home Andile's Column, Featured, Opinion, Politics Lenin and Biko on consciousness

Lenin and Biko on consciousness

Image: Stephen Bantu Biko & Vladimir Ilich Lenin

By Andile Mngxitama

Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement was basically a movement of the intelligentsia, the middle class university students. This intelligentsia was rooted in the black working class by family and by life. The apartheid reality pushed the black middle class into the same conditions as the worker and peasant. Therefore Black Consciousness (BC) was the systematisation of the black condition into a weapon of war. But it was the middle class which rose above its class to develop BC as a fighting point of consciousness. Biko is scathing in his description of the state of the conscioussness of black people. He describes blacks under apartheid as oxen who have sheepishly accepted their position of subjugation. He then makes a positive move to say these are the people who are the material force of the revolution, they have to be awakened. We all remember Biko’s famous quotation, “[t]he most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”.

Biko, like Lenin, worked the mind. Lenin was more strident in his characterisation of the problem. He argued in “What Is To Be Done?” that, “[w]e have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia”.

Elsewhere I have described Sobukwe and Biko as early coconuts who broke from their class and forged a combative pro black consciousness whilst their social class is middle class. What fascinates me more is the similarities between Biko and Lenin on the question of the development of revolutionary consciousness. At face value it may seem elitist but it’s not. These radical and revolutionary consciousness projects help the oppressed whose minds had been poisoned by oppression – remember Karl Marx teaches us that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class.

Today we see the spontaneous development of the consciousness of the black oppressed into the reactionary anti immigrant consciousness of Operation Dudula and the phenomenon of South Africa first. These spontaneous backward consciousnesses are being harvested and sponsored by the real class enemy of the poor to divert attention away from the real antagonism between the people and the oppressor. We see the active role in the emergence of the hate of the immigrant promoted and possibly funded by the uber white capitalist Rob Hersov.

Hersov is banking on the reactionary spontaneous consciousness that emanates from the immediate lived experience of the poor. The poor see the criminal activities of some of the immigrants and also the competition for means of survival. This elevates the immigrant to the immediate problem, a proposition supported by the creators of the poverty and economic exclusion blacks find themselves in.

There is the reality that even if all the immigrants are removed (an unrealistic possibility anyway), the conditions of poverty of the majority wouldn’t improve in any significant way. But the backward consciousness of anti immigration doesn’t allow for a rational perspective.

The black poor are blinded to see that the forces pitting them against the immigrant to fight for menial non existing jobs are the creators of the mayhem in black lives, including hiring outsiders to work for starvation wages.

It’s only a revolutionary movement from without that can help the poor see the problem in its correct perspective and begin to work out a proper response which redirects the righteous anger of the oppressed to the correct target. This must be done from without by the revolutionary movement. That’s the lesson of Biko and Lenin.

Andile Mngxitama is the President of Black First Land First (BLF), a radical black consciousness organization. When using any of Black Opinion’s content, partly or in full, kindly always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.