As the South African student movement of 2015–16 began to develop a deeper critique of the character of the transition out of apartheid and its minimal effect on the institutions of colonialism and apartheid, the administrators of postapartheid universities worked with the managers of the security infrastructure of the state to orchestrate a national police shutdown of the student and worker movement. This essay is an effort to sustain an objection to that coordinated effort, and to work through a proposal for how the new managers of the postapartheid state and university could have—should have—acted otherwise. This proposal is called abolition pedagogy, a refusal of the long-standing relationship between education and violence, and a reading of the pedagogic labor involved in antiviolence work. In the midst of the recent student protests, a 1969 exchange of letters between Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse—in which Adorno justifies his having “called the police” on the student movement in Germany—was used to justify calling the police on South African students some fifty years later. This article unpacks the citation, and uses Adorno's own commitment to critique as a “force field” to show up the limitations of his position, and to call for a different mode of engagement with the difficulties and possibilities of ongoing struggle. Adorno's “force field” is contrasted with his poor reckoning with jazz and his inability to see the work of critique in jazz and by implication in many other forms. Abolition pedagogy pursues a transformative orientation to histories of violence, asking how to sustain strategies for their unmaking.
There is an experience of listening that Adorno cannot imagine . . . the black thing that Adorno wouldn't understand.—Fred Moten, Black and Blur
They thought they could get rid of us by moving us to another place. But nothing in the universe goes away. It all stays. It all returns.—Abdullah Ibrahim, pers. corr.
Clouds of teargas billowed up in front of the Great Hall of Wits University on a dry spring day in Johannesburg in 2016, as armored riot police shot rubber bullets and stun grenades into crowds of student protesters. The scene looked like something out of a mid-twentieth-century war—multicolored smoke and thundering explosions, hundreds of people fleeing out of the smoke and down the campus steps in terror. Students suffered thermal burns and lacerations from discharged cannisters and wounds from rubber bullets fired directly—illegally—into the crowd.1 The university managers who called the riot police onto campus, and the academics who supported them, continue to defend their decision by pointing to moments of property destruction and violence in the students' strike. Even as the police were first called onto campus while the protests were largely nonviolent, the figure of the violent protester—real and imagined—increasingly became a national preoccupation, eclipsing and undermining the politics of antiracism and antiprivatization that gave rise to the student movement. We would like to take the time and space afforded by this essay to think about “calling the police” in the context of university life, of critique, and of pedagogy. As witnesses to this scene, we were horrified by it and fought against it. We took the calling of police onto campus—riot police who put down black student and worker struggle—to be entirely at odds with our own work at a university confronting the legacies of colonial and apartheid society. This essay is an effort to sustain in a different register our horror and refusal, and to work through a proposal not only for how the new black managers of the postapartheid state and university could have—should have—acted otherwise, but also for how we might recover a way of being and working in universities in the wake of and in objection to police violence. We call this proposal abolition pedagogy, a refusal of the long-standing relationship between education and violence, and a creative experiment in critical processes of antiviolence that are, by virtue of their very impulse, pedagogical.
The Wits protests picked up from protests that had begun earlier in 2015 at the University of Cape Town under the name #RhodesMustFall, an expansive series of actions against ongoing racism at the historically white university that took as its antagonistic symbol the statue of colonist Cecil John Rhodes that sat, imperious, at the center of the campus. As the protests developed, particularly through the insurgent forms of study that took place during the student occupation of the administration buildings, students revived a politics of decolonization to get at the longue durée of racial violence they were seeking to describe and resist, and also established alliances with workers on campus and beyond to insist that racial violence was intimately connected to capitalist exploitation, with both participating in the devaluation of black life, knowledge, community, and thought.2 The Wits protests exploded later in the year around an above-inflation increase in student fees, consolidating the protests as primarily an antiprivatization strike that also borrowed heavily from the #RhodesMustFall debates to consolidate the demand for “Free Decolonised Education Now,” which spread like wildfire across campuses to create a national shutdown of universities.3 The movement was always plural, hosting a range of political formations such as the youth wings of established political parties, students drawing on older political traditions that had lost ground to the African National Congress (ANC) in the antiapartheid liberation struggle, queer and feminist formations, and anticapitalist student-worker organizations. The protests also included a host of nonaligned students, some of whom were coming into activism for the first time, some of whom brought with them experiences of struggles in black townships against the postapartheid state for failing to deliver significant change to living conditions after the end of apartheid.4 The debates and antagonisms between these trajectories internal to the movement were epic, dynamic, and complex. The many traditions and orientations of the movement were held together by a shared sense of urgency in demanding that the institution of the university, built as an expression and consolidation of colonial interests, take more seriously the lives and subjectivities of the black students who had come into its fold through the democratization and massification processes of postapartheid as well as the black service workers whose working conditions had worsened since the end of apartheid.5
In the early weeks of the student strike at Wits University, an occupation of the main administration block of the university began, and the mass meetings that students organized became the venue for gathering and planning, for intersectional political conversation and debate, and for wide-ranging critique.6 If rising fees and the continued epistemic and institutional violence of racist education at the historically white university were the starting points of the struggle, these disputes were soon stitched to the labor politics of black campus workers, rising class inequality, ongoing structural racism and patriarchy, and a critique of South Africa's limited transition out of apartheid. The linking of specific student demands to broader criticism of the social conditions under which black students and workers struggled began to change the nature of the protests. While students initially shut down the campus itself to prevent normal academic proceedings from continuing, they soon began to push the protests beyond the perimeters of campus, with students staging protests in the streets of Johannesburg. As the confidence in their critique grew, and as they began to generate public interest, students staged protest actions at significant sites of national power: they pushed through the gates of Parliament in Cape Town, they marched on Luthuli House (the Johannesburg headquarters of the ANC), and they convened a twelve-thousand-strong march on the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Tshwane (formerly Pretoria).7 After each of these actions, students returned to the occupied meeting spaces on campuses to gather, reflect, and discuss their next steps. Shut-down campuses, and in particular the occupied buildings in which students gathered, became the grounds on which a new generation was taking up the open questions and unanswered promises of the liberation movement and pushing forward with its agenda.
