“We in Afrika are not capitalists nor are we Marxists. We are neither Fabian socialists nor Peoples’ Democrat. We are essentially Pan Africanists, ideologically immune and very rich in heritage. We do not need foreign doctrines and government systems to boost up our personality” – The Afrikanist, 1965.
On this the last day of Afrika Liberation month and Workers’ month, we revisit the old question that has plagued the black left: Biko or Marx?
Social media has come alive in the recent months with this debate between “blackists” and “marxists”. The debate itself has been polemic is parts and problematic in some. Friendly jabs have been thrown around, and general trolling has been the order of the day, some even terming the debate as “The PAC of Germany” vs The PAC of Azania.
However, at the core of all of this is quite a serious question that not only helps us understand history better, but has grave implications for how we imagine the future and conduct the struggle.
In Blacks Can’t Be Racist, Andile Mngxitama accuses the disciples of ‘baas Marx’ with being “in denial about the fact that capitalism is inherently racist. That class and economic consideration do not all the time supersede racial considerations.” Earlier in the same text, Mngxitama illustrates how even Marx’s utopia was already largely a reality in South Africa before white colonialists turned Africans into cargo, only later to try admit them into the human category of ‘workers’. In this ambit of white colonialists, even the white Marxist comrades who joined the liberation struggles are included. He further charges these white Marxists with colonising how we phrase our plight and imagine the solutions thereto. Like many black consciousness scholars Mngxitama insists on Biko, and is adamant that our is not primarily a class struggle.
In the spirit of ‘peace among the Africans’, it is worth considering if a unifying synthesis can be sustained. Many scholars have advanced that we only go to Marx to understand capitalism, all the other answers are to be found in Biko. Tonights discussion, BIKO or MARX? Yes Please, is such an attempt. The discussants Ziyana Lategan, Lindokuhle Patiwe and Glenn Farred, will assist us think through this debate and its resolutions.
Ziyana Lategan is a Fulbright scholar and a Doctoral student in the Comparative Literature Department at Binghamton University in New York State.
Lindokuhle Patiwe is a leader in the Pan-Africanist Student Movement of Azania and a member of the Youth Policy Committee at the SA Institute Of International Affairs.
Glenn Farred is the executive director of the SADC-Council of Non-Governmental Organisations.
The discussion, led by Andile Mngxitama, will be broadcast live on Facebook at 8PM, 31 May 2020.
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