Of Revolution and Constitutionalism: The Perceived Antagonism is Artificial
- Mbuyiseni Ndlozi
- 15 May 2016 10:34 (South Africa)
The liberal crowd, which never pays attention to representing the EFF on its own terms, continued to impose this identity on us, despite the fact that in all of the EFF’s pronouncements, including in official documents, we have never used the term “constitutionalists” to describe ourselves.
This dilemma created the impression that revolution and constitutionalism exist in antagonism. The dilemma was also exacerbated by how the liberal crowd responded to the CIC Julius Malema’s remarks during the interview with al-Jazeera when he spoke of taking up arms.
It is the duty of theorists, particularly revolutionaries, to return meaning to words and therefore it seems to me that we must pause and revisit the meaning of our words and the antagonisms they seemingly create. A return of meaning to words is very much like making words come to life; giving words a materiality – when “the word becomes flesh”. Thus, the exercise in this piece is to breathe air into the circulating words, that they may indeed mean something. I do this because in essence, the “antagonism” presents a key ideological confusion in the public discourse.
In a conversation about the possible rigging of elections, and the state using violence, specifically the army, to shutdown dissent, the CiC Julius Malema said we will be prepared to take up arms and fight the regime. He explained that the EFF prefers peaceful means to win power, but that should never translate into thinking that we will accept violence from the state.
He advised that at all times the government must act constitutionally and peacefully, while explaining that in 2014, when results were questioned in Alexandra, the state simply sent the army to silence our people; to this day we have no explanation of why this was the case.
Unsurprisingly, these remarks sent chills to the liberal crowd, who abruptly woke up to the reality that the EFF leader remains the revolutionary he has always been. Their hope was that he had sacrificed his revolution at the alter of winning approval from the liberal crowd outside the Constitutional Court.
Constitutionalism, both as a historical ideology and as espoused by many of its founding thinkers (like John Locke, Thomas Hobbes etc) rises out of the context of rejecting absolute monarchy or absolute power. As a result it has come to represent the idea that the power of those who rule must be limited by a set of fundamental laws which they call the “Constitution”. Constitutionalism, simply put, is therefore the idea that the power or authority of those who rule (majoritarian or monarchical) derives and must be limited by a “fundamental law”. This is also the foundation for the practice of “the rule of law”.
One can already sense the problem in the elaboration of this principle; it means we must first determine what “fundamental law” is; what are the contents of such a law. This is important because something like apartheid was by all standards a system in which there was a “rule of law”, but apartheid as a law was anti-black, anti-human and unjust. It is the same with colonialism; Jim Crow, and modern Israel in how it treats Palestinians in general, these are all “constitutional” states.
The foundation of this idea of the “rule of law” is equality; the twin claim that we are all created equal and that we have the right to life. “Fundamental law” therefore starts with the idea of the right to life – all deserve to live. Anyone, including the government, falls into illegitimacy, meaning they commit crime if they take the life of anyone. This is why, in our law, even those who commit murder cannot be killed, even as punishment.
We do not give life, thus we must never take it. We can imprison you for life, but we respect the principle of the right to life so much that we do not kill. This does not mean we will not defend ourselves, both as a collective and as individuals; we must do so, in defence of the very right to life.
The modern doctrine of “the rule of law” can be said to have historically come into being (word becoming flesh) in two historical moments; one is in the US revolutionary War of Independence against British colonialism and the other is the French Revolution against the French Monarchy – Louis XVI. In both instances of the US and France, even as the two revolutions were completed, black people remained slaves, colonised and racially discriminated against.
For the US, equal rights did not include black people. The classical opening words of the American Declaration of Independence which state, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, were only true for white people. It was not until the fall of Jim Crow in 1965, 189 years later, that the flesh (or its pigmentation) of these classical words came into being for blacks, or attained blackness. In 1776, the words of the American Declaration of Independence, at the beginning (founding) of the US as we know it, were exclusive to white flesh (skin).
In the case of France, the revolution declared equal human rights through the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens” document, which established the First French Republic, yet they still colonised Africans and continued slavery for centuries after. This is despite the Haitian Revolution, led by black slaves who used the very French Revolutionary ideals of the “rights of men and citizens” to fight for the abolition of slavery and the establishment of the first modern black republic. Here too, in the beginning of France as we know it, the words of the “Declaration” became white flesh; anti-black and racist.
The basis of EFF’s acceptance of the doctrine of the “rule of law” therefore depends absolutely on what law it is, i.e. on the contents of such a law. It rests on what life a law brings into being, what flesh it creates and privileges or what materiality it imposed upon those it rules. Apartheid law was a law designed to bastardise, dehumanise and condemn black people into permanent waste and juniority. In our 2013 Founding Manifesto we spelled out that we will be prepared to defy “unjust laws” or rule; law is not to be recognised simply because it is law. It will be recognised because it is a “just law”.
Any revolutionary can accept that once fundamental law is established and found to be just, we must all live and comply by it. This is not withstanding that it is also constitutional to amend the Constitution as and when amendments are necessary. Such an amendment must itself comply with the spirit of “the rule of law”. It means that at all times authority, even democratic majority authority, must be limited, otherwise it is tyranny and its rule risks being arbitrary.
