Image: Ebenezer Howard’s “Three Magnets”. [Source: “Garden Cities of To-morrow”, 1902]
The politics of class alliance at national level are well understood and well executed in South Africa in terms of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) policy developed during the last nine decades, which led to the democratic breakthrough of 1994. The NDR remains the dominant framework of South African politics, having been refreshed at Polokwane in 2007. At national level, the interests of the working class continue to be well articulated through the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the trade union movement whose largest centre is COSATU.
The petty bourgeoisie, on the other hand, has no dedicated political expression at national level, and nor has the peasantry. They are compelled to rely on others. This is in spite of the large size of these segments of the population in South Africa. It is a consequence of the “sack-of-potatoes” nature of both of these two classes, the rural petty-bourgeoisie who are the peasants, and the urban peasants, who are the petty-bourgeois.
Both classes are made up of individualists, who aspire to live autonomously, with everything of their own. The working class must represent the interests of these (mostly very poor) sections of the population at national level, while the established bourgeoisie would wish to exploit them as political foot-soldiers for capitalism, and also to exploit them directly, in the predatory way that the big bourgeoisie likes to feed off the small bourgeoisie, which Rosa Luxemburg described so well in Chapter 2 of “Reform or Revolution?” (linked below).
At local level, the situation is reversed. In South Africa, the organised working class has hardly any formal presence at, in particular, electoral ward level. Here the petty-bourgeois individualists are working on home ground and at the same scale as their own business operations. COSATU Locals and Socialist Forums are in the shade, if they exist at all. The SACP generates cadres, and organises and assists the masses, including the ANC, in many different ways, but it does not stand candidates in elections.
In terms of theory, too, there is very little that would serve as ideological guidance to the working class, locally, whereas the petty-bourgeoisie has an abundance of material and history to rely on, some of which is linked below. The town is the birthplace of the bourgeoisie and the natural territory of the petty-bourgeoisie, and the municipality is the “executive committee” of the local bourgeoisie. Not only is it their instrument, but it is their regenerator, whose job it is to reproduce bourgeois relations at local level and to bring forth new generations of bourgeois-minded councillors and bureaucrats.
In the past, one effective working-class tactic was to confront this concentration of local bourgeois strength with an organised workers’ democratic power. In Russia, this took the form of the “soviet”. The first one, as Vladimir Shubin relates, was set up in the textile manufacturing centre of Ivanovo in 1905. Another tactic, problematic though it has been, is the setting up of producer and consumer co-operatives. This series will have to develop both of these perspectives in due course.
In this part, our CU job is to review some of the debate in the literature of petty-bourgeois development. Let it be understood that it is not the aim of the working-class to drive any other class to early extinction. In the spirit of the same “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” wherein Karl Marx described the peasantry, though sympathetically, as a “sack of potatoes”, because they could not unite, the working class must lead the weaker classes and make provision for them in terms that will satisfy them. For the classic peasantry, this meant giving them land and a market for their produce. For the petty bourgeoisie, it is the freedom to do business, and the guarantee, against the predatory monopolists, of a market. We, as the proletariat, also need these classes as allies against the monopoly bourgeoisie. Therefore, as partisans of the working class, we should read these works with a serious interest.
Housing by People (click this link for an MS-Word download, which includes diagrams that do not come through on the web page), by John Charlewood Turner, is a discussion of housing, from a partly-idealised but well-educated point of view, of where decisive power should lie, who should act, and how these responsibilities should be divided up. It can serve us as a small link to the great, beautiful and necessary field of study called urbanism, of which very little emerges into the general public realm. Urbanism is a site of ideological struggle. It is also a labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost.
“Barking dogs and building bridges” is Lauren Royston’s subtle and patient destruction of the simplistic bourgeois platitudes of Hernando de Soto. Glen Mills’ 2006 Business Day article “Thinking out of the matchbox” briefly summarises the general situation in South African housing, which has not changed in the mean time. There is still no public discussion of design, except at the “Top billing” level of snobbery and eclecticism, or at the level of the most banal, hopeless utilitarianism, in the press. [Click the links below]
How will things change? The communists must strive to reproduce, in every locality, the same well-expressed and solid class alliance which has up to now underpinned the NDR at the national level. This means providing for both the petty-bourgeoisie/peasantry, and the working class. Both must be able to see a clear way forward, in alliance with each other, at local level, where, at present, it is working-class organisation that is lacking.