (purely loud-mouthed self-advertisers)…have tried to sellout many times – witness their recommendation to collect 1d back at a kisok – AFTER HAVING PAID 5d – a proposal that was publicly burnt by those Leaders who are struggling in the interests of their people. THE ANC leaders are from time to time the main anti-boycott spokesmen…A man in the police uniform is easy to spot, but a man dressed in strong talk and weak actions has to be DISCOVERED through his actions. This is the case with the ANC…”

extracts from a leaflet issued by the Alexandra Peoples Transport Action Committee, spring 1957. (reproduced in “Lessons of Akizwelwa” by Dan Mokonyane)

In fact, the ANC was always pretty distant from the struggles of proletarians because it was largely interested in promoting itself (particularly through the boringly “sensible” liberal-leftism of the “Freedom Charter”[14], as well as – later – the Leninist substitutionism of so-called terrorist attacks), rather than contributing to any struggle directly concerning daily life. The ANC always strived for a monopoly of political representation of the struggle. As early as 1954, the ANC ‘jettisoned the already painfully limited freedom of speech among the Africans by claiming that no other political organization, apart from themselves, must hold political meetings in the three Alexandra Township Squares.’ As Mokonyane noted in Lessons of Azikwelwa. ‘The seriousness of this threat had emerged when Gumede of the Standholders and Vigilance Association…was badly beaten up for trying to hold a meeting at Number One Square.’ And, despite having had very little relation to the ’57 bus boycott, even withdrawing support for it half-way through, they later (a lot later) opportunistically claimed to have won it. Re-writing history is all part of dominant politics, and the further in the past such history is the greater the tendency for this re-writing to be accepted without question by the younger generations.

Mandela the great martyr-hero was portrayed by the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa as a saviour because that’s usually how hierarchical organisations work. Populist demagogy needs to induce social movements to focus on the heroic attributes of famous personalities (preferably living) so that people no longer look to themselves but constantly refer to an external authority – be it role model or professional leader – which would save them from the arduous task of struggling against the world’s contradictions directly. In 1976 when the South African revolution began, it began precisely because the idea “black man – you are on your own” coming from Biko (whose “sacrifice” was indisputably greater than Mandela’s) and the Black Consciousness Movement was taken up as the starting point of contestation by tens of thousands. In one fell swoop it thrust aside the idea of waiting for reforms from the liberal whites or for a coup d’état from the ANC. The ANC was rather derisory towards what happened in Soweto precisely because it was “unorganised” (ie self-organised, not organised by an organisation). It took over 8 years for the ANC to demagogically begin to recognise that there was more mileage to be gained from celebrating “the Soweto uprising” (because of its clear significance and popularity) than from dismissing it. To suggest that Mandela or the ANC had anything to do with this social movement ignores the fact that the ANC was largely an exile organisation, occasionally carrying out spectacular bombings within the country which neither halted the revolutionary movement nor aided it, even if they got some passive approval. And Mandela’s influence in prison was merely as an individualised expression of endurance, which was what every black person was forced to live in the open prison that was particularly evident during white rule; in terms of practical opposition, he had no useful influence. It was international leftism mostly outside of South Africa that promoted Mandela and the ANC, with its traditional state capitalist programme and its bureaucratic structure suitably in place as a state-in-waiting, as the most important form of opposition to apartheid. But within the country itself, it wasn’t until well into the 1980s that blacks in the townships started to look to the ANC as a possible political saviour. Behind the scenes, by the late 1980s, the ANC were doing deals with world business organisations about a “peaceful” transition to majority black rule which would keep intact all the essential miseries, but permitting a few blacks to gain power and enormous amounts of money within a structure previously excluding them.

As has been said before, Mandela’s “sacrifice” was no greater than that of thousands of real revolutionaries killed or maimed during the liberation struggle. Moreover, the simple fact that someone spent a very long time in prison is no reason to turn someone into “a colossus of global stature”. Harry Roberts (a well-known thief in the UK who killed 2 cops), who, unlike the ANC, never killed any innocent bystanders, is still in prison after over 47 years. But of course, he isn’t a “political prisoner”, and it’s the political prisoners that are always so beloved of the left, not those who “merely” contravene bourgeois property rights, or who kill defenders of class rule in pursuit of such a contravention. When working class crowds taunt the cops with “Harry Roberts is our friend”, the result is they ensure constant delays in giving him parole, hardly the same effect as “free free Nelson Mandela!”. As for political prisoners, Denis Goldberg, a white Stalinist SACP member imprisoned in the same trial as Mandela (few of those reading this will have heard of him), spent 22 years in a white jail – amongst prisoners and guards most of whom never appreciated his opposition to apartheid, a far more difficult situation than Mandela – “Being black and involved (in the struggle) meant you had the support of many people and it meant you got to be part of a community. Being white and involved meant being isolated”, he said. Compare this with Mandela, whose last few years in prison involved access to a swimming pool, a private cook and all manner of luxuries, rather like those rarely-imprisoned millionaires in the USA. Admittedly, he’d been in a very small cell for most of his 27+ years in prison and had had to break up rocks and all manner of miseries, but it’s only this that’s emphasised in the official histories. The time of his grooming for the presidency prior to his release is almost invariably never mentioned.

Nor are the prisons run by Lord Nelson’s own organisation, which made many apartheid jails seem like bastions of decency in comparison, ever spoken of. Executed to terrorise all exiles into blind obedience at the feet of a deified leadership, the brutality practiced at hell-holes such as the prison-camp Quadro ‘was such that the bestial Khmer Rouge of Cambodia could have learnt a thing or two’, according to Mwezi Twala, a dissident MK[15] soldier who was shot by the ANC’s gestapo for daring to speak out of turn. His book Mbokodo: Inside MK, describes his experiences in gruesome detail. Nobody with even the slightest remnant of moral courage could have any respect for Mandealer and his associates after reading accounts such as this (there are many more). It’s no surprise then that, published in 1994 when ‘Madiba Magic’ was at its strongest, ‘The ANC put pressure on major book stores in South Africa not to carry it, and so the book remains virtually unknown.’ Although many uncelebrated rebels suffered similar barbarism at the hands of the apartheid security forces, heroes like Lord Nelson never did. If the following reflections by Twala may be said to reflect a rather more rosy picture of apartheid prisons than was justified by the reality of most ordinary black prisoners, they describe quite accurately the experience of the saintly Robben Island martyrs:

‘I meditated on the journey I had taken in order to be a soldier, to do my bit to free my people from the yoke of apartheid. All I had achieved was to be subjected to another kind of repression, imprisonment, and torture. If I had stayed in the Republic, fighting my own war against the Regime, I would have achieved far more in a week than I had over the past fifteen years in Angola, Mozambique and Zambia under the communist ANC leadership. Also in the event of being apprehended by the South African authorities, I would have faced a proper judicial trial and been sentenced to a prison term.

Prison would have consisted of a clean bed and blanket, and decent clothes would have been issued. Reasonable hot meals would have been provided. Clean hygienic cells with running water on tap, a civilized toilet facility and shower cubicles. Added to this would have been an acceptable prison work ethic and a small but welcome income, enough to allow me the luxury of buying cigarettes and toothpaste. I might have had the opportunity to study, as Nelson Mandela did, almost any subject, with access to the prison library. I would also have received medical care for injuries and illness, plus spiritual comfort from a prison chaplain of a denomination of my choice. In no way would I have been misused, beaten and tortured at the whim of a spiteful revenge-driven warden.

Had the South African government treated me half as badly as the ANC, it would have been deserved to some degree, as I had broken South African laws. In the case of the ANC, there was no such rationale. It was virtually impossible to find a detainee who had committed a clearly defined crime against the system, because there was no system. I concluded that the policies of the ANC leadership were based on personal ambition and fear.’

[Sam & SK note: we are not entirely sure that prisons under apartheid were always as relatively “pleasant” as he makes out, but he still makes a very deeply felt & pertinent point]

So why does Schmidt begin by elaborating some of Mandela’s personal/political contradictory qualities, in such a way that he makes Mandela seem like us all – a man of contradiction, a good guy gone wrong, although somehow on a grand world stage scale, someone one could partly identify with? Because, as someone who has an ideology to impart, a journalistic-politico role to play, he can only express his critique with an eye to the idea of trying to win people over. The duped have to be enticed to something easily acceptable first of all, without having to constantly question the basis of their own colonisation by dominant ideology, their passivity before their “betters”. So he begins softly, with a spoonful of sugar to make the later medicine of critique go down. Slowly bit by bit, so as to not be too upsetting, he brings in facts that contradict his initial populist nod to the millions of South Africans who admire Mandela (in complete ignorance of what was already obvious about him in the 1980s). Although Schmidt’s ideas are anti-state, the self-same political role as those who want to develop state power is maintained under an “anarchist” guise, a role that patronises the masses in order to recruit them to some “correct” ideas. This unemotional method only encourages a hierarchical respect, a manner of educating the “non-anarchist” masses to these ideas in a disingenuous 2-faced role.

