An Interview with John S. Saul
by Andrew Nash
[John S. Saul is professor emeritus of politics at York University in Toronto. He is the author of many highly-acclaimed books on the politics of southern Africa, including Recolonization and Resistance: Southern Africa in the 1990s, Namibia's Liberation Struggle: The Two-Edged Sword, The Crisis in South Africa, and A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique. His new book The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in Southern Africa was just published by Monthly Review Press.]
Q1. Your new book is titled The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in Southern Africa. It's a great title, and the idea that the next liberation struggle is about to begin, or has already begun, has great resonance in southern Africa itself. But the title might be too good. For many decades it was easy to say what the liberation struggle aimed to achieve and what liberation would involve. Is there a clear answer to the question of what the next liberation struggle aims to do?
A. It is difficult to be entirely optimistic, of course, or even to state clearly and realistically what we might hope to achieve in now seeking to bend the world away from the apparent imperatives of global capitalism. We've certainly come a long way down from the era of relative confidence that helped us to see "socialism" as the ready, even likely, outcome to popular struggles then underway, including at least some of those for "national liberation" in Southern Africa. I'm sometimes, in darker moments, even tempted to retranslate the old slogan "Dare to struggle, dare to win" dourly as "Dare to struggle, dare to whine." Yet it's not simply "pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will" that can keep us going. The vast majority of the world's population are losers from the current system of global capitalism and while many of them will be tempted to embrace alternative visions of "betterment" -- along more fundamentalist and xenophobic lines -- rather than more left, "secular," socialist solutions, there are signs that many struggles, though often small, localized and fledgling at the moment, are inclining towards a fresh reengagement against capitalism, world-wide and local, including, for example, in South Africa.
Q2. You've been writing about the politics of the southern African region for thirty years or more now. Thirty years ago there was a clear understanding on the left of the role of Africa in struggles for radical change around the world. That understanding seems to have crumbled, without anything really taking its place. Do you see this changing anytime soon?
A. There is, of course, a global movement to fight back against capitalist globalization that has made some headway and gained some salience, and there are Africans involved in many such networks: around many quite specific issues (e.g. water) and more general ones (e.g. the role of the IFIs and the WTO). In Africa itself, however, there is no doubt the kind of ebb in self-confidence that, paradoxically, parallels the further marginalization and exploitation of the continent that has come to characterize the present unipolar world. We're back, in effect, to the period of the 40s and 50s when movements of national liberation were just beginning to be born to resist the crude workings of colonialism and white-minority rule. My present book certainly reflects the victories but also the fierce disappointments that those of us close to the anti-colonial/anti-apartheid movements have experienced over ensuing decades: those at the bottom have not seen their lives improve so very much, to put it mildly, however important a fresh measure of some greater political freedom may be. Still, the book also seeks to evoke a new phase: an emerging resistance from the bottom up to global capitalist control, resistance that is real (as shown, in my book, for South Africa, for example) but still has some way to go, nationally, continently, and globally. Not "soon" then, but "haba na haba, hujaza kibaba" (little by little, you fill up the measure) as they say in Kiswahili.