Again, consider the French Revolution, which by all standards was a bourgeoisie revolution – lasting for 10 years (between 1789 to 1799). It managed to set French society on a clean slate, a tabula rasa. A new set of values and social relations were set into motion in the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens, conceptualised by the French aristocrat and army general Marquis de Lafayette, together with Thomas Jefferson of the US.
The document was adopted in a general assembly that was constituted by commoners previously excluded from French political rule. Here, the political ideal of equality was fully demonstrated as an absolute monarchy was destroyed and a set of fundamental principles put forth to inform a new constitution of the people. The Declaration served to guide a new republic so that it too may never turn against the people – of course, the white people.
This experience must usher us from the question of the “rule of law”/“constitutionalism”, to the idea of the revolution – what is a revolution and its relationship to arms/violence. The EFF seeks a revolution, but the name of our revolution is the African Socialist Revolution. We believe that bourgeoisie/capitalist society is fundamentally oppressive and anti-human. This is because access to means of subsistence is, for the majority, through selling their labour. At the conception of “fundamental law” bourgeoisie society or capitalist civilisation excluded the question of “private property” by including it as part of “human right”.
This means it created and allowed private ownership and control of the means of subsistence for purposes of profit maximisation. This has since led to a general reduction of all of life to the principle and practice of “profit maximisation”. Education, healthcare, housing, food, clothing are all commodified – meaning they service the profit maximisation of private individuals. These very basic and fundamental human needs were turned into commodities, meaning they have been surrendered to this principle of profit maximisation. Thus, to live or to access them, we must sell our labour to those who own and control them.
This is the cornerstone of capitalism; it engraved itself in the founding law of modern societies as fundamental law. That it is fundamental to chase profit as a way of doing production and distribution of goods and services. This is also the foundation of inequality, exploitation and mass poverty in the world.
Historically, at the birth of bourgeoisie society, blacks were also products – slaves with price tags in a slave market. This was that forced labour where black people existed as products of whites in societies governed by “declarations” as we have stated above. These are not barbaric societies held backward by superstitions. No, these are modern, science-dominated societies. However, above all, even as black slavery was abolished, together with colonisation and apartheid, the idea of “freely selling labour” in order to survive is inhuman, because the choice is death or wages, and this is not freedom. You are not free to sell your labour, you are forced to sell it because if you do not, you cannot survive.
Capitalist civilisation is also an abundant and supersonic civilisation; it manages to produce things in abundance, with more speed and efficiency than any civilisation known to man. Yet it is responsible for the greatest human, day to day, suffering; extreme inequality, poverty, disease and environmental degradation. It achieves all of this while claiming to be based on “human rights”. Bourgeoisie societies can kill people to protect buildings, gold, platinum or subject them to disease and strife, just to get gold. It is a society driven by profit, not people.
The African Socialist Revolution is the pursuit of changing the fundamental logic of this civilisation we have come to know as capitalism – named precisely after its main purpose of maximising capital/profit. The manner in which this civilisation integrated Africans into capitalist relations is also the target of our change. We aim to free the fundamental white/European supremacist nature of the capitalist civilisation by undoing it completely in favour of socialism.
Socialism will be a society based on production for people, regardless of the colour of their skin, and not for profit. We will produce not to maximise profit, but to humanise and advance human life. Our revolution has to be conducted on a world scale because capitalism is a world system.
However, in the immediate, there are things we can do to make human living better, right here, right now. We can socialise the means to healthcare, education, housing and sanitation by making them free. “Free” means the state must provide for them simply because they are so basic to all human survival and dignity. No one ought to make money out of people’s sickness, people’s learning, people’s homelessness and people’s lack of sanitation; it is a shame that this civilisation leaves these basic human needs to the anarchy that is the profit driven market.
Should we win elections, this is what we will enact into “fundamental law”. This means we do not perceive the Constitution as an end in itself. We perceive it as a means to an end. In the event of an absolute majority win, we will amend it, we can even include “socialism” as a vision and ambition of the South African people for a world we seek to live in.
Finally, the question that is in everyone’s mind is: what about violence or arms? Well, it is very simple, we are absolutely committed to conducting this struggle using peaceful democratic means – chief among which is “elections”. Elections help us to genuinely examine the popularity of our ideas; the ideas of an African Socialist Revolution. However, if the ruling party rigs the elections and imposes the military on the people to silence them and beat them into submission, we will take up arms and fight back. After defeating what would clearly be a dictatorship, we will conduct a general election in a new society, win and rule in accordance with the principles of the “rule of law”.
To be a revolutionary is the preparedness to die or take up arms for the course you represent. Those who rule must know that the EFF reserves the right to armed struggle. We are prepared to conduct our revolution with arms as and when the conditions for democratic participation are eliminated. The threat of death, prison or exile does not move us because we are prepared to lay down our lives for the African Socialist Revolution. We are not a mere political party, we are revolutionaries who seek a complete overturn of the capitalist civilisation in favour of socialism.
In conclusion, it suffices to state that for us, democratic elections are quintessential to a people-centred government because no one should ever impose themselves on the people, let alone with guns. Elections must be free and fair, there must be limitation of terms of office, and the separation of powers, even in a socialist society. Essentially, socialism is not the undoing of democracy; it is its extension to the economy and the means of production. There is therefore no antagonism in the relationship between “rule of law” and “the revolution”; those who create it do so for artificial reasons! DM