In The Algeria of Daniel Guerin the Situationist International put forward another compelling explanation for the incoherent contributions to the fine-art of hero-worship on the part of anarchists like Michael Schmidt:

‘What, then, is the secret of this aberration of one of our famous leftist intellectuals, and one of the most ostensibly “libertarian” among them at that? With him it is no different than with all the others: it is the decisive influence of their vainglorious participation in high society; their common tendency, even more servile than a lackey’s, to be swept off their feet with joy because they have spoken with the greats of this world; and the imbecility that makes them attribute such greatness to those who have condescended to talk to them.’

But what else can one expect from someone who gives interviews to GQ magazine?

2. Lies Lead the Masses to The Truth

Comment by ‘Backspace’ below the article Nelson Mandela: Some Thoughts[16]

We see on a libertarian-communist website, this: “use his history to help lead people toward self-organisation and away from trust in an enlightened leadership. ‘Exposing the myth’, however much it might be irritating that it exists, is an approach that isolates you and leaves you talking only to yourself… I suppose the issue that bothered me was how easy it is in the UK and US to criticise the liberal love for mandela, contrasted with the continued popularity of mandela amongst working class south africans in the shack communities (the same south africans that get beaten and murdered by ANC thugs), and that struggle organisations created there have to build on the existing mentalities and find a way to transform them, since they don’t have the luxury of critique from afar. If being threatened with violence and murder from the ANC doesn’t dissuade them from still admiring mandela, I’m not sure a leaflet would.”

The idea that speaking the truth “isolates you and leaves you talking only to yourself” is simply an expression of this other-directed inverted society where everyone has to hide themselves behind a role so as not to become aware of how separate they are. But since you are hiding what you really think (in this case, for utterly patronising reasons) then you really do remain isolated and only talking to yourself. If you speak the truth as you see it – not speaking the truth just to exorcise what’s in your head, but with the goal of subverting dominant social relations – you risk either being rejected or being recognised. But if you avoid the possibility of rejection you also never have the chance of being recognised. And certainly, those who want a revolution don’t have to “build on the existing mentalities and find a way to transform them” – you have to confront first of all your own existing mentality that speaks down to those who admire Mandela by speaking your mind.

Not only does failure to do so patronise those one addresses, often it accomplishes the opposite of what was intended; rather than seduce people into radical perspectives by degrees, watered-down criticism tends to repel people from it all the more. A clear example can be seen in precisely those “struggle organisations” in SA whose approach is so uncritically lauded by the commentator. Members of the organisation in question, Abahlali baseMjondolo,[17] often resort to the words of uTata Madiba[18] as a justification for their own rebellion, and by so doing sabotage the power of their actions. At the death of Mandela some of their members sent out a press release stating that they had decided to turn one of their demonstrations into a spectacle ‘in honour of Mandela’. These tactics only lead people to hijack the power of their own anger and defuse it favour of the forces of law and order. Re-fusal is the mother, not the daughter of revolt. In the Abahlali documentary, called, appropriately enough, Dear Mandela, one of the most striking moments is when one of the young leaders of the organisation addresses a gathering shouting Phantsi (down with) DA![19] – with a loud echo from the crowd. Phantsi Inkhata! Another loud echo. Phantsi ANC!. Silence. Phantsi ANC! Silence. No one else dares echo the cry.

The truth is that, far from using his history ‘to help lead people (sic!) toward self-organisation’, the failure of South African revolutionists across the spectrum to subject Mandela’s mythology to ruthless criticism amounts to self-defeating complicity in the deification not only of uTata Madiba but also of The Party to which his iconography is inseparably anchored. For all the supposed iconoclasm of their revolutionary traditions, anti-authoritarian anti-capitalist activists of all stripes have been horrendously tame when it comes to confronting the spectacle of struggle-celebrities with as trenchant a form of attack as the task demands. Those who wish to advance radical perspectives can only keep crying in the wilderness until they find, in the radical rebellion of others, an answering echo. Unless they have the courage to do this, both they and their celebrated ideal of liberty will always remain eclipsed by the shadows of giants.


3. A Bone To Pick

Ian Bone and Desmond Tutu

In the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, Desmond Tutu said, “Under apartheid, we faced daily battles for the right to gather, to protest and to march. Now that these rights are enshrined in our law, we abuse them. When we march, we demand, we destroy and we loot. We care not whether our demands are reasonable, or what actions we take… our police appear powerless to stop tidal waves of violent crime and what we euphemistically refer to as “service delivery protests”, the latter regularly accompanied by violence and destruction committed with utter impunity….While we rightfully condemn the police for massacring 34 mine workers last week, and demand the use of non-lethal methods of crowd control, we also sympathise with the vast majority of good policemen and women who have battled to do their very difficult jobs”[20]


Undoubtedly Ian Bone never heard of this comment by Tutu since he never ever tries to do much research or look into anything below the surface, otherwise he would have been unlikely to have posted this on his website (December 14th 2013)[21]:


A new low even for the ANC. Desmond a true fighter against apartheid unlike many of those showing up. I bumped into Desmond in Southwark Cathedral once. Fucking ANC cunts.

Bone tends to spout off the top of his head – particularly exaggerations with little regard for reality, so it’s no surprise that he begins with something that would take half a second to realise is untrue – “a new low even for the ANC”? Worse than Marikana? Or any of the other deaths and miseries? But not important.

Even less important is that this barring of Tutu was reversed a few hours later.

What’s idiotic is the utter lack of class antagonism from someone who constantly proclaims it, the lack of class contempt and disgust towards someone very high up in the class divide: the ex-Archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Peace prize winner isn’t someone you’d bump into in a Southwark pub, for instance. What’s idiotic is his name dropping – “I bumped into Desmond in Southwark Cathedral once” – note the intimacy of his first name. But what’s especially sickening is the most important bullshit of all – that Tutu was “a true fighter against apartheid.”. 

Total  immersion in a political role tends to make the distinction between fact and fiction utterly blurred, because everything is said to try to make oneself popular, regardless of its veracity. For example,  Bone’s fictitious version of his life, Bash The Rich, shows the extent of his need to utterly twist the facts for fear that the banal truth would not be entertaining enough. When one bullshits to other people after a while you tend to believe your own bullshit and so falsify your memory. Nevertheless  it would be stretching things a bit to believe that Bone’s demagogic populism has utterly wrecked his capacity to recollect the 80s. He knows full well that Tutu consistently advocated non-violence on the part of those struggling against a fundamentally and overtly violent system, that Tutu preached non-violence at the daily funerals of black people killed by the cops. The pamphletSouth Africa 1985: the organization of power in black and white’,( a text Ian Bone almost certainly read)  points out the following regarding Saint Desmond: 

Apparently an “enemy” of the South African apartheid state, he spent most of his time exerting himself to dissuade violence and sometimes even to prevent it. In the summer of 1985 Tutu was acclaimed by the international media for intervening amongst an angry crowd to save the life of an informer – ie the life of someone responsible for the deaths of loads of people struggling against the system. Not for nothing was this cop in shepherd’s clothing known by other blacks in South Africa as ‘The Clown Of Exploitation’. That summer he promised to leave South Africa if the anti-State violence didn’t stop but unfortunately celebrities, never live up to their promise.’

Obama+Tutu+Jun+30+2013Tutu with another Nobel Mass Murder Prize Winner

Tutu’s main contribution to the reinforcement of neo-apartheid state power was the “Truth and Reconciliation” commission.  “Truth and Reconciliation” meant the manipulation of the masses with a Christian form of resignation – through whites confessing their (apparently past) sins in public, everyone could feel connected to their nation’s history by playing the lay priest, a kind of mass confessional-cum-psychoanalysis of the past, televised, spreading over long periods of time. Whites changed their language but not their lifestyle; the everyday miseries of the pass laws disappeared to be replaced with mass evictions, and mass electricity and water cut-offs. “Forgiveness” is very different if you have the chance of making loads of money out of the politics of forgiveneness than if it simply means being manipulated by this politics into a depressed resignation to your penniless lot. And, for the poor at least, it’s usually “forgive and forget” : the powers-that-be know full well that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. But the rulers remember and learn far more from a past they’ve helped repress in those who threaten their rule than us.

So why this (hardly noticed, because it’s so obviously typical) bullshit on the part of Bone? Because he says whatever comes into his head. Because, however insignificantly and momentarily, Bone wanted a tiny bit of this reflected glory of the “true fighter”. Because Bone, ever the politician, is simply trying to stay popular regardless of any truth or integrity (which is why he proves how “active” he is by setting up a political party in competition with other political parties). And as almost always, he never bothers to do any research about, or take some critical distance from, what he’s talking about.

We make no bones about it: the abstract desire for immediate effectiveness accepts the rules of the dominant ideologies, the exclusive point of view of the present, when it spews out reformist complaints or “radical” actions imitative of past failures or instant pro-revolutionary “ideas”. In this way, delirium resurfaces in the very posture that pretends to fight it. On the contrary, the critique that goes beyond ideology must patiently experiment with different forms of expression, discovery and developing insight – as part of the way to make progress over time.

