Abahlali base Mjondolo Movement SA press statement

Collective Reading of the Communist Manifesto

19 February 2021

On the 21 February 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels published the first edition of the Communist Manifesto. Progressive movements and organisations around the world are holding workshops on the Manifesto, and as part of this global project our movement will hold a political education workshop at the Frantz Fanon school at the eKhenana occupation in Durban from 21 February to 1 March.

Our members in eKhenana have faced with brutal armed attacks from the state through evictions. In most cases these evictions were carried out by the city’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit. They have also come under serious pressure from ANC thugs. On 22 December 2018, when the occupation was in its early stage, Senzo Gumede was murdered after he was threatened by the local ANC councillor and the taxi association.

Despite all this the comrades on the occupation have developed a democratically managed vegetable farm, as well as a poultry project, built a youth centre and a community hall, and built and established the Frantz Fanon Political School to enhance knowledge of Ubuhlalism and socialism. All of this has been planned, developed and run by the community. This is self-management. It is also important to note that in eKhenana there is no selling or renting of shacks. Land and housing, as well as food production, have been decommodified. 

Fanon had a very clear understanding of political education. He argued that:

To educate the masses politically does not mean, cannot mean making a political speech. What it means is to try, relentlessly and passionately, to teach the masses that everything depends on them; that if we stagnate it is their responsibility, and that if we go forward it is due to them too, that there is no such thing as a hero that will save them with his magic hands, that there is no famous man who will take the responsibility for everything, but that the hero is the people themselves and the magic hands are finally only the hands of the people.

In our movement we are clear that it is only by building the democratic power of the oppressed that the world can be humanized. Ubuhlalism is the philosophy that we developed in our struggle. It has carried us through fifteen years of struggle, and enabled us to organise many land occupations, win many victories and build a membership that now exceeds 80 000 people. 

When our movement first started there were discussions about how Ubuhlalism, the philosophy of humanism, community and struggle that we had built, and the living politic that we had built as a form of praxis, could lead to something like a living communism, a democratic communism of the people, by the people and for the people, built from the ground of the occupations upwards and outwards.

Today our movement is no longer on its own. We have comrades around the world. The seeds that were used to start the planting by the co-operative the runs the farm on the eKhenana occupation were given to us by the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil.

Our struggle has led us from the shacks of Durban to the world, and ubuhlalism – which has always held that land, wealth, cities, power and, indeed, the world, must be shared - is leading us into a ongoing engagement with communist ideas in conversation with comrades around the world.

Our struggle is against the colonial way of thinking that still means that we do not count as human beings – that we can be left to live like pigs in the mud and be murdered when we organise to defend our humanity. It is also against the political gangsterism of the ANC. And it is against capitalism. 

Ubuhlalism, which draws a lot from African ideas and practices, has always said that land should not be bought and sold, and that it should be allocated on the basis of human need rather than private profit. This idea connects very well to communist thought. So does the view of Marx that communism is an expression of humanism at the global scale.

Theory does not lead to struggle. The insistence on human dignity in the face of oppression leads to struggle, and struggle leads to theory. At this point theory can change struggle and struggle can change theory.

In our movement we believe in building the democratic power of the oppressed, which is why we work to try and ensure that the people on the ground are able to engage in constant political discussion. We need to work together – to think together - to become more fully aware of the systems of oppression. This is revolutionary work.

The political education workshop that will run from Sunday will include performances by the Abahlali Choir, a discussion on Ubuhlalism, a discussion on the thought of Frantz Fanon and then a close and collective reading of the Communist Manifesto over several days. We have an isiZulu translation of the Manifesto and we will be reading and discussing it in isiZulu.

Just as Ubuhlalism connects to communist ideas, it also connects us to thinking about political education in terms of Paulo Freire’s theories, theories which have grounded the MST political school in Brazil, which a number of our comrades have attended. Our political education workshops are run on Freirean principles, principles that are very similar to the ideas that we developed about living learning as a part of Ubuhlalism.

Capitalism, which is always a racial system, allows a small elite to become rich while making the majority poor. It is an economic system that developed from slavery and colonialism. It continues to put private profit before the needs and dignity of the people. The struggle against the gangsterism in the ANC is a local and national struggle. But the struggle against capitalism has to be global. We need to ensure that we all are armed with the knowledge of how to deal with capitalism.

The great African leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah, and then later Thomas Sankara, accepted the mission that confronted their generations. Every generation must do the same. We cannot rest until the working class and the poor in our society receive full emancipation. Economic emancipation cannot mean the replacement of one elite by another. It has to mean the end of poverty.

The close and collective reading of the Communist Manifesto over the coming week will happen on the ground where the people are, and where the people are in struggle. It will happen on a land occupation that is also a democratically and self-managed community, a community with elected leaders subject to the right of recall and where there are twice weekly meetings to discuss issues together. The land occupation is a commune. 

It is often said that Marxism is an ideology that is too complicated for an ordinary person from the shacks. This is because those who are regarded as scholars are often detached from the people on the ground. They often want to think for the oppressed instead of humbling themselves to think with the oppressed. They fail to understand Marx’s point that ‘communism is the real movement that abolishes the present state of things’. Theory without struggle does not change anything. Struggle without theory can easily be co-opted or settle for local gains. Genuinely radical thought must be worked out in struggle, in the movement of the oppressed. 

Comrade S’bu Zikode, a founding member of our movement and our elected President, often says, “We must break down the complicated politics so that even an old Gogo from the rural areas can understand”. Theory must enable people to understand the world and their struggle better. It must never be used to make the people seem ignorant and to monopolise knowledge just like how land, cities, wealth and power are monopolised by a small elite under capitalism.

This workshop will take place at a very difficult time when our country is faced not with only the pandemic, but also with an economic crisis where the unemployment rate continues to rise. Many people have been retrenched and as a result many households are without a bread winner. We are in a state of social disaster.

We are urgently in need of a way to lift us out of this situation. The ANC is a mixture of political gangsters and neo-liberals. Both of these factions are anti-poor, and can only make the poor even poorer. There has to be a democratic and radical alternative.

This is why we are embarking on a programme to learn and discuss together. We need to understand how the capitalist order operates so that one day we can, working with movements around the world, be able to overthrow it and build an economy and society that starts and ends with human dignity.

In South Africa the people that call themselves communists have been captured by the ANC. They have become part of the system of oppression. We do not see them on the ground and in struggle. 

This is why a new communist politics has to be built from the ground up, and in struggle. We all need to be able to understand and analyse politics in the languages that we speak in ways that make sense to us and fit with our lives.

The programme for Sunday – which deals with Ubuhlalism, Frantz Fanon and radical pedagogy will run from 8:30 to 17:00. The programme from Monday to Sunday the following week will run from 8:30 to 15:00. The close reading and collective discussion of the Communist Manifesto will take place every day from Monday to Friday.

Contact persons:

Lindokuhle Mnguni – 081 491 4027
Mqapheli Bonono – 073 0673 274

Land & Dignity!

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Feb 19, 2021

Abahlali Press