(Pretoria: February 2015)
“UBUNTU” is an African World-View which was formulated and developed by Africans centuries before a specialized body of knowledge called “philosophy”, and intellectuals called ‘philosophers”, emerged.
This African World-View described and prescribed a world in which “Thought” and “Practice” (practical life) were still united. The division of labour in community life was still so low, largely shaped by age and sex, that “Thought” had not torn itself from “Practice”. There had not yet emerged a split between material, physical labour, on the one hand, and mental, intellectual labour, on the other hand. At a certain stage of the split between material, physical labour, on the one hand, and mental, intellectual labour, on the other hand, emerge the distinction between the city and the countryside.
This was first noted during the Neolithic, alongside waterways and rivers. Specialized labour and functions emerged in cities, such as artisans, the clergy, clerks, government servants, later intellectuals. (Mann, M., The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1: A History of Power from the Beginning to A. D. 1760, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986).
It is during this stage in the development of social structure that “Thought” seems to detach itself from “Practice”, that “Thought” at first glance seems to take a direction of its own, independent of, distinct from Practical Life. It is during this stage that there emerges a specialization of knowledge called “philosophy”, and a category of intellectual labour called “philosophers”. Sooner or later, a debate emerged among philosophers: the question was: are ideas, philosophies, the Spirit, and emotions, a more or less correct reflection of people’s interaction with the material world; or do ideas, philosophies, Spirit, and emotions exist first and thereafter shape the material world and the interaction of people with the material world, including nature?
Once “Thought” appears to lead an independent existence, separate from “Practice”, an illusion created by the division of labour, thinkers become specialized, thinking in silos, called universities, research institutes, think-tanks –there, individual thinkers spin off all sorts of cobwebs in their minds and literature, cobwebs which become more and more difficult for the average person in society to understand (Engels, Frederick, “Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy”, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1970, pp. 337-376; also Engels’ letters to Bloch, Schmidt, Mehring, Ibid., pp. 487-498)
Various disciplines, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, are shaped by the division of labour; and the history of each discipline, whether it be economics, anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, philosophy, literature, Marxism, etc., consists of so many different fashions, fads, trends, schools of thought –so may cobwebs, spun off the heads of individual thinkers. These individual thinkers create long or short-lived fame for themselves, and create careers and even wealth for themselves and their families. These specialists then formulate and issue manuals defining what the proper discipline is, and also formulate and issue the guiding methodology to be followed by outsiders or new initiates who wish to qualify as members of the discipline. All these `contributions’ by specialists intellectuals can, together, form a pile greater than Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest, combined; however, digging through that enormous mountain shall reveal very few pieces of genuine and valuable knowledge which can move Humankind forward.
“UBUNTU” and African Historical Experience
We began with the assertion that “UBUNTU” should be understood as a “World-View”, rather than as a “philosophy”. I stressed that “UBUNTU” is an African World-View which was formulated and developed by masses of Africans when “Thought” and “Practice” were still united. This was a World-View of common African people formulated centuries before “Thought” and “Practice” were split and seemingly led separate lives in the West (Kunene, Mazisi, “The Relevance of African Cosmological Systems to African Literature Today”, African Literature Today, No. 11, 1980, pp. 190-205; Kunene, Mazisi, “Misconceptions About African Cosmological systems”, Introduction to Anthem of The Decades, London, Heinemann, 1981, pp. xiii-xl). “UBUNTU” existed centuries before the emergence of “philosophy” in Western society: I submit, therefore, that “UBUNTU” does not qualify as a specialist subject called “philosophy”, to be the preoccupation of Western intellectuals as they do when they preoccupy themselves with specialist subjects like existentialism, liberalism, economics, or 19th century German philosophy.
To make this point clear, let us look at the history of Africa and of African communities.
The modern world and Africa today have a schizophrenic relationship with one another. This schizophrenia is largely reflected in contemporary personalities, as social characters, in our identities, in how we view one another, in how we study history, and how we write history –`ours’ and `theirs’.
The world truly still awaits a Homer greater than Homer, to tell the story of the relationship between Africa and the rest of Humankind; the world still awaits a book perhaps as significant and moving as the Holy Book itself on the true significance of Africa in the making of Humankind.
