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Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives

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Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives

The series is run by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics & Economic History.


Speakers: Kirk Helliker, Lucien van der Walt

Date: Wednesday, 3rd October 2018

Time: 4:15pm

Venue: Eden Grove Seminar Room 2



Is another politics possible, beyond parties and states, and from below? For decades, most anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements identified radical transformation with capturing state power. The collapse of these statist projects from the 1970s led to a global crisis of left and working class politics. But crisis has also opened space for rediscovering alternative society-centred, anti-capitalist modes of bottom-up change, operating at a distance from the state. These have registered important successes in practice, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, and in the Rojava revolution  in Syria. They have been a key influence on movements from "Occupy" in United States, to the landless in Latin America, to anti-austerity struggles in Europe and Asia, to urban movements in Africa. Their lineages include anarchism, syndicalism, autonomist Marxism, philosophers like Alain Badiou, and radical popular praxis. This path-breaking volume recovers this understanding of social transformation, long side-lined but now resurgent, like a seed in the soil that keeps breaking through and growing. It provides case studies with reference to South Africa and Zimbabwe, and includes a dossier of key texts from a century of anarchists, syndicalists, insurgent unionists and anti-apartheid activists in South Africa.

Originating in a summit of radical academics, struggle veterans and social movements, the book includes a preface from John Holloway. Contributors include Tarryn Alexander, Sian Byrne, Kirk Helliker, Camalita Naicker, Lucien van der Walt, and Nicole Ulrich.  The book also includes a dossier of texts and interviews on the history and voices of a century of politics at a distance from the state in South Africa, from the 1910s to the present including interviews with Warren McGregor, Lekhetho Mtetwa, Ngcwalisa Maqekeza and the late Mkhululi ‘Khusta’ Sijora.



Kirk Helliker is a research professor in Sociology at Rhodes University, and Director of the Unit of Zimbabwean Studies. His main research interests are civil society, land struggles and political transformation in Zimbabwe. He was expelled from South Africa in the 1980s by the apartheid regime. Publications include "Land Struggles and Civil Society in Southern Africa" (with Tendai Murisa, 2011), "The Promise of Land: Undoing a Century of Dispossession in South Africa” (with Fred Hendricks and Lungisile Ntsebeza, 2013) and  "The Political Economy of Livelihoods in Zimbabwe" (with Manase Kudzai Chiweshe and Sandra Bhatasara, 2018).

Lucien van der Walt lectures at Rhodes University, has long been involved in union and working class education and movements, and published widely on labour, the left and political economy. His books include "Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940" (2010/2014, with Steve Hirsch, Benedict Anderson etc.),  and "Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives” (2018, with Kirk Helliker). His PhD on anarchism and syndicalism in southern Africa before the 1930s won the 2008 international "Labor History" best thesis prize and the 2008/2009 CODESRIA award for best African dissertation. His work has been widely translated, including into Czech, French, German, Greek, Spanish, Turkish and Zulu.