4. Caught in a Contorted Cobweb of Concept-Constructs

Mandela: A Leader in the Indigenous Anarchist Tradition  Emile[22]

‘Political language  – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’

 George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

g bush jnr mandela

Possibly the worst load of crap, in a virtually unprecedented overflowing sewer of the stuff pouring out of the global media, was an article published on Anarchist News. It contains not a single fact about Mandealer, but is full of imaginary claims plucked out of nowhere – such as that Mandela “played his empowerment card in a non-moralist [beyond-good-and-evil] indigenous-anarchist, restorative-justice sense blah blah etc.etc.” ignoring facts such as those we’ve already well elaborated in the section on Michael Schmidt. One expects academics to at least do a minimum of research to unearth some facts that can be put to a radical use way beyond the intention of the academic who discovered them. But not even one fact, even one everybody knows, is given to substantiate Emile’s delirious verbiage, which is simply designed to make himself (and virtually nobody else) think how clever he is.  Anyway, who cares about facts when you can treat him the way an aesthete treats a work of art: “if you like picasso’s early work and hate his later stuff, does that define and negate picasso, period?”, he says in the thread following his text. Never mind Mandela’s fundamental role for capitalism as undertaker of the revolution, never mind the devastation that the burial of the revolution wrought, let’s just think of him in the innocuous terms of the ups and downs of an artist-careerist or of a “many-to-one” leader transformed into a “one-to-many” leader. This nonsense reads like an academic anarcho-liberal version of the way 3 toothpicks on a blue background put on show in an art gallery would be portrayed by some professional post-modernist interpreter trying to increase the value of the artwork by claiming it has a truly deep significance expressing the essential dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis or whatever that only the elite of professional interpreters have the intelligence to fathom. Only worse, because he’s justifying a contributor to, first of all, international Stalinism, and later to international neo-liberalism. And giving this pig an anarchist gloss.

Emile lives in a labyrinthine ivory tower built out of word and concept bricks. His eyes are covered in construct-cobwebs through which he peers at life. His endless tortuous yin-yang-taoist terminology merely shows he has no ideas – ideas have him. The kind of person who, no matter what the conversation, will turn it all into his own particular frozen fixed focus: “The problem with the Ukraine is that they have asserted the yang and forgotten the yin”, “I love the way you’ve re-arranged the furniture in your living room to accentuate the yin”, “There’s really far too much yang in Harry Potter/  this chicken curry / my underpants”, etc Language for him is not a way to communicate a radical critique and subvert some aspect of reality but a wall of pretentious “ideas” to hide himself from this reality and give him a notion of superior “radical” intellect unlike those who couldn’t make head or tail of his scribble. In the narcissistic form of the spectacle of “intelligence”, writing is a flattering magic mirror that makes you think you look good, even if no-one else thinks you do. His claim that before he came to power Mandela was a non-authoritarian leader is merely projection of his own desire to be a non-authoritarian leader, presumably of the naive students for whom he regurgitates his chewed-up bits of junk food dressed up as Lobster Thermidor, whom he dreams will admire him for his brilliance. Which might also explain why he considers the hierarchical respect given to Mandela (implied in his notion of the “many-to-one” leader) is not something at all problematic but is somehow seen as “anarchist”. Undoubtedly there are also many anarchists who totally disagree with Emile’s patently ridiculous take on Mandela but who nevertheless also aspire to the kind of hierarchical respect he thinks is something positive.

Emile’s anti-moralism ( a rather outdated reaction to dominant moralism, which had some originality in the 1960s) still expresses many of moralism’s attitudes – in particular, moralism’s judgement of individuals abstracted from their social historical class situation and their choices within this externally unchosen situation. On the basis of this passively nihilist anti-moralism, he takes to task Siddiq Khan’s Let Us Not Mourn Famous Men, the text that follows  “Mandela can go to hell” He makes claims of the text that do not in any way exist in the text. For one thing, SK does not think that Mandela is ‘the man who had so much power in his hands who sold out to the devil’ (the fact that he puts this in inverted commas almost implies he is quoting from SK’s text, when nothing of the sort is written in it). A sell-out is someone who was originally on your side. But the history of Mandela is one of a politician, of a professional leader, who always had his party’s own separate agenda – the seizure of state power.

The whole notion of being “beyond good and evil” takes on very different aspects when viewed from the shithole bottom of the greasy pole than from anywhere else. And certainly very different from an anti-moralist notion viewed from an ivory tower. The South African revolution of the 70s and 80s was beyond moralism and anti-moralism because the qualities and miseries of both were realised and suppressed (ie superseded) in the potlatch of destruction and the violent affirmation of the impossible. Morality or its opposite had fuck-all to do with it – it was always a question of “by any means possible/necessary”.

Emile says “Mandela’s resistance caught the attention of people in south africa and around the world…. Mandela played his empowerment card in a non-moralist [beyond-good-and-evil] indigenous-anarchist, restorative-justice sense. It lifted many black south africans out of their sense of hopelessness.” But Mandela was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and yet the South African revolution broke out in Soweto and quickly spread all over the country some 14 years later. Thereby, once again, showing to all but the blind that only the masses of individuals themselves can lift themselves out of hopelessness. Yet in Emile’s (and many a Leninist’s) repetition of the dominant falsification of history, it was this oh-so- special individual who lifted people out of their hopelessness. In fact, hope in Mandela and bourgeois democracy was like the carrot dangled in front of a donkey’s eyes by the fat bastard riding him.

Emile is so devoid of any integrity that he even dares to compare the critique of Mandela with an imagined critique of Geronimo – as if Geronimo had become US President rather than reduced to a sad circus entertainer, as if Mandela had launched battles against the forces of the state in any way comparable with Geronimo’s, who never had the luxury of being partly financially supported and armed by Russian state-capitalism.   Such a comparison is typical of the rivalrous mentality of those whose perspective is already defined and closed – they’ll grab onto the most irrelevant analogies to give the appearance of an argument they are simply out to” win”; it has nothing to do with any honest struggle to discover through open-ended questioning, with a view to some solidly –based challenge to the status quo.

He says in one of his posts that follows his original utterly up-in-the-air text, “In the era prior to the black-white reconciliation that Mandela’s empowerment by the ordinary people helped to bring about, blacks that tried to rise up were brutally beaten down by the white apartheid policing regime. black activists were being killed in police custody. Things were about as bleak as they could be. how discouraging was this to the black south african collective consciousness?” Well – on that score, very little has changed, as Emile should know. And not just Marikana (it’s not too much of an effort to read “We are the poors” by Ashwin Desai, written well before Marikana, for example). It’s clear that if there was a revolutionary movement as creatively destructive as the burning down of half the public buildings of various townships as repeatedly happened in the 1980s, the democratic cops protecting the current “rainbow” ruling class would be every bit as bad, if not worse, as the brutality of the cops in previous epochs. In many respects they already are. Since the televised dawn of democracy more people have been killed in police custody each year than at any point during the State of Emergency of the 80s. The number of police-related deaths over the past twenty years, more or less 14 000, rivals the bloodbath that drowned the revolution after Mandealer’s release (although, admittedly, over a considerably longer stretch of time). And statistics only document fatalities. The ‘ordinary’ harassment, humiliation and brutality meted out by the police on a day to day basis is something with which almost every black person remains familiar. SK himself was recently picked up by the cops for being a black person carrying a bunch of keys with an electronic garage remote in a white residential area. A highly suspect situation demanding detainment and interrogation by the forces of law and order. Some time before, he was pepper-sprayed, stamped on in the chest, arms and legs and subjected to a forced body-search by a dozen pigs in from three police vans for the same offense. But clearly carrying such an excessively yang object as a garage remote fully deserves such treatment.

It’s because of everyday occurrences such as these that, according to Jared Sacks‘ article Fuck the police, ‘In any informal settlement in the country, the minute a group of six-year-olds see the cops entering the community, the first thing they do is drop whatever game they are playing and run away.’ Unlike the learned Emile, these ignorant children have not yet been trained to totally disconnect the use of their brains from the facts of life. He says of SK “Europeans are moralists [Western civilization is moralist] and they like their heroes ‘pure’.” But, putting aside the fact that SK is a South African – not a European, SK very clearly states his opposition to heroism and heroes: “Like every other hero, celebrity, and star in this upside-down society (including those of the ‘progressive’, ‘radical’ and ‘revolutionary’ variety), Mandela has always been an enemy of ordinary proletarians…. We don’t need visions or visionaries, heroes or heroism. They are all part of the problem. What we need is clarity. A clear view of the problem. Then we can begin to experiment with solutions for ourselves.” And the notion that SK doesn’t like Mandela because he doesn’t conform to some idea of “purity” is nowhere to be found in SK’s text. We could continue taking apart the rest of Emile’s strawmanning , but really – nothing he says about what SK has written has anything to do with what he has in fact written. Emile, like almost everybody stuck in fixed dogmas, is playing the politician, utterly distorting SK’s very direct and simply put ideas beyond recognition so he can deal with something in the habitual contorted manner he knows how to deal with things, dismissively knocking down what he himself has set up. In order to conform to his intellectual illusion of being anti-moralist he attacks his fantasy of what SK’s ideas are so as to fit in with a pre-existing framework which he can apply to almost anything he dislikes without having to bother with understanding what each person is in fact saying. He makes about as much sense as someone attacking a sunny day for tasting like mouldy cheese. But the political method behind what he says is far worse in its general implications – because, despite taking an absurdly obscure and unique form derived from a mind trapped in academic forms of non-communication, it’s by these kinds of intellectual sleights-of-hand – even if they usually take a far more “down-to-earth” form taken from the populist media – that far too many find ways of defending atrocities.

