Getting Marx in university

As students we have been taught to question everything that we have been told is a truth. We should, therefore, question the notion that we are receiving an unbiased education. Can we really expect a lecturer to keep their own beliefs from being put forward in a lecture? I have recently heard students debate whether or not university education is pro-communism. Sounds controversial. And you know we love controversy.

Sociology is, by definition, a critical discipline. It seeks to go beyond our everyday understandings of the world around us. It recognises that our common sense understandings of the world are partial or even misguided.

Ponder briefly on these questions. Imagine if our common sense understandings of the social world involved a full understanding of the world? Imagine if, beyond common sense, there was nothing else to learn? What then would be the purpose of intellectual pursuits, including studying Sociology (or History or Political Studies, etc.)? What if all we learnt in Sociology simply confirmed our already-existing common sense understandings of the world?

Sociology as a discipline exists because it goes beyond common sense understandings of the world. Sociology (and the Humanities in general) has no other reason to exist. In that sense, if only in that sense, Sociology is a critical discipline. It challenges our everyday conceptions of the world and, in doing so, takes us out of our warm and cuddly comfort zone.

It is not surprising then for students, when taking Sociology, to feel a bit uncomfortable or to squirm in their seats during lectures. Indeed, students may feel quite strongly that lecturers are being unduly critical in their portrayal of human society. But Sociology (and other) lecturers are simply being true to their discipline and to the intellectual pursuit of knowledge and truth.

As a lecturer, I do not want students in the comfort zone. Rather, I prefer students who get upset about what I say sociologically in my lectures. I want students who feel damn right offended, and who stand up on their chairs and hurl abuse (and the occasional rotten tomato) at me.

After all, you are at Rhodes to develop your conceptual capacities and reasoning abilities. And what better way to develop these intellectual qualities than to have your dearest thoughts and ideas challenged?

And, yes, at the end of the day, or at the end of your degree, I want you to think critically and compassionately so that as leaders of tomorrow you seek not to oppress others but to build a just and equitable South Africa. If you don’t, then I (and my colleagues) would have failed, and failed miserably. In fact, I would be the first to submit my resignation.

For there is no greater justification for the existence of an academic department at Rhodes then its contribution to developing a critical, caring and compassionate citizenry in a transformed post-Apartheid South Africa.


Dr. Kirk Helliker

Sociology Department

The so-so of socialism

With our increasing drive towards import and exports, internal revenue, and other complex-to-keep-up-with policies pursued by the great economist president leading our country, the question arises as to whether this rat-race system actually helps South Africa out or keeps us dependant on the ‘big dog’ superpowers of the capitalist market to merely fund their wars. The buzzword that springs to mind on all well-meaning students after three drinks at every god-forsaken drinking hovel littered across this town is “Socialism”, guaranteed to drain all powers of verbal prowess and, in the process, refill your glass. What is this elusive creature who demands such attention as to keep one’s attention on terms such as egalitarianism and welfare state? It is one of state protection (or intervention?) that should fundamentally look after its people by providing basic necessities such as health and education at the expense of high taxation. This briefly sounds like something worth attempting, but the reality is not as appealing. Although these terms are thrown around with eccentric idealism, a dripping irony has to be pointed out like a mouse in a cheese grater wondering why it is getting darker; this system of government depends entirely on faith in the government. With the lack of appreciation we have in our civil services, not to mention our petty bureaucracy, due to serious issues such as corruption and bribery, how can we trust this money to even reach the high-ups, and then to return to the grassroots level? And furthermore, the above mentioned well-meaning student who has the opportunity to understand and communicate this idea is unfortunately trapped in the heart of a capitalistic conundrum as we further our studies at Rhodes, fuelled by the promise of well-paying jobs and the generalised opinion attained through the relevant courses saying that Socialism works well in theory but it dissolves in practice. So, unfortunately, although the term capitalism leaves the smell of stingy old men lingering in the air, it is a necessary evil that needs to be pursued until we have enough capitol to develop the country. The main burden however, and this will always be the case, is that the responsibility lies on the shoulders of state officials themselves to fuel this growth at the expense of their latest BMW.

Craig Groenewald Third year, BA

We live in a world where there needs to be balance of forces, because if this does not happen the dominant force will oppress the supporters of the other. Take this and apply it to the struggle between communism and capitalism for instance. This clutch in ideology is very important in shaping human society. If capitalism is the dominant ideology and it goes unregulated by communism, we get a situation where the workers and the poor are highly exploited. Similarly, if communism was to be a dominant ideology and goes unregulated, we would get a situation where capital is taken from its owners, to benefit the ruling elite not the masses. So a question has been posed, “Is university education pro-communist?” In my opinion, it is clear that the author of this question wants the answer to be yes, but I say no. I say this because if you look at it, academics understand that if the dominant ideology (capitalism) is left unregulated exploitation of the workers will worsen. Communism is not being taught at universities but academics are critical of capitalism. Academics like critically analysing dominant ideologies. Let me outline a succinct history of academics analysing dominant ideologies. When Adam Smith’s theory of deregulation was largely accepted in Europe as the dominant ideology in the late 18th century and early 19th century, academics criticised it of being “pro-capitalist and leads to exploitation”, this was the analysisgiven by Karl Marx. This gave birth to the new ideology (communism) which was to be almost dominant in the early 20th century, but it too was criticised by academics as a way of abolishing private property. Criticism of both communism and capitalism is a continuing process in the academic field, only because they are both ideologies which shape human society. Academics believe that capitalism is left unregulated and so they are trying to regulate it. They mostly blame capitalism for Third World poverty, but this does not mean that they are pro-communist. Nevertheless, academics differ in their fields, for instance economics lecturers may know well about communism, but most economics students know nothing about it. To specify, economics lectures don’t talk about communism in lectures. I believe that Marx and Lenin specialised in economics, if you go to the library shelves their books are under the economics section, yet economics lecturers don’t talk about them in lectures. Why is this so? Is the economics department pro-capitalism? From this view it is clear that you can not say that university education is pro-communist or capitalist.

Luzuko Buku

Second year Bjourn


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