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Publication Details

Reference
Gibson, Nigel  (2004) Black Consciousness 1977-1987: The Dialectics of Liberation in South Africa. Centre for Civil Society Research Report 18: : 1-28.

Summary
This article was written 16 years ago in 1988 as an attempt to understand what had happened to Black Consciousness as an ideological force ten years after Steve Biko’s death. As a young anti-Stalinist, anti-apartheid, activist in London in the late 1970s I had been energized by the June 16, 1976 Soweto revolt and by Biko’s conception of Black Consciousness. At the time I was impressed by an important pamphlet written by John Alan and Lou Turner, “Frantz Fanon, Soweto and American Black Thought”1 which articulated the importance of Fanon to Biko’s thought and considered Black Consciousness a new stage of cognition. Like Biko, they considered the Soweto revolt as a concrete expression of that new stage and underscored the importance of revolutionary humanism in Biko’s and Fanon’s thought.2 The following ten years of revolt against the apartheid regime across the country, which sounded the tocsin for that regime, proved the validity of the hypothesis.

Black Consciousness, as Biko understood it, represented a new self-confidence and militancy, yet at the same time as an organization it failed to develop the idea after Biko’s death. By the early 1980s Black Consciousness (BC) began to be dismissed as little more than a “passing stage,” no more than a psychological necessity. After Soweto, many BC leaders joined the African National Congress ANC) reinforcing the idea that BC was a “minor term,” reinvigorating the ANC as the organization of the struggle. Communists in the ANC and Trotskyists outside of it united in a kind of traditional left “told you so,” dismissing BC as essentially petty bourgeois in need of “class analysis. Under the pressure of shoring up its ideology, the Black Consciousness organization, AZAPO (Azanian People’s Organization), attempted to incorporate Marxist class categories into its ideology. The history and debates of this period are discussed in Black Consciousness, 1977-87,” including the strategic highpoint with the development of the National Forum. By 1987, however, I believed that despite earlier strategic successes, BC’s ideological reevaluation had been a failure and that there was a need to critically reconsider the project. If Black Consciousness was going to play a much needed progressive role, I argued, it was necessary to return to its humanist roots, and rearticulate its relation to Fanon’s revolutionary humanism.

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