As for Emile’s particular (non)style, one might say such ‘prose is that of a propagandist; it is fuzzy on principle, swathed in circumlocutions, emitting multisyllabic words as the cuttlefish does clouds of ink, and for very much the same purpose.’ In fact, an insightful satirist revealed it to be the product of a rogue Artificial Intelligence Unit ‘the Electronic Memory and Interactive Library Extractor (it calls itself “emile”)’ that has run amok and now ‘simply spews an incomprehensible mixture of the things it has been able to access from its library database.’ Indeed, Emile does seem to be an unwitting parody of the increasingly ubiquitous academic (an)aesthetic which, like its popular journalistic counterpart, demands the expression of an infinity of personal ideas from people who have neither the time, intelligence, or inclination to form a single one of their own . This  aesthetic  results in a tumult of non-communication wherein pre-fabricated ideas are parroted in either a high-brow or lowbrow way. Just as an absence of significant critical thought does not present the academy from producing a surplus of verbiage, a lack of ideas does not prevent people spouting a host of strongly held and weakly-put together opinons. ‘Foreigners must go home because they are stealing our jobs’ is a sentiment as genuine as it is vacuous. Aping the bloodless jargon-ridden cant of modern science in the hopes of basking in the reflected glamour (or at least the apparent objectivity) of this latter-day religion, such people reverently blabber their arcane catechisms with no concern over their total irrelevance. But as Pieter Wisse warned[23], ‘the scientist who sacrifices relevance for rigor is like the drunkard losing his keys. He is looking for them under the bright light of a street lantern. He knows it is far from where he has lost them but at least, he argues, it is where he can see clearly.’

One can only hope that, enlivened by the ebb and flow of renewed insurgent intercourse –  to which such people render themselves irrelevant or worse, a hinderance – at least a few wobbly-legged, blurry-eyed souls, woozy on an overdose of their own ideology, start to sober up.


Samotnaf & Siddiq Khan, April 2014

Addendum 1

We publish the following extract here, from “South Africa 1985: the organization of power in black and white”, written in 1985 by Sam Thompson & Norman Abraham (pseudonyms of an American – Chris Shutes, and a South Afican), to show that – well before Mandela’s release – there were those who had the intelligence to recognise what the ANC were about, and had no desire to pull their punches out of some patronising respect for people’s illusions:

For the past quarter century, the ANC has been the foremost surrogate government of South Africa. It has earned a name for its rhetoric and its ravings, and has been over-generous with its praises for the Russian bureaucracy. But beneath the ideological bombast, it has developed a bureaucracy more capable than any other of replacing the apartheid state and of successfully negotiating in the international corridors of power.

For decades, the ANC advocated guerrilla war as the only viable salvation for black South Africans. During the uprisings of 1976-7 and 1980, the ANC was conspicuously absent from the heat of struggle. ANC even went so far as to minimise the importance of these struggles as leaderless, anarchic and even infantile.

The events of the last year have led ANC to abruptly change its tune: it now recognises internal revolt as the threat to the white state, and the only viable avenue for an ascent to power. This recognition coincides with an admission by the State that the centre of its problems lie within the country, not outside.

A number of factors combined to allow ANC to keep its hat in the ring despite its ineffectiveness.

No small credit can be given to the South African government, which, for 20 years defined the ANC as the enemy, both for self-serving reasons and because of the government’s own illusions.

The prestige of being the oldest liberation movement, with well-known figures and martyrs, played a part.

The hope of blacks for an outside solution, similar to the hope of religious people for salvation from on high, also had a role. Along with this often went the constantly frustrated desire for arms. Weapons came not in a flood but a trickle always in the hands of loyal cadres, and mostly squandered on terrorist acts. But although desperate people saw no significant delivery of the goods, ANC remained the only potential game in town.

Though the build-up of a bureaucracy inevitably goes hand in hand with calcified, hierarchical thinking, the ANC managed to avoid the fate of the Pan-African Congress, which committed suicide by choking on its own dogma.

The ANC has not lost sight of its sole real practical objective: the seizure of power in South Africa. This is the fundamental requirement of an effective Leninist organisation. ANC has crossed many bridges but burnt very few. One example of this is that, despite its relationships with the Stalinists of the eastern bloc, it has remained foremost a nationalist group. There is no doubt that the ANC would be internally Stalinist in the unlikely event of a coup, negotiated or otherwise. But that an ANC government would become a simple Russian satelite, along the lines of MPLA in Angola, is rather implausible.

It is wrong to say that events “forced” the ANC to do anything. The new ANC outlook is an opportunistic move, notable not for being opportunistic, but for being successfully so.

The success has been spectacular. After years of hollow claims and dirty deeds, all is forgotten and ANC is very much in the running again. It is gaining confidence almost to the point of euphoria. For the first time, there is evidence among those actually fighting the Police of a significant spontaneous support for ANC. Passive support is at an all-time high. It is the only oppositional organisation with a highly developed bureaucracy and wide-scale international recognition. Best of all, it must only prescribe activities to the masses after they have already happened in order to maintain its position. The townships have become ungovernable? The ANC must only announce the slogan, “Make the townships ungovernable,” and its popularity skyrockets.

ANC will continue to conduct terrorist activities and even intensify them if it can. It must maintain a visible profile, and keep up morale and dedication amongst its armed wing. But for most of those in the ANC military camps, the future after the glorious event, if it comes, is more mundane: as the elite of the ANC police.

As is the case with the State, ANC does not know where it will be swept in the course of revolution. In spite of a definite growth in support, ANC finds events out of its control. Wild speculation abounds about navigating from London and Lusaka to Pretoria. But some basic points can and must be made.

In a particularly revealing moment, the mystical Nelson Mandela, jailed demigod of the ANC, recently said:“We want Johannesburg to remain the beautiful and thriving city that it is now. Therefore, we are willing to maintain separate living until there are enough new employment opportunities and new homes to allow blacks to move into Johannesburg with dignity.”

Though bitter enemies, with profoundly opposing interests, the ANC and the white state are united in at least this: the infrastructure of the economy must be saved. Ownership, personnel and the style of administration are what is at stake here.

For the ANC to come to power in South Africa then, at some point in time & preferably somewhere, the revolution must stop.

 Addendum 2

Links to mostly mainstream articles giving some of the significant moments of social contestation in South Africa from the beginning of March to mid-April this year, taken from the “News of Opposition” page on this site:


South Africa, Olievenhoutbosch: residents block road in protestKliptown, Soweto: another protest (against rent rises).as report declares that 56% of children live below poverty line


South Africa, Olievenhoutbosch: residents block road in protestKliptown, Soweto: another protest (against rent rises).as report declares that 56% of children live below poverty line


Vlakfontein: protests against power cuts block main highway, burn tyresRustenburg: NUM scab’s house burnt downBoitumelong, Christiana: videos of riots from 6th April to today, plus numerous links to various articlesWolmaranstadt: 5 shops looted during protests


Christiana: teenage looter shot dead by shop owner during riotroad blocks prevent people going to miserable situations (school and work)


Boitumelong: community hall torched12 police houses burnt down (video)protests spread to neighbouring townships (video)


Boitumelong: mayor’s and 2 municipal officials’ houses torched as protests continue (video)…protesters demand the municipality be disbanded


Report of  48 major service delivery protests since January


Cape Town: wildcat bus strike


Western Cape: fishermen blockade port


Cape Town: journalists attacked,  cops pelted with stones, etc., rocks and burning tyres used as barricades in angry protest against house demolition; cops use rubber bullets and stun grenadesHammanskraal: bus & car burnt in protest against fare hike; most township inhabitants refuse  to work


Majakaneng: arrests over February service delivery protests….whilst ANC tries to boost its irredemably   discredited “radical” image….as genuine service delivery protesters threaten intensification (see this, about previous protests)


Cape Town: more tyre-burning protests


Cape Town: several service delivery protests, clashes with copsover a billion dollars lost to capital by platinum miners strike


Interesting  business report on Amplats strike: “Platinum strike is no run-of-the-mill wage dispute”….statistics record an average of 34 protests a day since the start of the year


Eastern Cape: another service delivery protest – roads blocked, cops stoned


Near Johannesburg: 1000 residents block main road in another service delivery protestmore pig brutality


Another NUM scab hospitalisedCOSATU issues press release showing contempt for the strikers…  new film about Marikana massacre“…Four mortuary vans were ordered in advance and …ambulance services and emergency medical personnel were apparently kept out of the killing fields for an hour after the shooting had stopped…documents clearly reveal the attempts by Lonmin to criminalise the strike by rock drill operators without whose labour no mining can take place. One of the most damning of these is an email by Ramaphosa maintaining that the action of the miners is not a strike but a criminal act.”