The African stock of Humankind is the oldest stock, is the parent of all the existing stocks inhabiting all regions of the world. In the words of scientists Chris Stringer, head of the human origins group at London’s Natural History Museum, and Robin McKie, science editor of The Observer, “Human differences are superficial…What unites us is far more significant than what divides us…Under our skins we are all Africans, the metaphorical sons and daughters of the man from Kibish”. (African Exodus, Random House, 1997)
We all know, of course, how Homer begins his epic: “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus and its devastation…” and so on.
Perhaps, the missing, greatest, epic, on Africa and the rest of Humankind, may begin thus:
“Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the story of Africa and Humankind;
Sing, Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the story of Mother Africa;
How Africa gave birth to Humankind;
How this Lady, Mother Africa, raised and nurtured infant Humankind;
How Mother Africa gave strength, culture, knowledge of Goddesses and Gods, and knowledge of good and evil;
How Mother Africa gave Drum, Dance, Voice, Laughter, Music and Play, to Humankind;
Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, the untold story of Mother Africa and Humankind;
How some of her children-grown-to-adulthood, left Mother Africa for distant corners and far regions of the World; and there changed skin colour, hair, and size of nose, and lips.
Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how some of these children-grown-to-adulthood, having forgotten their original relationship with Mother Africa, came back, abused, heaped contempt, and violated Their own Mother, and, like maddened Ajax, chained, drew blood, killed, and took their own brothers and sisters to be slaves in distant lands;
Sing, Oh Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how this act became poison And Curse on the minds and souls of all Humankind;
Sing, Ancestors and Goddess Nomkhubulwana, how redemption, renewal, and regeneration of all Humankind shall fail and be naught, until Mother Africa is restored to Her place of Honour as the Mother of Humankind, and how the African is the first brother and sister, and first cousin, of all peoples of the World. “(Vilakazi. H. W., “Africa and Humankind”, http://www.professorvilakazi.wordpress.com)
That, Brothers and Sisters, may be the beginning of that missing epic story of Humankind. That void, I must say, is a challenge to African writers and to World literature.
As we fell together, so we must rise together. This is the methodological and moral injunction which should guide us all within Africa itself, in the work of all individuals and communities within the Continent; as well as a methodological and moral injunction which should guide the peoples of the rest of the world in their relationship with Africa.
Africans, Europeans, Arabs, Jews, Chinese, Indians, all Asians, the peoples of North and South America, the Caribbean, the Oceanic peoples –are all brothers and sisters long lost to one another. The word to every individual in the world is the following: when you write about Africa, or about Africans, you are writing about YOURSELF!
The African Slave Trade of the West, which was initiated by Portugal in the 15th century, became in its stride the most decisive turning-point in World History. It became a gigantic landslide, in the geology of human history, which created the new World Capitalist Economy, and shifted, rearranged, fragmented, and injured continents, human culture, and social consciousness throughout the globe. In the Poverty of Philosophy, Marx showed the African Slave Trade to be the very foundation of the new capitalist world order:
“Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that gave the colonies their value; it is the colonies that created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition for large-scale industry…Without slavery North America, the most progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe North America off the map of the world, and you will have anarchy –the complete decay of modern commerce and civilisation.” (Marx, Karl, “The Poverty of Philosophy”, Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, New York, International Publishers, 1976, p. 167)
The African Slave Trade of the West brought about a complete degradation of entire Humankind, first and foremost, of Africans, and of Europeans in Europe and in European colonies throughout the world. First, the entire African stock of Humankind was “turned into a semi-animal”, in the words of Leo Frobenius. Frobenius continues: “the concept of a `barbaric Negro is a European creation…” (Leo Frobenius: 1873-1973, edited by Eike Haberland, Wiesbaden, Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, 1973, p. 58). What is almost always omitted in this harrowing phenomenon is the other side: Europeans could not successfully treat and regard the masses of African people without the Europeans, themselves, becoming “semi-animal” and “barbaric”. We are talking here about wholesale degradation and dehumanization of just about entire Humankind.
Africans and African cultures, were then excised from human history. Africa, African people, African cultures became an object of study, similar to the study of artefacts in museums, or the study of nature. The classic methodological precept of the study of human society (sociology), was that the scholar studying human beings in society must be very aware that he/she is the subject and object of the same study (Weber, Max, The Methodology of the Social Sciences, Glencoe, Free Press, 1949). With the emergence of the discipline of cultural/social anthropology, whose subject was “primitive society”, the unity of object-subject ceased to apply when European scholars encountered African people or primitive societies.
