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How Useful is “Settler-Colonialism” as Concept and Guide to Liberation Struggles?

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Prof Ran Greenstein presented his paper entitled How Useful is “Settler-Colonialism” as Concept and Guide to Liberation Struggles? on 25 May 2016 as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series, which is run by Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

Prof Greenstein is based at the University of the Witwatersrand, and was previously based at the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE). A widely published writer, his books include Genealogies of Conflict: Class, Identity and State in Palestine/Israel and South Africa (1995), Comparative Perspectives on South Africa (1998), and, more recently, Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine (2014).  His work examines colonialism, race, class, communism and the left.

Prof Greenstein asked whether the notion of "settler-colonialism" as a historically-descriptive term provide clear guidance for theory and analysis, or for political mobilisation? He argued that, given the enormous diversity of settler-colonial societies (among which we can include Israel / Palestine, South Africa and the United States of America), each needs to be studied concretely. There is no universal model of (settler-) colonial rule and thus no universal model of liberation from (settler-) colonialism. Rather, it is important to examine the historically-specific configurations of settlers and indigenous people, their access to and struggles over land, labour and state power, and the global context in which they operate. Working class movements and the radical Left, including communists, have played important roles in these struggles, but conditioned by specific conjunctures.  However, it is possible to learn lessons from different experiences. One such lesson is the centrality of local grassroots mobilisation, and of alliances across racial and ethnic boundaries, to defeat colonial regimes. Another is that there is a direct relationship between the organisational and political format of the liberation movement and the kind of society that emerges in the aftermath of the transition: tomorrow is built today.