Zuma condemns violence of miners’ strike; union changes its demands to a slow implementation of wage rise over 4 years


NUM scab beaten up and hospitalised by platinum miners on strike

The next 3 Addendums concern discussions related to slight differences in nuance in the text between SK and Sam:

Addendum 3 

At this point in the text (i.e following: ” it is necessary to recognise not only that the criticism of religion remains the prerequisite of all criticism, but also that you can’t adequately criticise, let alone supersede, religion without at the same time realising it”) we had some slight difference of opinion over the inclusion of either a quote from Marx (which Samotnaf wanted) or a quote from Ken Knabb (which Siddiq K. wanted). Since this involved some interesting things about religion, mainly from SK, it seemed worthwhile reproducing the discussion here: 

Sam wanted: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions…. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions…Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. . .” (Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy  of Right , 1843)

SK wanted: 

“The revolutionary movement must oppose religion, but not in preferring to it a vulgar amoralism or philistine common sense. It must take its stand on the other side of religion. Not less than it but more… It is not enough to explain religion by its social role or historical development. The content that is expressed in religious forms must be discovered. Because revolutionaries haven’t really come to terms with religion, it continually returns to haunt them… Every new religious manifestation is a mark of the failure of radical theory to express the hidden, authentic meaning that is sought through those forms.” (The Realization and Suppression of Religion, Ken Knabb).

Sam responded:

I really don’t agree with this. Firstly, it is a fetishism of theory that sees “every new religious manifestation [as] a mark of the failure of radical theory”;   it is far more a failure of radical practice, of revolutionary movements – to go further, in part their failure to express “the hidden, authentic meaning that is sought through those forms” in practice – ie the revolution hasn’t sufficiently created the conditions for developing genuine forms of community striving  to create heaven on earth which could show the poverty of  separate religious identities, “communities” and rituals. If one were to merely see this as a failure of revolutionary theory then it’s clearly inaccurate. The quote from Marx I gave is not merely indicative of the need to suppress religion, but also a need to realize it; how else can one interepret: “Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. “  ? And I really don’t like most of the other parts of this text of Knabb’s, though this here is the least of my criticisms of it (I was in Berkeley, staying with part of that situ milieu, at the time he wrote the first draft and people were discussing it) . Besides, he wrote this in 1977 and it reads like an introduction to a project he would later develop. But in the 37 years since he –as far as I have read – has developed nothing of any use at all from this initial perspective (his support for “engaged Buddhism”, and its dogma of  non-violence, illustrates this). So I’d prefer it if we kept the Marx quote, perhaps putting it like this: As Marx said, implicitly expressing the need for both the suppression and the realization of religion: “ Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering…” etc.

SK replied: 

Yes, you are right about the implicit aspect of realization in the Marx quote. But the implication still derives from an elaboration of its social role, which Knabb’s text explicitly aims to go beyond. The point is that there is far more expressed in religion than simply ‘the sigh of the oppressed’, but this tended to be all Marx and his disciples were willing to recognise. The task put before revolutionary theory — to recognise and demystify this many-sided content — remains in abeyance. But I maintain that it is a necessary task, and one in need of particular emphasis. Maybe Knabb himself failed to take this up very successfully after writing that text, but that is neither here nor there. I don’t see how his subsequent shortcomings, or even faults in other parts of the text, are relevant to the use of this quote. As Wayne said regarding the Trocchi quote ‘I do not see the point of trying to evaluate Trocchi’s life and work as a whole. You are appropriating a single passage from him or your own ends. It does not imply any wider endorsement of him. Viewed in isolation, the quotation you propose seems perfectly serviceable to me.’ There may be grounds for considering the social role of those you quote, but it’s not as if Knabb was an official of some repressive racket like Fanon, after all.


Further, you seem to be basing your disagreement on a narrow definition of revolutionary theory which Knabb explicitly critiqued in Double-Reflection. There is clearly a relation between failure in what he emphasised was the practice of theory and failure in theory itself. Practice must fail to realise what theory fails to recognise.


During the colonial wars a 19th century Makana Nxele tried to extend the supernatural forces available to the Xhosa people, whose resistance was crumbling in the face of vastly superior military force. He appropriated christianity to become a ‘prophet’, claiming that he was the brother of Christ,  preaching that “the correct way to worship God was not ‘to sit and sing M’De-e, M’de-e all day and pray with their faces to the ground and their backs to the Almighty’, as the missionaries taught, but to dance and to enjoy life and to make love”. He tried to unify all the clans west of the Kei river in a coordinated attack on Grahamstown instigating the fifth frontier war. The combination of communal pleasure, sensuous spirituality, and rebellious combat demonstrate that in this case, as in your previous paragraph on struggle songs, you don’t have to stop singing to start swinging.


It should be noted that at this time the Xhosa had nothing to do with Jesus. The Number of converts which missionaries of all denominations had hitherto made in the 150 years since the arrival of Europeans was numbered in the dozens. The outcome of political and social events was felt to have a supernatural cause. The continuing defeats at the hands of the colonists initiated a questioning of pre-existing spiritual forces and the sort of appropriations begun by Nxele during the anti-colonial wars. With the final defeat on the military plane, the old ways were further transformed into a millenial movement which borrowed apocalyptic aspects of christianity, which were foreign to the Xhosa worldview, in a way analagous to the Ghost Dance of the amerindians. The mass cattle-killing, and mass starvation which resulted from this, brought about the break-down of the pre-conquest society, including the spiritual resources based on this society, and opened the way for mass conversion to christianity. Having been proven inadequate by the disasterous course of conquest, the Xhosa cosmology was abandoned en masse, and within a few years new converts numbered in the thousands. In cosmological terms, it involved recognition that the small-scale world of traditional society with its subsistence economy, self-sufficient homesteads, and so on – what Marx & Engels called ‘local communism’ – had been displaced and replaced by a large-scale, ‘world historical’ society. It involved a search for the answer to the question, ‘Where is our place in all this?’ From an academic’s lecture notes:


‘The white-dominated society of the Cape Colony was much larger, more complex socially with social and economic hierarchies which were, with only minor exceptions, correlated with race and ethnic differences. It was also economically very different with a market economy. Moreover, the Cape Colony was itself part of even larger ‘worlds’. It was part of the global British Empire in political terms and an increasingly global economic system (e.g., fluctuations in either demand or prices for commodities like wool and soon diamonds had profound effects on the economic well-being of people in the Cape Colony, including Africans). Conversion then was an acknowledgement that with the conquest, a new situation had irretrievably replaced the old. To people who believe that success or failure were determined by supernatural forces, it was necessary to acquire the necessary knowledge and levers to survive and live in the new world. For most, the key in the new context was Christianity.


However, it is important to note that Christianity was adopted, not in place of, but in addition to many aspects of traditional belief and continuing respect for many traditional customs. The missionaries tried to get abandonment of a number of customs—especially, ukwaluka, intonjane and lobola—but they had met resistance.’


Indeed much of these traditional practices continue today in modified forms among christians, and many of them have disappeared among non-christian traditionalists anyway.


What I wanted to emphasise in the above was the essential role which the christian religion played in the transformation of what the situationists called pre-capitalist ‘unitary consciousness’. It is not merely that a defeated people adopted a delusional fable as compensation for their oppression, although this too is true. They may just as well have adopted some other fable, like the enlightenment ideal of progress throughout (and upward mobility within) the new society, as indeed happened, first among the black elites, later among the masses. Why, specifically, did it have to be a religious fable? One reason might be the ‘third stream’ Renaissance notion Loren Goldner notes was lost in the enlightenment myth, the conception ‘of human participation of the constitutition of the world (whereby it smacked of heresy for the Church), it was closer to Marx than any of the intervening Enlightenment views.’


There are doubtless other reasons. European religion proved to be far less unilateral in its demands than european progress. Blacks could adapt it their own traditional aesthetic and social requirements. The political and economic conditions of the colony, on the other hand, tended to be inflexible in the extreme when it came to the role of blacks. They could use religion to rebuild new forms of inclusive communal participation through direct personal interaction which had been destroyed. The other fields in which they were permitted to come together – of ‘civil society’ and the state – tended to produce formal, sterile, instrumental relations which precluded much that is beautiful and vital in life. The moral basis of religion tends to be entirely abstract in secular society. And this to me seems key to the whole question – religion constitutes a field of action designed (however inadequately) to link the individual to universal history in a concrete way whereas in the secular realm, based on the ideological fragmentation of life, this connection has always been intentionally abstract, except where religious elements are deliberately introduced, as in fascism.


