Opinion

Alternate perspectives on Race and Class: A response to Lindokuhle Patiwe and Mokgweetsi Keikabile

Ndumiso Mbira Mdayi

 “It is never too late to correct our mistakes. And if we do not, we risk repeating them.” –Lisa Madigan

“[The] truth is on the side of the oppressed.” -Malcolm X

On 26 July 2018, Lindokuhle Patiwe penned a piece, reiterating a view held by many activists in black spaces, that Marx is inadequate in face of blackness, as a reality acted upon from outside or ‘overdetermined from without.’ Mokgweetsi Keikabile responded to Patiwe, claiming that if Marx is inadequate or not enough, then Walter Rodney is. In this piece, I want to address a few points raised in the aforementioned pieces, in suggesting alternate perspectives insofar as race and class are concerned.

Antiblackness is the fundamental contradiction in struggles of black people for freedom. As a complex whose functionality is to make out of black people a people-who-are-not-people, antiblackness encompasses race, gender, culture, class, episteme and the like. Therefore, as Professor Magobe Ramose warns, if the problem of blackness is not analysed in an integrated manner, black people will find themselves having only dealt with one aspect of the complex. Reading Lindokuhle Patiwe’s piece, the central thesis therein, is that capitalism and racism are inseparable and constitute the same fixed order. This is not true. Capitalism and racism are separate systems, but in their separateness, complement each other, in order to realise the end purpose of (coercing) power and domination. This is to say, white supremacy, as a system of dominance, was able to use the aforementioned systems to accomplish power and domination in a manifold of spheres and strata. In the end, though complimentary and belonging to the same complex, capitalism and racism are separate systems.

A capitalist environment may not necessarily be racist, unless Patiwe wants us to stretch our imagination to accommodate a probability of white invasion of indigenous peoples’ land and, in the same process and through violence, reduce those indigenous people into a group of objects that is functional and thus coerced to offer their land and themselves as a basis of an industry or commercial enterprise. In this way, capitalism and racism become separate but interwoven systems that complement each other. If anthropologically (or otherwise) proven that white people are not indigenous to any land in the world, then we can thus establish that capitalism and racism are always two sides of the same coin and separately inseparable.

On 5 August 2018, Mokgweetsi Keikabile responded to Patiwe and invited him to think. In the second paragraph of the response, Keikabile writes and later poses a question: “Interestingly to note, is that [Patiwe] does not use neither the word ‘revolutionary’ nor ‘revolution’ in his argument. Is it deliberate or simply that in his thinking, he is trapped in unconsciousness?” The argument Keikabile raises here is funny and unclear. Did he want the former to explicitly announce the words revolution and revolutionary in order for the piece to be revolutionary? In the following paragraph, I will read Keikabile and Patiwe against each other, to explore the ‘unconsciousness’ in which the latter is said to be trapped.

The two seem not to agree on historical materialism, one of the themes of Marxism; and the position of, in the context of South Africa, bourgeois black people like Ramaphosa. In regards to historical materialism, Keikabile cites the Pan African Manifesto of 1959 and claims that “Europeans invaded Africa primarily not because of their artificial hatred to Africans, however, profoundly and vitally as a measure to expand their commercial markets.” And concludes that historical materialism allows us to conceptualise and understand the fundamental conflict facing Africans. The contestation Patiwe launches against historical materialism is that it only allows us to understand relations between mode of production and material, and excludes culture and metaphysics. I think Patiwe’s argument is valid, but not enough to invalidate historical materialism. At a conceptual level, the approach can always be expanded to accommodate its shortfalls or embrace contradictions, because the reality of humans is conceived through relations with each other, as well as with the metaphysical and the material.

The second aspect of the disagreement answers to the question: “Where do we locate bourgeois blacks in post-94 South Africa?”  On the question of the ruling class, Patiwe asserts that the post-94 black elite are not the ruling class, because they do not control the ideas of society.  Keikabile disagrees and says the black elite are “black capitalists who owns the means of production through exploiting and dehumanizing the working class […] all in the interest of capital.” And that the likes of Ramaphosa and Motsepe use the media “to propagate their reactionary ideas of multiracialism and rainbowism.” When the fundamental contradiction is antiblackness (white supremacy), bourgeois black people cannot be the ruling class, but a layer below that safeguards the interests of the ruling class. These are black people who have been co-opted in the system of white power, to further oppress and perpetuate the exploitation of black people.

In the eleventh paragraph, Keikabile writes the following: “through political willingness and commitment Ramaphosa and Motsepe can rewrite the misery the people have been subjected to since the dramatic date of 6 April 1652 when European colonialists violently dispossessed us from the land.” This exposes the fracture in the comrade’s ideological thinking. It is opportunistic to think the likes of Ramaphosa will ever have the ‘political willingness’ to overthrow their handlers and ‘rewrite’ the history of oppression in South Africa. Fundamentally, the black elite are a construct of the ruling class and do not exist on their own. If Ramaphosa had such political willingness, we will by now be having another black millionaire to take from where Ramaphosa left. In essence what capitalism does, in its maximisation of profit and privatisation of property, it keeps masses and masses of back people yearning to be co-opted. Black people are mutually exchangeable objects – they are fungible!

Furthermore, as Patiwe corrently outlines, “white people as a group do not see a contradiction between themselves and the ideological make up of South Africa, because they are represented in the make-up of this country […] because the ideological framework of South Africa is not in contradiction with their own way of life, it is not in contradiction with their own existence in the country.” South Africa is an idea founded on the denial of black people’s birthright to their land. The Freedom Charter, the constitution and other symbols that constitute South Africa, like the flags and national anthem, are a double-standardedness that claims to recognize black people in the idea of South Africa, but seeks to conceal the fact that black people remain excluded from the same, through social, economic and political means.

In conclusion, as mentioned before, antiblackness encompasses race, gender, culture, class, episteme and others. These constitute a complex. Antiblackness is therefore a question of power and is structural in nature. Interpersonal conflicts are not antiblackness but a function thereof. This is to say, antiblackness, and even blackness, is embedded in stable institutions through which it is further entrenched in society.

Ndumiso Mbira Mdayi is a student and member of Black Space somewhere in Bloemfontein. Twitter: @mbira_tafari and @1BlackSpace

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