“The native society has to be in the anthropologist himself and not merely in his notebooks if he is to understand it, and the capacity to think and feel alternatively as a savage and as a European is not easily acquired, if indeed it can be acquired at all.” (Evans-Pritchard, E. E., Social Anthropology, London, Cohen and West, 1951, p. 82)
The relationship between the European scholar and the people of the primitive community was that of “ruler” and the “ruled”, the “colonizer” and the “colonized”. There emerged, then, the distinction between “sociology”, the study of human society, and “anthropology”, the study of primitive people.
Of course, there are generational differences in the thinking of Western scholars. The attitudes of 21st century Western scholars towards Africa are different from the attitudes which prevailed in the 19th century, even from the early 20th century. The African Slave Trade ended in the 19th century, and legalized racism ended in both the USA and South Africa. However, racism has massively persisted right into our time. The State of New York is reputed to be the most liberal State in the USA. Yet, the Editorial Board of the New York Times, in an editorial of January 9, 2015, has written:
“New York schools are the most segregated in the nation…Minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy”. (Editorial, New York Times, January 9, 2015)
Racism is still alive in the minds and hearts of ordinary people –and scholars are part of ordinary people (also see article by a Harvard economist: “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions”, by Mullainathan, Sendhill, New York Times, 3 January 2015).
UBUNTU is not an historical phenomenon similar to “classical German philosophy”, “existentialism”, “Liberalism”, or “modernism”. Each of these historical phenomena is a products and preoccupations of a thin stratum of intellectuals in modern history. It is a specialist preoccupation of a thin layer of modern intellectuals. It is not a World-View, or “Weltanschauung”, of the masses of society members.
“Philosophy” emerged as a special preoccupation of those who had been relieved of manual labour by a certain level of the division of labour. This became their sole occupation, producing ideas, refining ideas, and debating ideas. This thin layer of intellectual workers, and their products, appeared to exist independently of the masses of society members, still involved in manual labour; and these non-material products of intellectual workers appeared independent of the ideas of masses of society members.
“UBUNTU” is a World-View of the masses of African people whose community life was still pre-industrial and pre-urban. Agriculture and pastoralism were the basic source of livelihood for every community. This lasted for tens of centuries and thousands of years. Communal ownership of land was the foundation of African society. The hoe was the main instrument used in tilling the soil. It was established decades ago that the use of the hoe in African agriculture was largely determined by the quality of the soil on the Continent (Leser, Paul, Entstehung und Verbreitung des Pfluges, Munster, 1931). It is wrong to assume that hoe-agriculture represents the lowest stage of agricultural development. Max Weber acknowledged that extensive development of social forms was possible on the basis of hoe-agriculture (Weber, Max, General Economic History, New York, Collier, 1961, p. 45).
W. E. B. Du Bois made the remarkable statement many decades ago that while most civilizations owe major advances in historical development to cities, African civilization owes major advances in historical development to the countryside. We now know that the initial spur and model for the emergence of Ancient Egypt came from interior Africa, below Egypt (Williams, Bruce, “The Lost Pharaohs of Nubia”, Egypt Revisited, edited by Ivan Van Sertima, New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 1989, pp. 90-104)
Culture-historical ethnologists of the Germanic tradition were convinced at the beginning of the 20th century that the greatest technological advancement for Humankind, the invention of iron, emerged first in Africa. Franz Boas wrote as follows:
“While much of the history of early invention is shrouded in darkness, it seems likely that at a time when the European was still satisfied with rude stone tools, the African had invented or adopted the art of smelting iron…It seems not unlikely that the people that made the marvellous discovery of reducing iron ores by smelting were the African Negroes. Neither ancient Europe, nor ancient western Asia, nor ancient China knew the iron and everything points to its introduction from Africa. At the time of the great African discoveries towards the end of the past century, the trade of the blacksmith was found all over Africa, from north to south and from east to west.’ (Boas, Franz, pp. “The Outlook for the American Negro”, The Shaping of Amarican Anthropology 1883-1911: A Franz Boas Reader, New York, Basic Books, 1974, 311-312; Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt, The World and Africa, New York, International Publishers, 1965)
While we are scratching our heads, incredulous, here is another revelation, which was printed in the New York Times:
“South African archaeologists have reported discovering the world’s oldest mine. The mine, in an iron-ore mountain in neighbouring Swaziland, is 43,000 years old, according to radio-carbon dating.” (New York Times, February 8, 1970).