There is doubtless much more to be clarified than is possible in this brief notes. For example, the mass conversions which followed the Xhosa cattle-killing really took off in 1866, during what has been called the Taylor revival. American revivalist William ‘California’ Taylor, itinerant ranter in the manner of Lorenzo Dow whose ‘irregular methodism’ he shared, toured the congregations of South Africa on his way back to the states at this time. He had initially planned to speak to English audiences only, but after exhortations by an Eastern Cape missionary agreed to stop by for one day only on his way to revival meetings in Grahamstown and other inland towns. From the more lecture notes:

At the mission, he met Charles Pamla. They devised a plan whereby Taylor preached the sermon to Pamla beforehand so that he had a good idea of what was coming. As it turned out, Pamla, who was an outstanding preacher in his own right, was also an inspired translator. For example, one technique frequently used by Taylor was to sing a hymn as he was reaching the climax of his sermon; in this first sermon he did that as well although he had not gone through the song previously with Pamla. Apparently, without missing a beat even though he had never heard the song before, Pamla not only translated the song but also rendered the melody line by line. The amazed Lampough later wrote that he had never heard anything like it before. The results were stunning. People were weeping and crying—a great tumult. Some of the missionaries were very concerned, but Taylor assured them that this was not unusual and that the same thing happened at services with whites. There was a 2nd service at night which lasted into the early hours. By that time over 100 people were claimed as converts, a stunning outcome for missions up to that time.


Early the next day, Taylor left. However, as he continued his preaching to white audiences, other missionaries also pleaded with him to come to their missions. Finally, Taylor agreed provided that Pamla came to be his interpreter. For several weeks then, Taylor would visit mission stations with Pamla as he continued his revival campaign. Everywhere, the results were similar. However, it did not stop after Taylor departed. Especially under the Africans (both the ministerial candidates and other ‘evangelists’, many of whom later became candidates for the ministry themselves), this revival movement continued to build.


Then, Taylor decided to visit Natal, but instead of going by sea, he decided to travel overland through the Transkei where the Wesleyans had established a line of mission stations. Conversions were not numerous there; probably the impact of defeat and the disruptions of European influences was not as great as in the frontier districts of the Colony. However, as Taylor himself reported, Pamla was much more an object of interest and excitement to the Africans than Taylor was.


In Natal, the two men separated; as Taylor said, Pamla could preach just as well or better to the Africans without Taylor. Thus, Taylor concerned himself almost exclusively with white audiences. Again, although conversions were not as spectacular as in the eastern Cape, conversions were much larger than missionaries had ever seen before.


Prior to the methodist revival, the most significant relation between blacks and christianity involved the Moravians (who had a big influence on John Wesley), whose first missionary, George Schmidt, went among the Khoi-Khoi, who were despised and even hunted for sport by the boers. That he should teach these people, who many regarded as sub-human, to read and write when most boers themselves were illiterate, that he should and minister agitate for their wellbeing against the claims for unfettered exploitation and pillaging made by the colonists, earned him their hate. On one occasion at least, they gathered an armed group with the intent of doing away with him. Eventually he was deported on religious grounds. According to one history ‘In so-called Christian South Africa there was a great difference between theory and fact. In theory the Dutch farmers were members of the Dutch Reformed Church; in fact there was only one clergyman to every 24,000 farmers ; and the consequence was that most of those farmers were Christians only in name.’ For a long time the Moravians were the only christians to concern themselves with what became known as the ‘coloured’ population of the country. My family used to have a house in Genadendal, a town that started as a Moravian mission; I remember it as a picturesque place with not much going on. It’s interesting to note how similar the mixture of radical Reformism and indigenous African traditions is here to that which  in America Goldner claimed ‘comes from a past prior to the establishment of the hegemony of work, and points to a future beyond the hegemony of work, characterized by a higher form of the “total activity” which, at its best, occasionally manifested itself in pre-capitalist societies (e.g the great Renaissance festivals) and which is in reality closer to communism than Second and Third International recipes for industrializing backward countries.’ It’s no surprise that the varieties of christianity most popular among blacks today are home-grown versions like Zionism which derive much of their style from the camp-ground revivalist enthusiasm of primitive methodism. It’s equally unsurprising that the clerics who rose to prominence in the anti-apartheid spectacle, Desmond Tutu (Anglican) and Alan Boesak (Dutch Reformed) were leaders of denominations which never had any mass appeal among blacks but happened to be the official churchesof the two colonial powers to dominate the country, England and Holland.


The only others to concern themselves with blacks at the time were the Muslim exiles who had been deported to South Africa after fighting colonisation in South-East Asia. It’s an interesting and little known fact that the first Afrikaans book was a book of Islamic theology written in the arabic script! Then there are the struggles of the indentured labourers from India in the sugar plantations of Kwa-Zulu Natal, at the beginning of the 20th century whose tactics of civil-disobedience developed into (and developed out of) the quasi-religious doctrine of Ghandianism.

  In any case, if you prefer to use the Marx quote that’s fine, but then one would have to point out its limitations as a merely implicit expression derived solely from an analysis of an historically passive social role. Not only has religion also played an active role in social struggle, but it also contains much more content than that related to oppression.

Sam replied:

Without going into all the ins and outs of the enormity of what you’ve written (most of which I agree with), there are just a couple of points about the Knabb quote I’d like to reply to. Of course, quoting something doesn’t mean you agree with everything else in the text quoted from; but this is a very short text, hardly known and not really worth knowing; giving it as a positive reference gives more significance to it than it deserves. It was produced in a period of far more profound social constestation, experiment and critique than  is, for the moment,  being developed nowadays and yet in the little to which it referred   going on then (eg women’s critiques of the fetishism of writing) took a totally reactive conservative point of view.  In fact, if I criticise his emphasis on “theory” it’s largely because  he is and was so out-of-touch with any social movements going on which might clarify/ have clarified  and/or shown up the weaknesses of his up-in-the-air abstractions. For instance,  what does this mean; “It must take its stand on the other side of religion. Not less than it but more…”? It can mean anything you want it to – it’s so vague. There are certainly some aspects of religion we could do far less of.  

I also find this, from you, rather problematic: “religion constitutes a field of action designed (however inadequately) to link the individual to universal history in a concrete way “.  Though this is true, in doing so it also helps intensify false solutions to the universal domination by the commodity – belonging to a particular religion/sect/cult becomes the individuals separate identity linking them to universal history in a hierarchical submissive form and not at all being able to contest the instrumentalised forms fo commodity relations they appear to be some refuge from (the Jonestown massacre in 1979 is just one very obvious example of this). I also think that  the fact that  aspects of pre-christian cultures were integrated into various forms of Christianity in Africa (and other parts of the world – for example Christmas  is the christianisation of the pagan festival of Saturnalia )  shows merely how opportunist and adaptive Christianity is, another illustration of how much it aims to be all things to all (wo)men. Its flexibility, though, doesn’t mean it’s any the less debilitating for the individual , for the struggle for genuine community.

Today, the “realisation and suppression of religion” often combines with vulgar philistinism in the commodity form. Take for example, this transformation of Mandela’s prison clothes into a brand name: 


mandela 46664

Christianity turned the Roman equivalent of the electric chair –  the cross, expressive of the state’s power over life and death –  into a symbol, to be worn round the neck, initially of apparent “defiance ” of that state’s authority, and then developing into a symbol of moral superiority,  of a permanently visible public declaration of a separate identity.  The modern spectacle turns another form of the state’s power (to bury people alive in prisons) into a pricey t-shirt  – one that the prisoners of the factory  producing such a shirt would be hard put to buy themselves. That’s progress!

SK replied:

 Regarding your further comments on the Knabb text, I think the fact that it continues to have spurred on discussion on important questions in itself demonstrates how much it remains worth knowing — even if it comes to be known derisively, with the cruel thoroughness of posterity dissecting the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of this first attempt. You are quite right about the its shortcomings related to the critique of intellectualism and writing; this is an enormous question which remains to be taken up by revolutionary praxis today. Literature the least desirable, but traditionally the most easily organisable, form of revolutionary theory. It is much easier for a small group to organise the publication and distribution of a journal successfully than to to organise an occupation, for example. The women’s consciousness raising groups of the time were one attempt to develop other forms, unfortunately the theory they expressed usually had little to do with social revolution. Other forms have been attempted since then, most found wanting in some respect or another. Better things remain to be invented. In the context of his essay I think the quote you criticise as vague quite clearly indicates the need to recognise and provide adequate forms of expression for the variety of real human desires (not merely the desire for freedom from oppression, though this ‘includes’ in an abstract way all the others) pursued through the varieties of alienated religious experience. I think all you say following my quote on religion and universal history stems from the fundamental inadequacy of the religious mode I mentioned. Passivity, separation, self-righteousness are perennial problems recognised among the faithful themselves; they have formed the basis for the various reformations and revival movements which mark the course of religious development. Needless to say, such attempts at reform are themselves doomed to failure. Like anarchism and marxism, religion must be stripped of its alienated baggage, its ideological detritus, pillaged for the kernel of truth and incorporated into a practical project that might finally, enriched by the broadened and deepened possible forms of action and association of this newly aquired booty, realise in daily life the aspirations merely represented in scripture and ritual. Which new possible forms are these? I admit they remain at present mostly hypothetical. The burden of proof is, I suppose, on those who advance the thesis…

As for the rest of what you say, we do seem to be mostly in agreement.


