[ANALYSIS]: Lucien van der Walt, 2004, “Perspectives on Race and Anarchism in South Africa, 1904-2004”

Lucien van der Walt, 2004, “Perspectives on Race and Anarchism in South Africa, 1904-2004,” Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, volume 8 number 1, pp. 1, 14-16.

pdflogosmall Correct PDF is here

This short analysis, looking at both the South African anarchist / syndicalist movement of the 1880s-1920s, and the revived movement that emerged from the 1990s, examined how local anarchists/ syndicalists sought to develop an approach to national/ racial oppression distinct from nationalism, and Marxism-Leninism. It rejected the “two-stage” theory of the mainstream Marxist-Leninists (resolving the national question through an independent capitalist state as first stage; socialism deferred to later), and the statist (use a nation-state) and cross-class (unite the nation / race across classes, in a democratic/ anti-colonial Popular Front) nationalist solutions.

In its most sophisticated form the anarchist/ syndicalist current sought to fuse class struggle with national liberation in a simultaneously  anti-capitalist, anti-statist and anti-national oppression framework. This typically entailed creating One Big Union that was against racism/ national oppression, as well as against capitalism and the state. This would prefigure a racially integrated and egalitarian ‘workers republic’ built from below, through syndicalism. Examines current implications and experiences.

Core conclusions included

1. “First, the not too-uncommon view that race is the historic blindspot of anarchism is indefensible. If, for example, within white dominion, within the British Empire, within colonial Africa, anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists could play a path-breaking role in organizing workers of color, in defending African labour, in civil rights activities, and do so on the basis of a class struggle and anti-capitalist analysis and strategy, there is much that to be learned from the anarchist past. Their analyses may be context-bound but represent a larger position on the race issue: Cuba, Mexico and Peru are other examples.”

2. “Secondly, whilst the anarchist tradition in South Africa has generally been anti-racist, it has best succeeded in incorporating people of color when anti-racist principle has become anti-racist strategies and activism. The bridge between the two was an analysis rooted in the architecture of classical anarchist theory: class struggle, internationalism, anti-statism, anti-capitalism, and opposition to hierarchy. Such tools bear use, if some sharpening; rather than leap to incorporate ‘whiteness studies,’ postmodernism, nationalism and so on into anarchist analyses, the richness of classical anarchist theory rewards examination.”

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