The greatest influence of Africa upon human history flows out of the fact that Africa is the Mother of Humankind. All the peoples of the world are traceable to Africa. It is impossible to truly understand human culture without relating it to the culture of African people. The words of Frobenius, in his planned survey of African culture and history, still express the current truth:
“This will involve in particular an extended study of the history of western and central Africa. These areas, which were not part of the Roman empire, have ideas and achievements to their credit which go back more than two thousand years. Furthermore, the African past is intimately related to the prehistoric monuments of the cave-dwellers of southern France and Spain, to the Etruscan problem and the dawn of Egyptian culture, and this points a new way to the study of the most fundamental questions of human history. Whatever we can learn today of African religions and social institutions, art forms and poetry, is of immense importance for our knowledge of mankind and may radically alter our understanding of the past.” (Leo Frobenius: 1873-1973, op. cit., p. 54)
This also applies to the proper understanding of Hebrew culture and religion, which requires revealing Ancient Egyptian philosophy and culture as the primary source of influence (Karenga, Maulana, “Towards a Sociology of Maatian Ethics: Literature and Context”, Egypt Revisited, edited by Ivan Van Sertima, op. cit., p. 354; Weber, Max, Ancient Judaism,)
The Communally-owned land, and the Hoe-agriculture, were the commanding heights of the economy of African civilization in Southern Africa.
African society in Southern Africa consisted of Communes, based on no private ownership of land; each Household was allocated land for use, and produce belonged to the Household. Livestock was controlled and owned by the Household, co-existing with land and livestock held by the Royal Head, which served also as insurance for members of the Commune in times of scarcity. Certain lands, like forests, grazing pastures, and rivers belonged to the Commune; these were `commons’ available for use by all members of the Commune, similar to `commons’ in Europe before the rise of capitalism. (Marx and Engels, Pre-Capitalist Socio-Economic Formations, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1979; Marx, Karl, Pre-capitalist Economic Formations, edited by Eric Hobsbaum, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1964; Marx, Kark, Grundrisse, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973, pp. 471-479; Dalton, George, Tribal and Peasant Economies: Readings in Economic Anthropology, Garden City, Natural History Press, 1967, pp. 51-170)
African agriculture, based on the use of the Hoe, made cooperation and collective labour mandatory among members of the Commune.
This foundation of the social order of African civilization in Southern Africa, Communal Ownership of Land, and Hoe-agriculture, which lasted for tens of hundreds, and some thousands, of years, ended up encoding and enforcing the Collective Consciousness, the Collective Conscience, into the psyche and personalities of members of the Commune.
The Africans of African Civilization in Southern Africa saw the individual human being as a UNIVERSAL PHENOMENON, with universal features of Humankind. The starting point of this view is a community, NOT in a local sense, but a Human community as a Universal phenomenon. The greatest shock and horror of the African was to encounter Europeans and people from other continents who denied the African the indivisible, universal status of Humankind. Racism did not flow from the Human instinct. To Africans, these Europeans, and others, disqualified themselves as human beings. The African on the ground simply said these are not human beings.
It is striking that this African assumption and acceptance of the Human Being as, first and foremost, a indivisible member of the universal human community, is similar to Marx’s point that the human individual, is, first and foremost, an indivisible member of the universal human community (“species-being” (Marx, Karl, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”, Early Writings, edited by T. B. Bottomore, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1964, pp. 120-194; Meszaros, I., Marx’s Theory of Alienation, London, Merlin Press, 1970; Fritzhand, Marek, ‘Marx’s Ideal of Man”, Socialist Humanism, edited by Erich Fromm, New York, Doubleday, 1965, pp. 172-181; Schaff, Adam, “Marxism and the Philosophy of Man”, ibid., pp. 141-150)
In their conception of the Human Individual, members of African Civilization in Southern Africa start with the Human Community as a universal phenomenon. The human Being is inconceivable outside the context of relations with other human beings: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”. The isolated individual is not the starting point; it is the individual integrated within the human community, local and UNIVERSAL, which is the starting point in the understanding of the particular individual and the establishment of relations with that individual.
