- The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy in Southern Africa
John S. Saul is a Canadian academic and activist whose work on Southern Africa for more than three decades is well-known and respected. He is one of the few Africanists who have remained consistent in deploying a leftist approach to understanding political and economic trends in the region. This is refreshing in a field where scholars often leap, with opportunistic vigor, from one academic fad to the next. The Next Liberation Struggle is a collection of essays (some of them coauthored with colleagues) across a range of topics that have dominated Saul's scholarship: socialism and popular democracy in Africa; capitalism and globalization; the fortunes of socialist [End Page 123] experiments in Mozambique, and Tanzania; and ruminations on the future of postapartheid South Africa.
The essays in part 1—Continental Considerations—reveal Saul at his sharpest. Focusing on Africa-wide trends since the 1990s, these essays provide a magisterial critique of the democratization trends that have been heralded as rejuvenating the continent. Saul's critique stems from his perspective that since capitalist development is impossible in Africa, the future lies in socialist transformations. He contends that in the last decade, democracy and capitalism have been stymied throughout Africa by vicious identity and distributional politics, and externally by the declining capacity of African states to tame the forces of globalization.
Though it is easy to dismiss Saul as an unreconstructed leftist, the issues he raises with regard to the durability of democracy and capitalism in Africa are pertinent in the context of economic decay, social and political helplessness, and loss of effective sovereignty. Neoliberal celebration of the triumph of market capitalism has waned as Africa has confronted the obstacles of realizing this objective. As the droves of Africans voting with their feet to risk their lives on the passage to Europe illustrate, there is widespread societal skepticism about the ability of their societies to meet the fundamentals of subsistence.
I share Saul's pessimism about the unpleasantness of Africa's choices, but I am not persuaded that we should easily give up on democracy as a learning process, an instrumental project for gradually remaking African politics away from the failed authoritarian experiments of the past. If socialism has failed to take root in Africa, as Saul concedes in his chapters on Tanzania and Mozambique, then the challenge seems to be political innovation that entails working within existing constraints to recreate a new sense of institutional and national purpose. Everywhere, democracy is a work in progress, informed correctly by Aristotle's injunction that all democracies seek to approximate ideals in participation and good government.
Extreme pessimism leads Saul onto that dangerous path of Africa-as-a-global-problem, a path trodden typically by neoconservatives: "Africa will present increasing dangers to the rest of the world: leading exporters of AIDS and other diseases, happy hunting grounds for Mafiosi and mercenaries, anomic black markets for money, weapons, unlicensed drugs, untested blood, dangerous food additives" (p. 28). When leftists and neoconservatives share the same analytical frameworks, one is tempted to pay more attention to the practical idealism of Bill Gates, Jeffrey Sachs, and George Soros.
In parts 2 and 3, Saul reminisces on the collapse of socialist experiments in Mozambique and Tanzania, lambastes the postcolonial leaders of Namibia and Zimbabwe, and indicts South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) for betraying the revolutionary socialist dream. These chapters do not break new ground, and for the most part, their message is murky and muddled. Though Saul admits that the exiled-ANC already harbored petty-bourgeois aspirations and was prone to opportunism, he accuses the postapartheid leadership of capitulating to neoliberalism. Against the [End Page 124] backdrop of faltering socialist experiments globally, why did he expect the ANC to stick to Marxist-Leninist ideas (if it had any, to start with)? There is some patent dishonesty here, which seems to harp...