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A Non-racial Society (a Society without Racism) Must Necessarily Be an Unbounded Society

AnalysisA Non-racial Society (a Society without Racism) Must Necessarily Be an Unbounded Society

The South African historian Crain Soudien recently observed:

“The dominant narrative of contemporary South Africa, almost a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid, enshrouds the country in a pall of pessimism. South Africa, in this narrative, is a failed experiment.   Its phoenix-like ascent out of its long nightmare of apartheid is a lie. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s fabled rainbowism is shown to be, if anything, utterly chimerical. All there is, goes the explanation, is a heap of hate.”
(Crain Soudien, The Cape Radicals:  Intellectual and Political Thought of the New Era Fellowship 1930s-1960s.  Johannesburg; Wits University Press 2019, p. 16.)

“Rainbowism” is contrasted with “Non-racialism” or “A Non-racial Society.”  The difference is that in “a Rainbow Society” people of different races live together in peace and harmony, while in a “Non-racial Society” race does not exist; the truth is acknowledged.  The truth is that there is no such thing as race.  Humanity is one.

Soudien´s book documents some previously undocumented history. The members of the New Era Fellowship (NEF) were early anti-racist activists who took the wiser view: race does not exist.  It is a lie made up for reasons that are ethically indefensible.    The true causes of events are better understood when race is regarded as non-existent.  Race cannot be a cause explaining events because it does not exist.    Why the fiction of race is made up is a result to be explained by analysing social forces that do exist.

Thus, the author writes on page 27:

Racism is the process that invokes the [false] idea of biologically and socially distinct groups of people for the purpose of assigning them positions of inferiority or superiority.

Building on these insights, my thesis is that a non-racial society, or any non-polarized society, necessarily must be an unbounded society.

First, I will explain why a non-racial society must be an unbounded society in practical terms as simply as I can.

Then I will underline the significance of choosing to use the unusual word “unbounded.”

Simply stated:  There are not enough jobs.  There are not enough good jobs.  There are not enough jobs that enable a person to live with dignity and security as a respected member of a community and of a family.

In several centuries of anti-racist struggles, it apparently often appears to many people that the reason why blacks (and other victims of discrimination) do not have good jobs is that there is prejudice against them.   The white world may be envisioned as a closed privileged heaven, where the blacks would be living too if it were not for laws and customs that keep them locked out of it.

Assuming that if it were not for racial prejudice, blacks could live like whites, forgets that

  • Augmenting the number of people eligible to apply for jobs does not increase the number of jobs.
  • Indeed, when more candidates can apply for the same jobs, wages are likely to be lower.
  • Unemployment rates may be the same as before, even when unemployment and bad (irregular, poorly paid, degrading) employment is more fairly distributed so that they humiliate the same percentage of whites as of blacks.
  • Unemployment, and bad employment, continues to occur even when measures are taken to create a class of black capitalists approximately equal (or proportionately equal) in numbers and in wealth to the class of white capitalists.

While I suspect that many blacks and many whites may have fallen into the illusion that only prejudice kept blacks out of the paradise where the whites lived, it is clear that the members of the New Era Fellowship did not.   Worldwide, most leaders of the struggle did not.  In the early days, for the better educated, the end of racism had to be the beginning of socialism.

Why?  Capitalism depended on the hegemony of the mental models of the ruling class ideology.  That hegemony imposed a confused mixture of laissez faire economics, the jurisprudence of the sanctity of contracts and of private property, and racism.  Calling it hegemony means that its victims themselves believed it.

As more and more of the victims of the system became educated, acquired qualifications, and organized unions and other pressure groups, they demanded to be treated as first class citizens and sometimes succeeded.

But as far as I know, no intellectual believed that private sector capitalism was capable of generating an unlimited supply of dignified livelihoods to employ both the newcomers demanding their rights and the traditional privileged whites who expected to maintain the economic status they already had –or at least not lower it much, plus hopefully also creating employment opportunities for those who enjoyed the social status of being white but economically had little or nothing to show for it.

Capitalism was not up to the task of providing so much good employment –even assuming that it was a task that South Africa´s capitalist leaders wanted to attempt to accomplish.  Anti-Stalinist socialism was the NEF´s preferred option for making a non-racial society an economic possibility.

But 2021 is not 1937 when the NEF began or 1960 when it ended.

In 2021 it is still true that to achieve a non-racial society a post-pure capitalist labour market must deliver livelihoods with dignity to all and humiliation to none. The alternative is, in Soudien´s memorable phrase, ¨heaps of hate.¨ The USA is Exhibit One.  South Africa is Exhibit Two.  Exhibit Three is the UK where wavering on Brexit cost Jeremy Corbyn the votes of the anti-immigrant workers in the industrial midlands, the election, and his career.  But unlike 1937, in 2021 non-Stalinist socialism, heavily influenced by Leon Trotsky, is not a live option.