Until conquest by European powers, with the imposition of colonial subjugation and rule, the societies of African civilization in Southern Africa had been largely pre-class societies. Stratification by class was at its incipient or early stages. Social stratification does not become obvious and recognizable until there is private ownership of land and a subjection of the majority people on the land as producers of surplus-value for the owners of land. That is the foundation, the starting point, of the system of social inequality. Social stratification does not start and exist until there is exploitation of the direct producers of wealth by the few who own the land and the instruments of production.
In the societies of African civilization in Southern Africa, Communal ownership of land, and Hoe-agriculture set tight limits to the growth of social inequality. Every Household had more than one Hoe, and every member of the Commune had equal right to a share of the land, even though, as in the Russian Commune, there was periodical redistribution of the land as Household circumstances dictated. It is true, of course, that not every Household had equal amounts of land. The same principle applied in the African Commune in Southern Africa. The number of livestock controlled or owned by the Household also differed, just as the number of men, women, and children in each Household also differed from Household to Household. So, some inequality emerges; there may emerge the “Big Man” and “small man” distinctions.
This was a natural economy, in which production was mainly for use; the production of commodities was almost totally absent; and money was largely unknown as a means of exchange in social relations, endowing the possessors of commodities and money with the power to dominate other members of society.
The important point here is that the morality and ethical system flowing out of the Collective-Commune Conscience still exerts enormous pressure on the thinking, dreams, and behaviour of members of the Community. The morality and ethical system flowing out of the Collective-Commune Conscience prescribed certain actions to be taken to counteract growing social inequality. In this traditional African society, for example, there is “Ukusisa” custom, according to which a Household with a surplus of cattle shall loan a less fortunate Household a cow or two for some seasons –what we can call an empowering loan. The less fortunate Household takes care of the cattle for that season or two. The calves born of that loaned cow, or cows, remain with the less fortunate Household, and the original empowering loan of the cow or two is returned to the Household that extended the original loan. There was also the “Ilimo” custom, according to which a number of Households would gather on the field of a certain Household, and work together in tilling that field. The products of that common labour are left with the Household on whose fields they laboured. (Vilakazi, Absolom, Zulu Transformations, Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press, 1965).
The morality and ethical system flowing from the Collective-Commune Conscience prescribed that a Household that had accumulated wealth should schedule a Public event, during which the rich Household unloads the surplus wealth in a Public Feast. Among Northwest Coast Indian communities, this custom was called the “Potlatch”, and it puzzled and confused not a few American anthropologists. Some leftist anthropologists attempted to fit the Potlatch within the framework of “class analysis” and exploitation (Ruyle, E. E., “Slavery, Surplus and Stratification on the Northwest Coast”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 14, No. 5, December 1973, pp. 603-631). In a publication of over 40 years ago, in a leading academic journal, I placed the Potlatch within a complex of the morality and ethical system that flowed out of the Collective-Commune Conscience (Vilakazi, H. W., “A Comment on Ruyle’s Theory”, Current Anthropology, Volume 14, No. 5, December 1973, pp. 623-624; also see Harris, Marvin, Culture, Man and Nature, New York, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971, pp. 247-250; Kottak, Conrad Phillip, Anthropology, New York, Random House, 1974, pp. 377-379).
The peculiarity of Southern Africa, compared to other civilizations, is that this region of the world never passed through the Feudal Age. I have already stressed that the Communal ownership of land, and Hoe-agriculture, were the foundation as well as the `Commanding Heights’ of the economy of societies in the African Civilization of Southern Africa. Feudalism is a type of social stratification which emerged in the West some centuries after the collapse of the Roman Empire; Feudalism was largely determined by the military factor, the material means of warfare, the low-level of development of agricultural productivity, and a very high level of physical insecurity of ordinary members of society (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 1, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1969, p. 72; Weber, Max, Economy and Society, Vol.2, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1978; White, Lynn, Jr., Medieval Technology and Social Change, New York, Oxford University Press, 1966).
For centuries upon centuries of social life in the civilization of Southern Africa, in which Communal ownership of land and Hoe-agriculture were the `commanding heights’ of the economy’, these African kingdoms lacked a socio-economic mechanism for the exploitation of group by a privileged group; they lacked a socio-economic-political mechanism for the oppression of one section of the kingdom by another section of the community. I must stress that we have in mind, here, African societies and kingdoms which had not been conquered by Islam and Christianity. Trade within the kingdom, and between kingdoms, existed, but it was still at the level of barter. Therefore, slavery was unknown as a general phenomenon.
