Dec 13, 2013
Chris Hedges Talks With Ronnie Kasrils (Full Transcript and Audio)
Posted on Jun 24, 2013
CH: Is it?
RK: Our unions are shrinking, our industrial base is shrinking because of the market fundamentals that we shouldn’t be producing textiles and clothing in South Africa because it can be produced more cheaply in China and India. But that’s not going to last. And, you know, I’m no economist, not even for my own country, which is why I made mistakes by the way, really what is happening in terms of production in American and in Europe, what are they going to have to do to arrest the current crisis of the financial sector and the economy of Europe, Western Europe, particularly, from Greece through to Portugal and Britain and the banking system and here, they’re in profound crisis. So I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to declare an end of an era ...
RK: ... of the need for industrial production, and or unionism. Tell me about Minnesota, and what happened there, because I see it from a distance.
RK: It’s service sector.
CH: So they were government employees.
RK: Yeah, and what happens as the new giants, as the new kids on the block emerge from the East. What happens then in Europe and America in terms of having to keep up industrially, in terms of productivity. How long can service-based employment last for a country on its own with everything else becoming negligible.
RK: So there’re forces in the world that they don’t have control of in terms of capitalism, otherwise they wouldn’t have their, their boom and bust all the time.
RK: And the huge, unpredictable down surge, the meltdown of 2008. So, we’re obviously moving through quite a transitionary period, I would think. And maybe that’s making it much more difficult to discern what’s at play, what’s coming into being. That was, again, the genius of Marx and Engels, of what was becoming outmoded and what was coming into being. Not everybody saw this ...
RK: ... in relation to capitalism, in relation to industrial proletariat, on a worldwide basis. So I don’t claim to have the answers to rather difficult questions you’re putting to me about the economics of this present era, and do the economists have it?
RK: Very, very few. They’ve got more opinions than lawyers on a case.
CH: Let me ask about—when someone such as yourself decides to rise up and become a rebel or a revolutionary, when you go back, do you do it because it’s a moral imperative, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re going to achieve your goal, or do you have a kind of belief in historical inevitability?
RK: Not initially. Initially there’s emotion, there’s passion, and I do believe that the youth are a factor in this, that one does change through the years. The old English saying, that if you’re not a communist by the age of 20, you don’t have a heart, but if you’re still a communist by the age of 30 you don’t have a mind. Now that was told to me by my boss when I worked in an advertising agency for Lever Brothers. I was absolutely shocked and I was 23 or something. I was shocked because I thought, “This guy is saying he can understand,” and I wasn’t a communist, by the way, “he can understand why I would be a communist. This Lever Brothers chief from England.” But, at that particular stage, it certainly wasn’t determinism, historical determinism—which I still argue against, by the way—I’ve just been with a friend of mine, upstate New York, who I write about in the book, “Armed and Dangerous,” the American guy, Larry—.
RK: He’s still fixated on determinism, and he fights with his girlfriend who’s an activist here and was in the Washington Occupy movement who believes in free will. I was trying to get a balance between them, which is a wonderful, old—Engels, I think, wrote, and Marx wrote about men, obviously meaning men and women but you know this was the language, tend to determine their answers, their solutions, but they do so on the basis of the conditions which they’ve inherited, you know. And I promised to find the quote for him, by the way. So, I would think in the main, and it’s my experience and my views of seeing others change, whether you’re in a factory, whether you’re a slave on the plantation, whether you’re a young student, or a rebel like myself who is a white person in a situation where it’s black people being oppressed in South Africa, that it’s your emotions that really are to the fore, and your hatred, if you happen to be that way inclined, and we dealt with perhaps why we are that way inclined, that you, your hatred of oppression, of seeing people beaten down all the time. Certainly for me this was something that came to dominate my life from my early teens, because it was so visual in South Africa, to a point where when people were being shot down at Sharpeville, I couldn’t live with myself without doing anything. OK, so perhaps it’s the rebellious factor. It’s only after that that you start asking the questions. What would be put in place? Well, perhaps the first question is, OK, we stand and we protest with a placard, and then if we’re beaten we fight back with stones and if there’s no possibility of change, then, like [John F.] Kennedy says, “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable,” which is a quote I love, because I use it so often with young Americans who come to South Africa. And you then start asking those questions, and that’s what a revolutionary movement’s about. How to harness the energy and the passion and the emotion, and how to signpost the way ahead, how, which comes to, you’ve got to be organized, and you’ve got to have a program of action and you’ve got to have a strategy and your tactics and who is the enemy, and what are you going to replace the system with? These basic questions come to the fore, and it’s that, then, that gives you your worldview an your deeper understanding. There are a few people who are born intellectual, who somehow figure this out. You get the quiet boy at school who doesn’t seem to have any passion and you later meet a guy like that and he’s emerged, or she’s emerged as quite an outstanding theorist who has come to realize that the philosophers have hitherto changed, attempted to analyze the world or understand it and the point is to change it. You know there are a few people like that, but in the main it’s the conditions of life, isn’t it, for the vast multitude, so if you’re working on the land, or you’re working in industry, or down the mines or in the factory, your conditions bring you along that path if you are going to follow the revolutionary path, and not just in terms of basic trade union protection of your condition of work, or amelioration of your position on the land. Of course for intellectuals it’s a different journey, and there the rebellious factor becomes very profound because, you see, if you have to do it, it you have to struggle because of the conditions of your life, because you’re downtrodden, or you’re racially oppressed or you’re economically oppressed on the land, or in the industry, in the mines, if you’re Nelson Mandela—I nearly said this early, but I thought we’d come back to it—is he a rebel, is that a rebel? Or is the rebel the person who actually just despises no matter what his or her condition of life—you see very often a rebel is a person who enjoys certain of the liberties. I think that’s more the rebel, who’s prepared to give up his class or her class, or tribe, coming to Jews in Israel now, I think that’s more the rebel. I don’t see Mandela as the rebel. I see Mandela as standing for his people, having to be very brave and courageous, and lead, but he, what else is there for Mandela to do?