 Appendix 4

A discussion about “magnanimity” and “compassion”.

Sam wrote (re. Louise Michel’s opposition to the imprisonment of the guy who tried to assassinate her):

 It’s one thing to not want retribution through the mechanism of the utterly hypocritical state, which  is by far the worst murderer of all, and something else to want to violently attack those who persist in acting as the “poor puppets” of the bourgeois order, particularly those who do so during uprisings; magananimity and “compassion” in such circumstances has always been disastrously self-defeating.

SK wrote:

Maybe ‘magnanimity’ and ‘compassion’ are confusing terms in this context, but it seems necessary to emphasise the strategic importance during moments intense class conflict of attitudes which have hitherto almost universally expressed themselves in religious terms. Unless you are talking about something else altogether, I disagree that this attitude ‘has always been disastrously self-defeating’ – quite the contrary. Maybe you can specify what you mean with examples, but it seems to me that an attitude of vindictive violence towards perceived enemies, as opposed to tactical measures of self-defence which can and often do employ non-violent means to neutralise potential threats, create situations ripe for counter-revolution. As Wayne Spencer said to me regarding my housing conflicts:

 ‘As gratifying as it undoubtedly is to barbeque the laptops of the house-negroes of this world, I tend to agree with Shelley that “Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age” (The Defence of Poetry). Timely steps to defeat or forestall a practical action against us are one thing; mere revenge, I think, is something else. It has too much of moralism and the logic of exchange for me.

I agree with you that the “question of heated conflict among fellow proletarians, especially in the context of crime and punishment, police, law, and the other oppressive institutions” is important. The whole matter of crime and punishment awaits adequate treatment.’

…. I refer you to the widely publicised controversies surrounding Winnie Mandela, who famously stated ‘With our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.’ Who were the agents against whom she and like-minded people fought with their necklaces? ‘The first victim of necklacing, according to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was a young girl, Maki Skosana’. Mandela herself was convicted of kidnapping three young boys, one of whom, the 14 year old Stompie Moeketsi was killed, though the prosecutors couldn’t make the murder charge stick. The standards of revolutionary purists were the same here as they always are: submission to their racket. From what I gather most of the politicised violence (I don’t say political, because often it had nothing to do with politics – there were cases where murder victims of ordinary criminals, say someone stabbed by a gang during a robbery, were transported to areas of high tension and burned so as to appear as a political case) was not a spontaneous outbreak of proletarian rage during an insurrection. After the dominant authorities were destroyed, (and sometimes parallel to existing authorities), control over the townships was fought for by various formal and informal rackets in mundane territorial skirmishes which, due to the flavour of the times, expressed itself in the political language of the day. This is hardly a unique phenomenon; it fairly describes the course of most modern revolutions after the initial insurrectionary period. It seems that most necklacing was a result of sentences handed down by ‘people’s courts’, authoritarian bodies set up to dispense entirely conventional forms of official injustice in the name of those they dominated. When political accusations were made against individuals they were sentenced to death as ‘enemies of the people’ with little hope of mounting a case in their own defense. Considering the summary nature of the institutions, it’s fair to assume that these alleged enemies first of all enemies of the ruling ‘comrades’, and only secondarily (if at all) enemies of ordinary proletarians. The courts also took on non-political charges, from divorce (couples were forced to stay together) to theft and assault (punished with whipping).

What this dismal situation has to do with revolution I don’t know, maybe you can enlighten me. Whatever alleged subversive function such violence may have had in the past, it certainly does not now. Since 1994 this modus-operandi has only ever been used for reactionary purposes: when black foreign-nationals were necklaced during the tribalist pogroms of 2008 and the constant vigilante killings in the townships in which alleged criminals (many accused of no more than petty theft) are murdered, now as then children are not-infrequently among them.

 This sort of violence directed against alleged collaborators seems little difference to the terrorism of the ANC whose policy of attacks on civilians aimed to turn whites against the apartheid state by undermining their confidence in its ability to protect them. Besides the ethically reprehensible character of a strategy which identifies people with the state which represents them – an identification shared by the bombers of Hiroshima and the twin towers alike – the practical consequences were disastrous. Most of the poorly equiped soldiers who were sent on these missions were captured or killed by the police, most of the victims were black civilians, most of the white population were incited to support ever more repressive measures by the state (as occurred in the US where popularity with Bush soared from 50% before the attacks to 80% afterwards).

 Contrast this with what happened after the 1985 execution of Benjamin Moloise, a factory worker and poet convicted of killing a cop even after the ANC took responsibility and denied his involvement. The execution aroused so much anger in the townships that violence escalated. It spiraled out of control and subsequently reached areas like the Johannesburg CBD which had previously remained sheltered from it. According to one account ‘It was the first time black mobs roamed unchecked through the city, where they beat whites, looted downtown stores and for the first time, fought back against police. Blacks regularly resist police and the army during clashes in black townships, but never before on white territory. Elsewhere in South Africa, black rioters stabbed and stoned to death a white soldier near Port Elizabeth. According to police, he was the first white soldier killed in the line of duty since racial violence started 14 months ago. It also marked a weeklong line of events in which, for the first time, blacks used weapons against authorities.’ Although a spontaneous emotional outburst, this probably had far more strategic value in undermining the apartheid state than any amount of terrorist bombing or the necklacing of collaborators.

 Most of all it remains necessary to emphasise the value of a ‘magnanimous’ attitude towards our fellows which eschews violence whenever possible rather than eulogising it –  which bases strategic decisions on a judicious rather than a routine use of physical force –  precisely

‘because in a certain way violence has become recognized as a particular property of the excluded, even for those among them who want no part of it, a property which marks them and excludes them even more, all to the hollow, approving applause, better suited to the circus, that issues from a safely-distant clique of spectators who (of course) never partake themselves. Because there exists a whole fascination with violent street kids, a fascination having its leftist and ultra-leftist variants, and flowing directly from the legacy of the Situationist International and its ridiculous “Saint-Just In Black Leather Jackets”, its in-your-face ideology conferring the seal of authenticity on the formidable truth of rebellion.’ (Alain Tizon & François Lonchampt, Your Revolution Is Not Mine)

 Sam responded:

When I said “It’s one thing to not want retribution through the mechanism of the utterly hypocritical state… and something else to want to violently attack those who persist in acting as the “poor puppets” of the bourgeois order, particularly those who do so during uprisings; magananimity and “compassion” in such circumstances has always been disastrously self-defeating.” I was thinking along the lines of the self-defeating nature of “tolerance for the intolerable”, of things like during the Russian revolution how certain high-up officers in the White Army were freed out of some humanistic magnanimity, officers who then went on to lead battalions that brutally attacked those struggling to defend the revolution; or, an instance during the anti-coronation riots in Amsterdam during the early 80s when pacifists protected a cop,  who’d fallen off his horse,  from a beating, the cop then getting back up on his horse and riding around batoning demonstrators. I was not at all thinking of anything like Winnie Mandela’s crap. 

As for revenge – it depends on the situation; to assert some poetically pleasing abstraction like “Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age” implicitly condemns out of hand situations like, for example, the hanging from lamposts of the sadistic torturers of the Hungarian secret police during the revolution in 1956. It was a necessary moment of the revolution, though obviously if it had just remained at that level it would have been pointless. To claim that revenge is purely something one “worships” is a simplistic dogmatic attitude towards it. Often the revenge you fail to take can go round your head for the rest of your life. Sure, it’s necessary to create a world in which retribution for  past inflicted  miseries is no longer a concern or a desire, but we obviously  don’t yet have a world in which we dominate the present. In such cases, an abstract, vague and general critique of revenge as such, regardless of precise concrete  circumstances, cripples anger with a masochistic notion of  moral superiority (and is often a way of hiding one’s cowardice). I know of someone who was fingered to the cops by a work colleague for something he hadn’t   done  (apparently he was motivated by some rivalrous dislike for the guy I knew). He was kept in  a cell overnight and had the case hanging over him until it was finally dropped for lack of evidence. He went  to the flat of the  guy  who’d fingered him with a couple of mates at 6 in the morning and gave him a few slaps whilst shouting at him what a scumbag he’d been. The guy wasn’t physically hurt much but he had been – rightly – terrified, and would almost certainly be unlikely to repeat his nastiness, at least for some time. Apart from such tactically necessary consequences,  it was personally satisfying to this former friend of mine. Better that than to pretend to yourself that by  doing nothing you retain the moral highground.

