Evaluating Rosa Luxemburg day

3 March 2007

Or rather, Rosa Luxemburg morning. After dropping off Edie in Vrygrond, I made my way to Community House, where I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd gathered for the Rosa Luxemburg seminar. I would estimate that it was at least 60% township people, many of whom I know from different community based struggles – in other words, it wasn’t the total academic wankfest that I feared. After milling about for some time, we were broken into groups of about 20 people. I was paired with Nina Benjamin (who now works at LRS) as the “respondent” to my input. In any event, we started with input from everyone about who they were and what they had learned over the past two days – a lot of people’s comments centered on the persistent NGO vs. social movement vs. political party debate, what was on a rather different level from where I pitched my input. Anyway, I forged ahead regardless… I think I was more successful at portraying how capitalism entraps and destroys us then I was at speaking on how resistance can get linked up, because a lot of the inputs suggested I had not been “systematic” enough on that point. Nina’s response was largely supportive, and probably clarified what was (unfortunately, as usual) a bit of a long winded input from my side.

The group was largely women, and they made some good inputs on the way that their struggles start in the very private world of the household – as Selina from SWEAT said, “when do we do the laundry”. The fact that childcare was not provided by the organisers, and Nopasika from Elitha Park AEC had to leave from time to time to look after her son, just further emphasised this point. As I mentioned the question of how do we systematise and build theory out of our resistance was raised, by Molefi in particular. He pointed to the episodic nature of “social movement” struggles where everyone goes home after the police stop shooting at us, and then next time you see new faces with little continuity. There was a general dismissal of the Leninist “vanguard party” style of organising, with the one exception of Mo from WIVL, and this dismissal was a theme that ran throughout the discussions I listened to. I wonder if we’re seeing the end of vanguardism in South Africa, and if so, what it will be replaced by?

After the group discussion there was input from the “international speakers” panel – I must admit, I largely tuned out at this point, although I did enjoy Peter Hudis from News and Letters’ input (not surprising, since News and Letters’ Dunayeskaya-ism was one resource on my journey away from Leninism). I had some great high speed chats with comrades after the conference, re-connected with some old connections and exchanged contacts details with a few new ones.

One question I kept asking people though was “name a prominent South African Black radical intellectual” (radical in the anti-capitalist sense, I guess). My point being that “radical intellectuals” continue to largely be university educated, often middle class and decidedly pale (if not shockingly white) in South Africa. I tend to think that with the vast majority of poor people excluded from the Universities through financial exclusion and the like, we need to build structures for reflection outside the “formal education” space that can provide places to meet and discuss and deepen understanding. I know that would be bloody difficult, but as Andrew Nash pointed out, if it was easy to defeat capital we would have done so already.

It seems the RL Seminar was a step towards those “informal universities”, but it was still donor driven and NGO driven – we were left wondering “what now”? With a lot of work and a bit of luck it might be possible to build spaces for reflection in addition to the occasional activities of ILRIG, etc. Not sure if I have time to work on that, though. We’ll see.

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