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Should ideology matter?

By Paul T. Shipale
The above question was posed by the editorial of the Namibian on Friday 14 September 2012. As a discourse analysts comparable to the then political commissars during the liberation struggle, I say this is like asking if we need politics instead of talking about bread and butter issues, not realizing that one compliments the other.

It is a well known fact that the pursuit of any struggle, and Namibia is no exception, requires not only political, social and economic transformation, but also the ideological struggle for the hearts and minds as one of its critical element.

This is necessary because any political, social and economic system has its material foundations, but it also has to justify its existence at the level of ideas, reflecting the dominant values of a given party or government in society. This is the realm of ideology; the battle of ideas. So it is na´ve to think that politics or ideology does not matter because it defines who you are, what you aim at and how to achieve it, at least, at the realm of governance.

Historical and ethnographic modes of inquiry Generally speaking, methodology constitutes a constructive generic framework. As such, methodology refers to the rationale and/ or the philosophical enquiries that underlie a particular study. For this reason, in scholarly literature a section on the methodology is typically de rigueur. In this regard, Bevir & Rhodes' (2003) study is regarded a significant development in the debate on Ideational approach (Finlayson, 2004a; Hay, 2004) and they make useful suggestion on methodology in this area. Even though Bevir & Rhodes reject the concept of ideology and replace it with that of 'narrative', their methodological suggestion is valid for examination of ideology as they still use traditional ideological categorization to identify 'narratives' and suggest two modes of inquiry: historical forms of inquiry and ethnographic from of inquiry.

To draw further details of methodological approach from this suggestion, on the one hand, Bevir & Rhodes' historical forms of inquiry are similar to diachronic approach of conceptual morphology to ideology. They explain that in order to define an ideology we need to see the historical terrain of political though in the wider context of the contemporary society. This could be carried out through the review of contemporary literatures; while on the other hand, the ethnographic form of inquiry which is a written description of a particular culture - the customs, beliefs, and behavior - based on information collected through fieldwork (Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000) alternatively, participant-observation, allow us 'to recover other people's stories. As such, these modes of inquiry allow us to directly access the ideology of a party or government.

In this regard, the Constitution of the SWAPO Party in an independent Namibia, Article 2, says the Party is "...a mass based political Party born and steeled in the crucible of a popular and heroic struggle for national independence founded on the principles of democracy, solidarity, freedom, social justice and progress". This not only defines the political character of the party as 'a mass based party', contrary to a cadre party of the elites which only appears at elections but also captures the historical background of the party and what the party aims at, i.e., democracy and social justice.

In this regard, it will be interesting to find out which direction the party (and by implication the SWAPO Party government) will take following the nomination of the candidates for the presidency. As the ideological engagements in this era are about the very foundations of a Democratic Society we are constructing, including the identity of the emerging Namibian nation in all its diversity, informed by our own concrete conditions and experiences, our ideology must include: a system which places the needs of the poor and social issues such as a social safety net at the top of the national agenda without necessarily falling into the current trends of neo-liberalism as the dominant ideology of global capitalism imposed by powerful financial institutions and the confused ideological currents or "deviations" such as reformism, populism and ultra-leftism.

NEO-liberalism underlines what is, in fact, a contemporary, more recent adaptation of an older and underlying liberalism which is associated with the emergence of the bourgeoisie, initially in Europe. Historically, Liberalism embraced both a progressive and a class exploitative dimension. The progressive side of liberalism lies essentially in the challenge it posed to feudal ideologies when it postulated that we are all "born equal", and that class divisions are not inborn, natural realities. These views gave rise to progressive struggles for individual rights which also in time gave birth to self determination which was expanded to the nation/people.

All of these essentially progressive themes developed in European liberalism in the 17th -19th century, were taken up in the 20th century in Third World anti-colonial struggles. However, since liberalism is essentially associated with capitalism, it has always had a reactionary/exploitative side to it. This reactionary side is essentially associated with two interrelated assumptions/myths: liberalism equates freedom and individual liberty with the so-called "free market".

This myth of the "free market" is related to the second key myth of liberalism - namely its exaggerated belief in individualism contrary to our principle of "a person is a person because of other people" and our moral values. Little wonder the alarming increasing number of teenage pregnancies, baby dumping, divorces, violent crimes etc. The individualism of liberalism tends to be a-historical. Yes, we are "born equal" but some of us are born into wealth and resources, others of us are born dispossessed by capitalist primitive accumulation, by apartheid colonialism, etc.

NEO-liberalism development into global ascendancy can be traced to a particular moment of structural crisis within global imperialism in the early 1970s which was triggered, in part, by the 1973 oil price hike. But it was more fundamentally associated with a "crisis of realisation" which helps to explain the intensification of the century-long globalisation process; a growing shift out of productive capital and into speculative financial capital - and the accompanying vogue of monetarism and macro-economic state policies;

fixed capital investments and acquisitions in external markets; attempts to roll back welfarism and break national social accords by privatising key infrastructural service utilites that lay at the heart of the welfare state (water, transport, electricity, housing utilities), etc.

