If the “move rightward is…a sign of the hard wisdom that comes with age and experience—or, perhaps, the callousness and curdled dreams that accompany stability and success,” as George Packer wrote in The New Yorker ( 2016), what of the move leftward in the full flush of youth?
The story of utopianism that turns believers into apostates is a well-worn one, but what of the other way round? What of the structurally endowed (the inheritors of the apostate’s mantle) who turn to believing and hopefully give credence to the Churchillian adage – variously attributed to Clemenceau and Lloyd George that “any man who is not a socialist at age twenty has no heart. Any man who is still a socialist at age forty has no head.”
I travelled that route myself – sans the comfort of a trust fund – and understand the appeal of romanticism and revolt, of the embrace of the downtrodden, the mantra of Marx and the appeal of the barefoot championing the meek who might inherit the world.
Born of parents who struggled for freedom in South Africa at a time when a hand of friendship and support came, not from the West, but from the other side of the Cold War, it was a natural rite of passage – until my reading at the behest of remarkable teachers at school and university, subsequent examination of the core drivers of my values and principles and the experience of work led me to a re-evaluation of the desired end state.
While I encountered many along the road who were willing to buy into the view that the ends justified the means, I sought to review both. I was always guided by a familial adherence to the tenets of Gandhian non-violence. There was thus a re-calibration and an underlying commitment to a nobler course of struggle that set my views and endorsements apart from Stalin and Mao who preceded me and Pol Pot who was contemporaneous.
I share these experiences and thoughts against the backdrop of young Jack Markowitz’s highly public defence of the opportunistic bully boy tactics of the EFF – a curiously dangerous band of rabble rousers clothed in red overalls who owe much to the strategies and tactics of Hitler’s Brown Shirts.
The young Markowitz – a well-endowed trustafarian, blind to the irony thereof, and seemingly oblivious of the anti-Semitic utterances of the party he has been a member of for some three years – has ostensibly embraced the dispossessed and the downtrodden. He is completely entitled to do so, even if Churchill’s dictum holds true and that over time he would, in all probability, transition from believer to apostate.
What he cannot be allowed to get away with is the championing of the EFF’s flagrant disregard for the law, his false characterization of the Democratic Alliance – who stood by the beleaguered residents of Brackenfell – as a white supremacist party and the forced flouting of legal precepts to effect generational wealth and land transfer.
He is entitled to believe, as he mistakenly asserts, that Nelson Mandela sold us out, that the residents of Brackenfell yearn for Apartheid and that the EFF needs to take the protest to Clifton and other rich areas because the poor whites of Brackenfell are simply and sadly "angry, bored and violent" and that the status quo must be overturned. He needs however to speak and act within the bounds of the law, and dare I say, with a sense of proprietary.
The point is however that he is being judged alongside anyone else who might make such comments on a public platform amidst a vicious and ongoing campaign by EFF fascist thugs who use race and class for their own extra-democratic purposes. While the spectre of extra-parliamentary fascism looms and our imperfect democracy is threatened, the young Markowitz must atone or have the courage to stand his ground and deal with the backlash.
Of course, the sins of a son cannot be visited on a father and family. The slew of anti-Semitic and plainly hateful threats on the greater Markowitz family from elements of the white right are reprehensible and cannot be countenanced, but this young man has made his bed and needs to retract or face the music – like any other (privileged) ultra-leftist courting fascism.
He is no doubt aware of Mao’s famous pronouncement that “a revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”
Mao was deadly serious and countless millions were persecuted and killed in the Cultural Revolution launched in his last decade in power. While the young Markowitz sought the limelight and may not have fully understood the import of his grandstanding, he would do well to make his position clear, and perhaps understand the fires he is fanning. This is no game – not for him, his family and nor for South Africa.