In 1975-6, in his lectures at the Collège de France, Michel Foucault made the point that modern republican institutions claim to be founded on the rule of law, which in turn claims to be founded on a social contract that forbids the government to violate  the rights of private property and commands the government to protect them.  Such a contract never happened.  Imagining it became the juridical basis of the European World System and later, due to the conquest of the rest of the world by European arms,  of the Modern World System, because it expressed  the ideology of the winners of the civil wars in Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries

This is no small matter.  It repeals Ubuntu. It repeals the traditional seven capital sins of Christianity.  It repeals the seven pillars of Islam.   It cancels dharma.  It condemns the social rights guaranteed by the Mandela constitution of 1996 to mainly remaining on paper because it is the government that is supposed to make those rights real, but the government is impoverished and deeply in debt.   The government is forced to finance itself with taxes paid by the poor like VAT while the principal wealth of South Africa belongs to private entities that are free to move it out of South Africa.  The social contract sets in stone the doctrine that private property exists prior to community and prior to government.   It belongs to private entities that can move it and/or themselves to another community or to the territory of another government.   By a mobility constituted by ethics and defended by law, wealth owners choose which norms they will acknowledge and which laws they will obey.  Due to the contributions of Foucault, Thomas Piketty.  and many other recent scholars: knowledge of the historical origins, functions (facilitating commerce and protecting freedoms) and absence  of functions (meeting human needs in harmony with nature) of liberal ethics and jurisprudence, is much more complete in 2021 than it was in 1937 or 1960.

In the early 20th century a leading philosophical opponent of the bogus universal and eternal moral certainties of liberalism was the American pragmatist John Dewey.  For Dewey, as for Emile Durkheim, no human group can survive without morals and spiritual practices. The reasons why a group has the norms it has are a mixed bag, an outcome of history that is never completely understood by anybody. They include class interest, religions, the teachings of sages,  legends, psychological tendencies, historical accidents, and the fact that in many cases the norms really do function to meet human needs and to enable the group to cope with the challenges posed by nature and by enemies.   Institutions should be treated as hypotheses, to be confirmed or amended according to their consequences in practice.   In The Cape Radicals Soudien mentions a visit by John Dewey to South Africa in 1937.

The occasion was a conference held under the auspices of the New Education Fellowship, which had as its objective the challenge of coming ‘face-to-face with the general problem of the function of education in modern society.’ (p.43) It took up the whole month of July 1937, dividing its sessions between Cape Town and Johannesburg.   The central issue was posed as two tasks for education: “reproducing the ‘type’ (the people and their culture) and of ‘providing for growth beyond the type’. (p.43) Phrased in these terms, the emphasis in 2021 must clearly be on the second, and on those intellectual traditions that welcome contributions from diverse cultures and indigenous knowledge systems.

In 2021 we face the real possibility of the extinction of the human species due to the destruction of the delicate balances of the biosphere that make life possible.   This was not an issue in 1937 and was only beginning to be an issue in 1960.

Two more statements I believe to be true in 2021 are:

The advance of technology and a greater awareness of the advantages of using relatively simple traditional green technologies are making it possible to supply the material requirements of dignified livelihoods for every human being.   Technically, sustainable dignity for all will be feasible.

In 2021, whatever may have been the case in the past, there is nothing that would be more to the interest of the rich and powerful than an end to poverty.   I believe this is an objective fact, and that increasing numbers of the rich and powerful know it.

On the Use of the Unusual Word “Unbounded”

A short answer to why a non-racial society is necessarily an unbounded society is that bounded thinking and bounded practices will not get us there.

Any number of laws against racism, and any number of constitutions declaring the existence of a non-racial society, will not get us there.  As long as there is one person humiliated to the core, and as long as there is one person who has lost out in today´s fierce competition to win a legal dignified livelihood, who sees others of other ethnicities winning the economic game, we are in danger.

As John Dewey observed in 1908, and as recent psychological research has confirmed,   the concept of the equality of human beings, like the concept that everyone should enjoy dignity and security, share in the general prosperity, and contribute to the common good, is not natural.  It is not an instinct.  It must be taught and learned.  Thinking within the narrow bounds of local common sense must be unlearned.

When markets do what they do best, but still are far from providing dignified livelihoods for all who need them, the unbounded solution is non-market livelihoods..  What are non-market livelihoods?  And what financing and/or in-kind talent and material resources make them possible?  When you start to count them, and to study them, you find that they are innumerable, as many as the survival strategies of our ancestors thousands of years ago, as many as the stars in the night sky, as many as the social innovations our descendants will create that we now cannot yet imagine.

These few remarks may be sufficient to suggest that the word “unbounded” –whatever its other appropriate uses may be— describes a society loving enough and imaginative enough to include all and to exclude none.


Prof. Howard Richards teaches in the EMBA program at the University of Cape Town.  He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He was born in Pasadena, California but since 1966 has lived in Chile when not teaching in other places. Professor of Peace and Global Studies Emeritus, Earlham College, a school in Richmond Indiana affiliated with the Society of Friends (Quakers) known for its peace and social justice commitments. Undergraduate work at Yale.  J.D. Stanford Law School, MA and PhD in Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara, Advanced Certificate in Education-Oxford, Ph.D. in Educational Planning from University of Toronto. Books:  Dilemmas of Social Democracies with Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics with Joanna Swanger, The Nurturing of Time Future, Understanding the Global EconomyThe Evaluation of Cultural Action, Following Foucault: The Trail of the Fox (with Catherine Hoppers and Evelin Lindner), (on Amazon as an e book), Unbounded Organizing in Community (with Gavin Andersson, also on Amazon),  Rethinking Thinking (with Catherine Hoppers),  Hacia otras Economias co-edited with Raul Gonzalez, Solidaridad, Participacion, Transparencia: conversaciones sobre el socialismo en Rosario, ArgentinaAvailable free on the blogspot lahoradelaetica.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Feb 2021.

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