Marx at 200: TPC Recommended Reading List
‘The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”
[Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1]
The world is celebrating the 200th year since the birth of Karl Marx. From the left to right, commentators across the political spectrum have lauded the work of a genius and, perhaps, the most influential thinker of the last two centuries.
Marx’s ideas have had a profound influence in the former colonial world. As Marx and Engels predicted in The Communist Manifesto, capitalism spread far beyond the shores of Europe as the bourgeoisie, compelled by the very nature of capital, sought new markets and sources of labour. As capital entrenched itself in new social environments, so did Marxism become a fertile method of social analysis. In the 20th century, Marxism became a political program guiding the struggle of millions of people suffering under the weight of colonialism and imperialism.
Yet Marxism encountered unique set of problems in the colonial world, where conditions were not the same as the one’s Marx and Engels encountered in Western Europe. Marx’s injunction to study each social setting on its own terms needed to be embraced by his followers in the Global South. Frantz Fanon, whose Pitfalls of National Consciousness is a masterful application of the Marxian theory in conjunction with the psychoanalytic method, put it well: “a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem.”
A vast host of Africans, Indians, Chinese and Latin Americans had already taken Fanon’s message to heart. Before Fanon wrote Wretched of the Earth, Marxist theories that engaged in the specific cultural, national and social environments of the colonial world had already been developed. The latter effort has culminated in a large tome of intellectual achievement, promoting diverse ideas and modes of political praxis. This rich political and intellectual deserves recognition, particularly as the legacies of colonialism and imperialism are under the microscope in the present day crisis of neoliberal capitalism.
Towards that end, in this short reading list we present key readings in South African Marxism. South Africa has a rich Marxist tradition and a number of political parties, trade union federations and members of civil society continue to draw inspiration from Marx’s work. The central question animating debate among South African Marxists is the National Question: how to conceive of the relationship between anti-racist, feminist, anti-colonial and class struggle. The texts shared below demonstrate the various and often disagreeing positions on the National Question that have characterised the history of South African Marxism. While sharing a commitment to historical materialism, the Congress Tradition, Unity Movement, Workerists and others, have promoted distinct understandings of the nature of South African society and, therefore, the means by which to achieve national and social liberation. Engaging with the texts shared below will give the reader an understanding of both the terms of the debate and the nature of disagreements between its participants.
In recognising the links between South African Marxists and Marxists on the rest of the continent, this reading list includes a few seminal texts written by African Marxists and Africans influenced by the method of historical materialism. African-Americans and members of the broader diaspora are also included in this section.
Marx’s method is a living tool for the oppressed to clarify and guide struggle. It is not a dogma nor should it be read as a totalitarian philosophy as some Marxist regimes of the 20th century upheld it to be. Marxism is a method of analysis that must transform as it encounters of an ever evolving historical reality. Marxists in the 21st century must have a sense of the past that went before them, while being wholly committed to democratic forms of organisation and people’s power.
Marxism, moreover, is not a theory of everything and must be supplemented with and by other traditions of thought in the broader left canon. As the texts in this list shows however, Marxism has an unrivalled history of engaging in overlapping struggles for human emancipation including feminist and anti-racist struggle.
We hope that this reading list enriches your understanding of Marxism and its powerful influence on intellectual and social life since the writing of the Communist Manifesto.
Seminal Readings in South African Marxism:
Prof. Allison Drew is a noted historian and writer on socialism and nationalism in the South African context. In her documentary histories, you will find a rich history on the political thought and theorising of a South African Marxists, many of whom would not have had access to publishing in academic journals. These primary sources cover early South African socialism, the Native Republic Thesis, the relationship of South African Marxists to the Comintern, the origins and developments of Trotskyism in South Africa, The Non-European Unity Movement, workers unity, the National and Agrarian Questions and the turn to armed struggle.
Andrew Nash has served as a professor at the Universities of Stellenbosch, the Western Cape and Cape Town. He was the editor of the Monthly Review and has written extensively on Marxism and political theory. He has been extensively involved in political education outside of the university.
Baruch Hirson was a South African political activist and historian.
Ben Turok is a former anti-apartheid activist, Economics Professor and former South African member of parliament and a member of the African National Congress and was . He is currently director of the Institute for African Alternatives.
Chris Hani was the leader of the South African Communist Party and Chief of Staff of the ANC’s armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe. He was one of the most popular and influential politicians in South Africa and his assassination by a right-wing white supremacist in 1993, brought South Africa to the brink of civil war.
The Hani Memorandum (introduced and annotated by Hugh Macmillan)
Jabulani Nobleman ‘Mzala’ Nxumalo was a member of the South African Communist party and is widely regarded as a prolific writer and intellectual in the movement having contributed extensively to SACP publications.