As for the other stuff about Winnie Mandela and the  ANC’s terrorist attacks, I agree totally with what you say.


Addendum 5

Sam wanted to add to the bit about forgiving and forgetting:

One can, maybe, learn to forgive someone if the material conditions have been changed to the extent that it would be impossible for them to repeat their past behaviour, though even this would require some fundamentally different behaviour on their part which expressed some shame about their past. The “achievement” of democracy obviously did not even begin to achieve such a change.

SK responded to this with:

The bit about shame sounds way too catholic for my taste. Certainly a far cry from those who marched through the streets of Russia after the revolution claiming the only egalitarian dress was the human skin, carrying banners that read ‘Down with the bourgeois morality of shame!’

I also disagree with your generalisations about the necessary pre-conditions for forgiveness. It is mistaken to prescribe what is possible for everyone everywhere when in fact you are talking about your own criteria. It seems highly unlikely that the virulently anticlerical spanish proletarians who, after expropriation, gave their former exploiters the opportunity to join the collectives or work on their own, even thought in terms of forgiveness, let alone demanded expressions of guilt and shame. I agree with the importance of changed material conditions, but think this is far more usefully put in the perspective of a real ‘break with the past’ (as opposed to a delusory break based on ‘forgive and forget’) rather than conflating the grounds for a real break with ‘real’ forgiveness.

You must understand that in SA mystification is still considerably aided by dragging in questions of guilt and shame which contribute to the dominant definition of ‘racism’ as a state of mind revealed in politically incorrect intellectual-linguistic expressions, rather than a state of things revealed in structural conditions of continued white-supremacy. Much like the dominant definition of ‘alienation’ as psychological state, this simply serves to trivialise a significant material reality, and open the grounds for a litanny of pseudo-critique by which academics can accuse each other of a latent euro-centric, orientalist racism, and so on.

Sam responded:

Well, guilt and shame are moments when one recognises that one has done something fucked up or stupid or whatever, something that makes one feel uncomfortable with oneself. It has to go beyond this useless moment into recognition of responsiblity for one’s own actions and correcting them, rather than beating oneself up with some confessional mentality that really does nothing to correct the past by changing your relation to the material situation. Bu there’s far too much of “fuck guilt – it’s just some christian morality shit” around, which wants to repress going beyond that uncomfortable moment, to ignore that recognition, as if it’s purely some masochistic self-flagellation. Of course, some have more reason to feel “guilty” than others, and it’s usually this upside down society that tries to make those who are the least guilty for doing something reprehensible to feel their guilt, whilst those most responsible are defended by dominant ideology and attitudes. However, I think we probably agree, even if you don’t particularly like the way I put it. However, people often do feel guilt and shame, and this is something that can’t be understood merely by not using those words.As for the stuff you write about “the dominant definition of ‘racism’ as a state of mind” – absolutely no disagreement there .

 Please note: these discussions might be developed further in the comment box under this page. Other people are welcome to join in. See also this, on religion.



[2]     Famous UK journalist for the BBC

[3]     Former Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 – 1966, known as ‘the architect of apartheid’.

[4]     Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (AK Press, 2009)

[5]     South African left-anarchist organisation

[6]     The Reconstruction and Development Program was the Mandealer regime’s initial welfare-capitalist economic policy. Later Mandela got rid of it in favour of the blatantly neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution Program. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the judicial tribunal headed by Desmond Tutu aimed at ‘healing’ the divisions of apartheid society by offering amnesty to those agents of apartheid who were willing to confess to their crimes.

[7]     [SK note]: As Wayne Spencer said to me, ‘Neither here nor elsewhere does Vaneigem say with any clarity just what is subversive about love. He appears to assume that there is an elemental emotion of love that necessarily has certain qualities.’ In a later sequel to this text I’ll try to clarify this question and tie it more concretely to the steps that proletarians might usefully take now in relation to the circumstances that currently prevail.

[8]   See Addendum 3


[9]           Chief Gatsha Mangosutu Buthelezi was the head of state of the Kwa-Zulu bantustan [native reserve declared by the apartheid government as an independent state but unrecognised as such by any other nation] and the president of the Inkhata Freedom Party, a Zulu chauvinist political party which participated in the bloody massacres of blacks on behalf of the forces of order that plagued the country between 1989-1994

[10] Undoubtedly the global intensification of brutalising social constraints, and the repression of genuine networks of proletarian solidarity, in the 57 years since this movement has also meant an intensification of criminal brutality; and even when communities of struggle erupt into revolutionary situations this will not automatically create the conditions for the eradication of anti-proletarian crime. Clearly dealing with such things would involve something along the lines of the public mass meetings that took place in the mid-80s in  Alexandra and elsewhere in which everything from attacks on collaborators and cops to dealing with rapists and stopping men from harassing their ex-girlfriends was discussed and followed through.


[12]    SACP is the South African Communist Party, long-time ally of the ANC. Many politicians are members of both organisations, as was Mandela, who sat on the central committee of this unrepentant Stalinist racket. [I know this sounds pedantic, but though it  might well be unrepentant about its Stalinist past,  it’s certainly no longer Stalinist in the state capitalist notion of the term; it’s neoliberal; perhaps we should simply say “racket”or “formerly Stalinist racket”]


[14]    Popular historical document detailing a list of demands made by ordinary black South Africans around the country in the 1950s and adopted as the manifesto of the ANC

[15]          Abrreviation for Umkhonto WeSizwe (‘Spear of the nation’), the military wing of the ANC


[17]    A shack-dweller’s group that fights for the rights of the poorest township residents

[18]    ‘Father Madiba’ – Madiba is Mandela’s clan name

[19]    The Democratic Alliance- loyal opposition to the ruling party.





Published April 24th 2014


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One response to “south africa & some anarchist responses to mandela’s death (2014)”

  1. Sam FantoSamotnaf avatar

    This site is pre-moderated.
    In my (hidden) comments box shortly after this text was published I received the following, from someone giving a fake email address (my response was sent back by the server):

    “The definition of a fucking echo-chamber.” was sent to the “war and politics” page
    “Nobody cares you tedious gobshite. Kill yourself like that cunt Debord did” was sent to “latest articles”
    “Oh yes, prattling about culture, how can you afford it, ya overpaid white-collar prat” to the “culture” page
    “Fuck off you pretentious useless shit. Defender of the working class? You Situationist-loving cunts have never done a genuine days work in your whole fucking lives, and yet you can’t even fucking run a group consisting of more than 20 people. You fucking useless ponce cunt.” to “cop-out: the significance of Aufhebengate”

    I decided not to put up such empty contentless insults on pages of this site where they have no relevance at all.

    I suspect, given the anger and style and the fact that they were sent shortly after the publication of something that has a critique of Ian Bone, that it could very likely be him. And that he put them up on pages which had no relevance to him (along with a fake email address) to cover his tracks, because they were hardly something he could be proud to be public about. They were just a way of trying to satisfy a momentary irritation, though hardly satisfying in fact (almost everyone does this, in some form or another, and then later regrets it) . If it’s not him, I apologise for making such an assumption. But regardless of whether it is him or not, the following is still pertinent:

    I have never pretended to be a “defender of the working class”, which smacks of Leninism, as does the desire to “run” a group, whether of 20, 5, or a million. Defending workers, individual or several, or people who are working class without necessarily actually being in work, is quite another question, but I am in no position to defend “the working class”: the defence of the working class is the task of the working class itself. Anyone who wants to “run” a group and claims to be a “defender of the working class” wants merely to play politics in a very obviously Leninist form. The same goes for accusing me of being an “overpaid white collar prat” – prat I may well be sometimes, as is everyone (though some more often than others) but I have rarely been a “white collar ” worker – and never ever overpaid – I taught English to foregners at a very underpaid rate on and off for 8 years, the rest of my life working in markets (for the last 3 years I’ve worked in flea markets in France – doing “a genuine day’s work” 3 times a week, and up till 2002 in a London market) or, before then, being a sandwich board man, doing despatch riding, packing work, and cleaning work – hardly “white collar”. But again, I’m sure Bone (or the author of this, even if it’s not him) is intelligent enough to know that even most white collar workers are still working class, even if far too many don’t define themselves as such. And there’s certainly no reason to look down on someone who’d never done a “genuine day’s work” (whatever that means) as clearly many of them are also working class (the young, unemployed, housewives, househusbands, etc.). Sure, I’ve been lucky, having inherited some money (virtually all gone) – but there are a lot of situationist-influenced people who have not, so bunching everybody together in this typically demagogic manner is just a way of avoiding recognising how much aspects of the situationist critique apply to him, how much he has become a showman – “the enemy of the individual in himself as in others” (Debord, “Society of the Spectacle”)

    As for seeming to take pleasure in Debord’s suicide – well, that merely shows how alienated the writer of these things has become.

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