September 2000

Back when I first got into the Internet, one of the driving forces of my interest was the thought that this new technological revolution held the promise of global liberation through the vast increase in productive power that would be unleashed. In a more naive state of mind, I also thought that in the mid-to-late 1960s the Soviet Union would overcome its Stalinist legacy and embrace the cybernetic revolution and set an example to the developing world.

Well I was wrong. The idea was, and I believe still is sound but simply put, a rigid, centrally controlled economy was too crude a tool to deal with accelerating change and increasing complexity, let alone the challenges it posed to the vested interests of a ruling and by then, hereditary bureaucracy. But this didn’t stop me from pursuing these ideas, far from it. My involvement in liberation movements, albeit in a very modest way, illustrated the potential inherent in this, the latest revolution in production, perhaps even the culmination of a revolution started in the 19th century. But where was it all leading to?

You could argue that the demise of ‘actually existing socialism’ put a serious dent in the post-WWII gains of the developing world, following the hard fought liberation wars. No longer could post-colonial governments ‘play-off’ one side against the other. But perhaps more importantly, the model (all based on the Soviet and Chinese revolutions) that the vast majority of independent countries used – centrally planned economies, overwhelming state ownership of the basic means of production, electricity, steel etc – proved as ineffectual in places like Africa as they had in the Soviet Union.

The lack of a developed civil society effectively meant that there was no separation between state structures and society as a whole. Patrimony re-asserted itself, and with worsening economic conditions, the struggle to control shrinking wealth became ever more vicious. Regional, family, clan and religious links once more determined how wealth was distributed. The ideas of people like Kwame Nkrumah which saw an ‘African Socialism’, effectively a Pan-Africanist model of continental solidarity and development were by now thoroughly discredited.

In the immortal and prescient words of Vladimir Illich Lenin, “one step forward – two steps backward”. Okay, but we’re taking the long view here and given the exponential rate of change, the long view may not be as long as I thought. For a long time now, I’ve felt that the unique conditions of the South African revolution held many of the answers to some of these questions. It’s the first of of the ‘long revolutions’ to have come aboutin the new, fully globalised economy. For a long time, it held and perhaps still does, the ‘moral high ground’ making it difficult for the West to challenge its position vis-a-vis the developing world. Increasingly, it’s being seen as a leading force in challenging the economic and political hegemony of the West. Our successes in making a relatively peaceful transition to a democratising society, are difficult to oppose. Even ‘Communists’ are now welcome (or at least tolerated) in the corridors of power in Washington DC!

But can it fulfill this promise or will we fall into the trap of becoming the West’s regional cop, spurred on by a promise of some kind of pay-off at the end of it all? In this new situation, can we come up with a revised concept of development, based on the latest revolution in production coupled to an egalitarian vision, non-racist and non-sexist? With the idea of a rational re-distribution of wealth currently on the back burner, are we imaginative and courageous enough to strike out in a new and unknown direction? It’s a lot to ask of a country isn’t it, especially one which has lived through such a horrendous and traumatic experience as Apartheid Capitalism.

But this doesn’t stop us exploring and experimenting does it? In a way, we have nothin g to lose and everything to gain. Development itself is still on the front burner, the question is, what kind of development? It’s still a struggle between modernism and traditionalism, the difference being that rather than bulldozing the past, we have to learn to incorporate tradition, perhaps even re-invent it. The factionalism which currently curses places like Sierre Leone or the DRC are possible here but unlikely if we can overcome some of our teething troubles.

Against this view, is the traditional bourgeous notion which sees an expanding black middle class, driving down a traditional western highway toward a land of consumerism, paved with luxury products but paid for with the cheap labor of a dispossessed majority. Having achieved a degree of individual liberation through our Constitution, a vision of a new kind of education which teaches people to think rather than simply learn is in my opinion, the key to our collective liberation. Can we realise it and what will it take to bring this about?


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