Dora Taylor was a founding member of the Non-European Unity Movement and a novelist, playwright, and poet who inspired many in the unity movement and beyond.
Govan Mbeki joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the 1950s and was instrumental in linking the struggle for socialism in South Africa with the struggle for the national liberation of black people by cementing strong relations between the SACP, the African National Congress and the trade union movement.
Harold Wolpe was a lawyer and prolific academic who was also a member of the South African Communist Party. Through his work on capitalism and apartheid, Wolpe is credited with revolutionising the way in which social scientists and activists understood both the workings of South African society and the appropriate ways to change it.
Isaac Bongani Tabata a founding member of the All African Convention (AAC), was a South African political activist, author and orator.
Joe Foster was the General-Secretary of FOSATU in the 1980’s.
Jack and Ray Simons:
Jack and Ray Simons were anti-apartheid activists and members of the African National Congress and South African Communist Party.
Joe Slovo was a long-time leader and theorist in the South African Communist Party (SACP), a leading member of the African National Congress (ANC), and a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)
Kenneth Jordaan dedicated his life to writing a Marxist history of South Africa having been dissatisfied with how history was taught at the University of Cape Town. He was involved in a number of anti-apartheid and Marxist intellectual organisations.
Martin Legassick was a South African Marxist historian and activist who was one of the central figures in the “revisionist” school of South African historiography that revolutionised the study of colonialism, apartheid and capitalism by highlighting the importance of political economy, class contradictions and imperialism.
Moses Kotane served as the secretary general of the South African Communist Party from 1939 until his death in 1978. Kotane was also a member of the African National Congress (ANC).
Dr Neville Alexander was both an eminent scholar and anti-apartheid activist. He was affiliated to the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) during the struggle against apartheid and was imprisoned on Robben Island and later held under house arrest. In post-apartheid South Africa, he was a staunch proponent of non-racialism and harsh critic of the government’s commitment to race-based redress.
A number Alexander’s works are available here
Pallo Jordan is a South African politician and political theorist. He was a member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress, and was a cabinet minister from 1994 until 2009.
Rick Turner was a South African academic and philosopher who taught at the University of Natal and was involved in the National Union of of South African Students (NUSAS). He is credited with sparking what is known as “The Durban Moment”, a period in which the city of Durban was the site of renewed intellectualism and struggle against apartheid. He was assassinated in his home in 1978.
A collection of Turner’s writings and writings about him can be found here
Ruth First was the daughter of founding members of the Communist Party of South Africa and went on to be a decidedly influential scholar and activist in her own right. During exile in London, she wrote a number of groundbreaking contributions to Marxist theory. First was assassinated by a letter bomb in Mozambique in 1982.
A collection of First’s papers are available here
Selected Marxists (and Marxist-inspired) texts from the rest of Africa
Amilcar Cabral led the nationalist movement of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands and the ensuing war of independence in Guinea-Bissau. Cabral was a highly influential agricultural engineer, intellectual and theoretician.
Bade Onimode was a renowned professor of economics and former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan.
Kwame Nkrumah was a liberation leader and the first prime minister and president of Ghana. Nkrumah was an influential supporter of Pan-Africanism and a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Samir Amin is an Egyptian-French marxist-economist who is most famously known for his theory of “delinking” which advises countries in the Global South to seek political-economic autonomy from the global international capitalist system.
Influential Marxists from the broader African Diaspora
Adolph Reed is an American professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in race and American politics. He has written extensively on Race and Class within the American context.
Angela Davis is an American political activist, academic, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist in the 1960s as a leader of the Black Panther Party. She is a professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Claudia Jones was a Trinidad-born journalist and activist. As a result of her political activities, she was deported from the United States in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, The West Indian Gazette, in 1958.
Cyril Lionel Robert James was an Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist and socialist. He is also famed as a writer on cricket, and his 1963 book, Beyond a Boundary, which he himself described as “neither cricket reminiscences nor autobiography”, is often named as the best single book on any sport, ever written.
An archive of James’ work is available here
Cornel West is an American philosopher, political activist, social critic, author, and public intellectual.
George Padmore was a leading Pan-Africanist, journalist, and author.
A number of Padmore’s works are available here
Robyn Kelleyis the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014.
Stuart Hall was a Jamaican-born cultural theorist, political activist and Marxist sociologist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom from 1951, was a founder of the influential New Left Review.
Walter Rodney was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and scholar, who was assassinated in Guyana in 1980. Rodney’s most influential book was his magnum opus, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, published in 1972.
Compiled by The Progressive Corner Team