CH: Well, there weren’t very many Mandelas, though.
RK: OK, yes, no, but whether it’s Mandela or the people with him, so put aside the actual quality of leadership, the person on the shop floor, or down the mine, shoveling the coal, or with a pickax breaking the earth, at a certain point can’t take this any longer and if they’re going to survive they have to stand up against the club. But the person who could escape all that and have a privileged or comfortable life—isn’t that the rebel, the John Browns? Why does John Brown raise the flag of rebellion? So, for a rebel, the officer in an army who certainly stands up and says this army is standing for the wrong thing, we want to stand for the freeing of the slaves, I find this the more fascinating area in terms of rebellion, not that I find it more satisfying or important than understanding why the worker stands up against the boss. I mean, that’s the motive force of revolutionary change, not the rebels’ role. Not my role. And I think this is what Jack Simons was saying to me that we would have been burnt at the stake, and that’s the dissident factor, and I find this on the question of having been Jewish born but standing for Palestinian rights, so there you need such courage to stand up against your tribe, and in South Africa I see so many people now who were oppressed before, and now have a chance to advance in life and become ministers, or government officials of various kinds and mayors, or—through black empowerment—heads of companies, forgetting what their backgrounds were and feeling, “Well, now I can give my children a decent home and education, I’m not worried about those without.” That’s not a rebel.
CH: Right, right.
RK: These were people I fought with who were very gallant and courageous, and I see them doing that. So that’s what we’re talking about, is they were revolutionaries at a certain stage, I would say they sold out on that. I don’t see them necessarily as having been the rebels.
CH: Let me just finish by asking about violence, which you deal with in your book. First of all, how important, and let me just preface that by saying in the book that I gave you [“Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”] it makes the argument that there is no way now within the formal mechanisms of power to stop the assault against the ecosystem and against human capital in this country. We can’t vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. It’s impossible. You have the Appalachian mountains being destroyed by big coal. The only way to stop the devastation of the Appalachians and the poisoning of the water and the people is to blow up the drag lines. I’m not advocating it, I’m just stating a fact. It’s not going to be done through the mechanisms of [established] power. When you reach a point like that, and you certainly reached a point where oppression in South Africa became so severe that you had to go underground. What are your reflections on violence as a tool for social change?
RK: Well, you have to really in the most serious possible way analyze the situations and conditions, and what’s possible. And, the way we analyzed the South African situation, led by Mandela, was whether we could advance the struggle for change through nonviolent means, which the ANC had been wedded to for exactly 49 years, and it had become almost an article of faith and belief—peaceful forms of struggle, nonviolent forms of struggle of the Gandhian type. Not that we were able to develop it in the way that Gandhi did, but there was strong influence from the Indian Congress in South Africa, which was an organization supporting the ANC based, as the name implies, on South Africans of Indian origin. Gandhian forms of resistance are certainly, and have been in history, an element and a form, a very powerful form of change, which was used against the British by millions of people who were galvanized into passive resistance by Gandhi. I’m not a Gandhian, and I’m not a pacifist, coming out of my origins, and, you know, I kid you not when I use the Kennedy statement, which was used quite probably in a very reactionary way because he was making a speech, I think it’s in December 1961, or ‘62, almost at the time when we formed counter-resistance, where I came across this sometime later and he’s making that speech in, at the Organization of American States, OAS—.
CH: Right, right, right.
RK: That’s the Latin American states—in Washington, I think. And he’s speaking to them as, you know, most of them were dictators themselves.
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