18 January 2013

Namibia: Human Rights or Mass Action?


THE article 'A need to innovate human rights activism' (The Namibian, January 11, 2013) by Andreas Peltzer is a welcome contribution to a necessary debate in the public domain.

I wish to differ sharply with that author on a number of issues but hope that this would be seen in the spirit of democratic discussion.

Peltzer writes: "The human rights approach helps to get beyond the simple ideas of liberalism and socialism." This author does not seem to realise that he actually writes from within a perspective of liberalism. Yes, his writing reflects the crisis of liberalism but that is still what it is. Liberalism has failed to bring about social equality. A human rights approach is hardly something recent and innovative; it arises from within liberal democracy.

So, it is not certain what kind of innovation is referred to. And, yes, socialism or social equality is a simple idea, but it is undoubtedly the most powerful idea of the last almost two centuries. It has inspired numerous struggles and it will continue to do so. Liberal democracy is hardly the only form of democracy; social democracy (not the social-democratic type) is the highest form of democracy. That author also said: 'Contrary to some Marxist beliefs, historical studies show the poor usually do not rise up to fight against the rich.' This rather vague and broad sentence is not very helpful in constructing a counter argument. Which Marxist beliefs? Which historical studies? There exists ample evidence of uprisings: the Paris Commune, the Russian revolution, the German revolution, the Chinese revolution, etc. It is very far from the truth that the working class does not rise up against its exploitation.

Our neighbour, South Africa has the highest level of protests (class struggle) in the world and is on the way to another October revolution. That country came close to it in the mid-1980s. The main reason for the continuing existence of capitalism is the extraordinary levels of violence of the ruling classes, not the wished-for passivity of the working class. The working class becomes active when social conditions are unbearable. Just remember what happened in Tunisia.

Peltzer seems to argue from a position of legalism rather than activism. Activism and legalism are complete opposites. Real change only comes through activism, that is direct or mass action. Legalism is only for the rich and powerful who can afford to pay the lawyers. This legalism has little to say about socio-economic rights; these rights are never going to be realised through parliament or courts but only through mass action. It is, with due respect, really no wonder that the NGO sector has become so irrelevant and removed from working class struggles in this country. The NGO sector gives the impression that it has been compromised by the interests of the countries that fund them. The lesson for the Namibian working class is that it should be its own liberator and not to expect anything radical to come from the NGO sector. Working class you are on your own.

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