• July 9th, 2020

Are Namibian workers a class for itself? A rejoinder to Whitaker, Boesak and Van Wyk (Part 2)

In an opinion piece published in the New Era newspaper of 6 March 2020, under the abovementioned title, the three gentlemen responded to my critique of their original piece (The Namibian, 20 December 2019).  In their response, they showed respect and I return that courtesy. 

The first problem I have with their opinion piece is their assertion in saying: “… social class – as opposed to identity – is the point of departure for Marxist criticism…”  Social class is the most important identity in Marxism; therefore, to claim it is not an identity does not hold water.

Secondly, they argue that “…the dual nature of the mass consciousness of the Namibian working class should rather be grasped in terms of them being a class in itself and a class for itself.” Then they continue “…it is high time to form a mass workers party…so that the working class could become a class for itself.” This is daylight contradiction; how could the Namibian working class be a class for itself and at the same require a party to become a class for itself? A working class as a class in itself is an objective social category that has come about because of that class’ position in the production relations. A class for itself is when the working class has “graduated” to become a subjective agent that is class conscious and capable of advocating for social transformation. The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party that was launched by the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) in South Africa last year is a typical example of a working-class project, i.e. a working class that has become a class for itself. I must hasten to add that this does not in any way imply I am for or against such a party.  

They further argue that “…the fiasco of the Namibian left has little to do with ethnocentrism as Tjihenuna posits, but firstly with the collapse of the Soviet Union that has put the global left on the back foot” (emphasis added). 

The former socialist states collapsed because of internal and external contradictions; chief amongst those was the national question that had never been fully addressed. That was why it was not only the socialist project that collapsed, but the former Soviet Union also disintegrated into different states, mainly along the lines of ethnic nationalities. Therefore, ethnicity was very much also at the centre of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  

In an attempt to dismiss my identity politics paradigm, my dear friends further argue that “...the ongoing revolt of (white) working people in contemporary France shows the limits of racial or ethnic interpretation.”  To that I would say, over the years, foreign workers (mainly Turks) have been subjected to all manner of discrimination and marginalisation in Germany, mainly on cultural grounds. More often than not, this was at the hands of their German fellow workers. Would my respected friends also argue that ethnic or cultural interpretation is not relevant in this context too? I do not have a problem with social class analysis; I have a problem when other identities are not factored in. My central argument is that ignoring other identities in favour of only class analysis shows the limitation of classical Marxism as a tool of social analysis. 

The colleagues further argue that “…for Tjihenuna to assume that the white working class acted primarily on the basis of their skin colour demonstrates the danger of identity politics…it fails to comprehend the historical situation that those workers derived enormous material benefits from an unjust system.”  For the sake of clarity, I need to quote that part of my piece here. I said “...for the majority of the members of the Afrikaans working class, their race and ethnic identities were more important than working-class identity.

That was why they supported Apartheid…” To say “…that Tjihenuna assumes that the white working class acted primarily on the basis of their skin colour” without qualifying that, presents an interpretation problem. What is exactly meant here? To say that my analysis “fails to comprehend the historical situation that those workers derived enormous material benefits from an unjust system” is far from the truth because my point is exactly that the majority of the white workers supported apartheid because they benefitted from the system

In yesteryear, some of us used to think that only Marxists held the truth. However, the debate has moved on! Dialectical logic dictates that an established truth can be challenged by a higher level of truth – that is the basis of Marxist philosophy.

Staff Reporter
2020-03-20 10:06:24 | 3 months ago

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