The hey-day of neo-liberalism and its period of greatest triumphalism, was the decade of the 1990s, when it was the socialist bloc (and not capitalism) that collapsed. Nevertheless, in the last several years, the seemingly impregnable dominance of neo-liberalism has been challenged by alternative currents within such as the neo-conservative and people like Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stieglitz, and moderations of the extremes of neo-liberalism which impact institutionally, in places like the World Bank which amount to a liberal revisionism rooted in the admission of the manifest failure of neo-liberal policies in addressing, in particular, the crisis of underdevelopment and most recently by the global economic crisis.

In a Paper presented to the SACP Gauteng Province on August 28th, 2005, Titled; "Neo-liberalism, reformism, populism and ultra-leftism", Jeremy Cronin says the defining feature of ultra-leftism is its excessive exaggeration of subjective factors by mistaking their desire, their politico-ideological attitude, for objective reality. Lenin, appropriately, referred to this tendency as "infantile" when he wrote about the ultra-left tendency in Germany in 1920 (Lenin, "Left-wing" communism - an infantile disorder, Selected Works, p.541).

The flip-side of this excessive subjectivism is that ultra-leftism tends to underrate or even ignore the objective factors within a given situation. This, in turn, results in many of the zig-zags that are so often a feature of ultra-leftism, bouts of excessive optimism, followed by depression and the predictable accusations of betrayal and sell-out. Because of its exaggeration of the immediate, ultra-leftism tends, also, to greatly exaggerate tactics at the expense of strategies. As a result, the organisational practices of ultra-leftism are typically characterised by factionalism and the propensity to endless splitting and fragmentation.

On the other hand, the principal internal danger to a revolutionary movement came not from the ultra- left, but from reformist opportunism. Whereas ultra-leftism grossly over-rates the subjective dimension, opportunism greatly exaggerates the stability, durability, and the "unchallengeable" character of objective factors. Indeed, the second defining feature of reformism is that it sees change as reforms that do not challenge the core structural and systemic features of a system while for any revolutionary movement, reforms must have a transformational character and they must introduce anti-systemic possibilities, momentum towards, capacity for, and elements of farreaching structural change.

In our situation, however, reformist opportunism sees change as being about "regulating" the market economy; modernising it; catching up with "international best practice"; and correcting "market failure" and this result in reformist opportunism sharing with ultraleftism the tendency to turn tactical choices imposed by particular realities into strategies and even into timeless principles. As a result, while ultra-leftism tends not to understand process, reformist opportunism does not understand the DIALECTICAL nature of process.

While ultra-leftism invokes the subjective "betrayal" of "sell-outs", reformist opportunism invokes plots and conspiracies; our continent's systemic underdevelopment by decades of plundering tends to be attributed largely to attitudinal prejudices (Afro-pessimism); the deep-seated structural legacy of racialised poverty is mythologised and wrenched out of the historical context and the motives of the intelligentsia are queried when bland optimism is not confirmed by their findings. You will find both reformist and ultra-left versions in populism which is essentially a tendency that focuses on the emotional mobilisation of popular forces demagogically and emotional fans of a particular cause associated with a politics of "high drama" - whipping up a fever of emotional sentiment, and playing to the gallery of popular prejudices and aspirations, or seeking to satisfy some immediate demand, even if it is not remotely sustainable such as reviving old issues and wanting to be elected based on some archaic reasons.

As a nation, we must guard against these ideological trends. It should be reiterated here that the character of the Struggle for Economic Emancipation remains linked to the strategic goal of our National Vision as well as the resolution of the three basic and interrelated contradictions of the former apartheid-Colonialism- race, class and patriarchal relations of power which found expression in national oppression directed against the majority of our people on the basis of race and class as well as a triple oppression of women based on their race, their class and their gender. Viewed that these contradictions remain through the mixed economy of private, state, cooperative and other forms of social ownership, the question is; what should be the role of our democratic developmental state and consequently of the SWAPO Party government's ideology?

Should it simply content itself with regulating the environment in which such contradictions manifest themselves, in the interest of national development as it is done globally - whether in the Asian developmental states, the European social democratic states, or even socialism with Chinese characteristics? That said, any approach to the eradication of apartheid production relations should note that the struggle for economic emancipation should seek to transform the specific relations of production that underpinned the national and gender oppression and super-exploitation of the majority of our people.

Thus the way forward is neither both reformist opportunism and neo-liberalism with its market economy and individualism nor ultra-leftism and populism but to remain true to the ideals for which many of our people sacrificed their precious blood. As for me, I will remain true to our ideals which are not for sale, and to our long-term vision. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


SWAPO Headquarters Mandume Strt
Windhoek, Katutura