The remarkable businessman and scholar, Michael O’Dowd, wrote about this peculiarity of Southern African civilization. O’Dowd wrote that Africans in South Africa
“have never experienced the corrupting influence of indigenous slavery or of foreign slave trade, nor have they been ruled by absolute monarchs over any considerable length of time.” (p.104)
“Strange as this statement may seem to those who cannot see further than the fashionable propaganda of the moment, the outstanding characteristic of the Africans of South Eastern Africa is that in their history they have so little experience of oppression. For the last hundred years they have been treated about as badly as the majority of people in Europe were treated in the nineteenth century, but of the terrible systems of oppression that existed in Europe and Asia before that…they have no experience at all.” (104)
“When tribal society came to an end and was replaced by large-scale states in Europe and Asia, the vast majority of the people were reduced to slavery, or something very close to it. In the Middle East this happened more than four thousand years ago, and in China more than three thousand, and in all that time, up to the present, it has never changed. The same was true in Japan up to the Meiji Restoration…The same system was spread throughout the Mediterranean world not less than two thousand years ago and reached North Europe, only very slightly ameliorated, a thousand years ago. The iron has had a long time to enter into the souls of Europeans and Asians, and I think it has done so. [emphasis mine] (105)
“I think that this accounts for that set of values and characteristics among Southern Africans which are called in Zulu ‘ubuntu’ or in Tswana ‘popagano’, a philosophy of life which gives rise to, among other things, a combination of emotional warmth, openess and tolerance, with a readiness to respect other people.” (O’Dowd, Michael, South Africa: The Growth Imperative, Johannesburg, Jonathan Ball, 1991, pp. 104-105)
What I am asserting is that this African civilization of Southern Africa, in which Communal ownership of land and Hoe-agriculture were the Commanding heights of the economy, resulted in the emergence of an Egalitarian Society. (Fried, Morton H., The Evolution of Political Society: An Essay in Political Anthropology, New York, Random House, 1967).
This Egalitarian Society of African civilization in Southern Africa, in which Communal ownership of land and Hoe-agriculture were the `Commanding Heights’ of the economy, existed uninterrupted for centuries upon centuries, and for tens of centuries, until an appropriate “social character” emerged (Erich Fromm, The Sane Society), whose day-to-day implementation, was UBUNTU.
UBUNTU is the African Humanism of this African civilization. It had a material foundation in this African civilization of which Communal Ownership of land and Hoe-agriculture were the `Commanding Heights’. UBUNTU stands and remains the most coherent and powerful critique of the violation of the Human Being as Human Being ever produced in entire human history.
In modern history, UBUNTU stands as a fundamental critique and opponent of capitalist civilization, Human Alienation and Racism. The true and full history of the critique of modern Western civilization, from Rousseau to Marx, is the discovery by Western philosophers of “Tribal societies” and the “Gentile-Tribal” principle of social organization: this occurred when Europeans encountered the indigenous peoples of the `New World’, Africa, and Asia. If Truth be told, this was not a `discovery’, but a re-opening of the minds and eyes of Western philosophers to the truth about their own Western society. This is the new yeast which brought about a new fermentation in the minds of the original philosophers of the West, above all in Rousseau and Marx.
In Marx and Engels` thinking, the revolutionary climax was Marx’s discovery and study of Lewis H. Morgan’s Ancient Society. (Engels, Frederick, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 3, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1970, pp. 191-334). What we must add also is the mighty influence on Marx’s mind of the significance of the “Russian Commune”, as was discussed by Chernyshevsky and by the Russian Populists. (Shanin, Teodor, Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the Perpheries of Capitalism, London, Routledge, 1983, especially “Marx and Revolutionary Russia”, pp. 40-76)
What is of decisive relevance to members of African civilization are Marx’s remarks on the “Commune”. In this text, which was a reply to Vera Zasulich’s letter to him, Marx integrates anthropology, sociology, economics, and revolutionary thought, and poses the challenge of what we must do as members of the Third World in shaping the new world (Marx, Karl, “First Draft of a Reply to V. I. Zasulich’s Letter”, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, op. cit., pp. 152-161).
This is an Agenda for the overwhelming majority of African civilization. This is an Agenda for the masses of ordinary Africans, and for African intellectuals.