Senior management positions at most national universities were filled by black administrators who had some history in the antiapartheid struggle. As is the story in so much of the postcolonial world, the veterans of the liberation struggle were presiding over institutions that had been built in and for the very colonial project they had fought to dismantle, but now were paid to protect and preserve. The preservation of institutional forms, curricula, and relations devised in and for the colony—even under the tenure of a black government, black managers, and a growing black professoriate—was at the heart of the students' strike. Students insisted that there had not been a substantial break between the time of democracy and the institutionality of colonial and apartheid history. The older generation of antiapartheid leaders now in positions of political power had made their careers and built their biographies on the idea of a historic break between apartheid and postapartheid. An excruciating and productive generational fault line began to develop in which students publicly withdrew respect and gratitude from veterans who had conceded to managing the inherited infrastructure or apartheid, and instead built a movement to push hard against it.8 The veterans in both the state and university management positions responded by closing down the students' occupations, forcing the universities to reopen, and increasing the security presence on campuses. At Wits University, a trespassing law from 1959, devised at a high point of apartheid repression, was mobilized against students and put up in poster form all over campus as a warning.
Students held their ground, and the confrontation between security and students escalated. At Wits, a private security guard evicting students from the building they had occupied for mass meetings was hit on the side of his head with a fire extinguisher by a student; windows were broken; buildings were forced open for reoccupation; a fire was started in a campus bookstore and in a bus; stones began to fly at police and private security. These heated moments of contestation in the struggle over rising fees, privatization, and continued racism became the political justification used by university management and the state for a nationwide, coordinated deployment of police at universities.9 This was a deployment that rapidly escalated the violence on campus, crushing the student movement, devastating many young activists, and ushering in a period of quietude, rising authoritarianism, and securitization on campuses. Wits now has a biometric security system, a security camera infrastructure covering the whole of campus, including department corridors and some classrooms, and metal roller doors installed on certain access points.10 The university has also hired the former deputy national commissioner of police to the position of head of campus security.11
Abolition pedagogy is a proposal that we have come to after having been confounded by the tightened relationship between university administration and security forces during the 2015–16 uprisings and their aftermath.12 It begins with dissent against how the management of our universities as well as many in the professoriate held together the project of education with the project of state violence, and with a refusal of the police and private security infrastructure used on campuses against students. But abolition pedagogy is more than the refusal of securitization as a mode of resolution of social antagonism. It moves with the students' assertion that the history of university education has been crafted as part of the same social system that built the police force, and that using the police to preserve the university as it is reproduces an epistemic and material social order steeped in violence. Abolition pedagogy pursues a transformative orientation to histories of violence, stages a query about how to live amidst the repertoires of violence that we have inherited, and asks how to sustain strategies for unmaking them. It works from the assumption that in order to retrieve or invent the transformative processes that we need for this antiviolence work, we need modes of study and pedagogy that do not currently reside in our schools or universities—or that, if they do, are more than likely to be found underground or discredited. Abolition pedagogy requires a radical reenvisioning of education—as institution, as curriculum, as critical disposition, and as pedagogy—to meet the historical demands of an exit from colonial and apartheid histories and their long legacies of violence.
The presence of police and private security on South African campuses was contentious and contested. Multiple groups of academics petitioned and mobilized against the security response13, and there was general unease at seeing riot police on campus, in part because of the recent history of police state violence during apartheid and of universities’ resistance to police on campus throughout that period. There had also been efforts prior to the student uprising to build a policy barrier at universities against the policing of protest on campuses. For example, a policy document on student protest adopted by the Wits University Senate in 2012 after three years of consultation stated not only that “a University in a democratic society should foster protest and dissent,” but also that “the University community should aim to take responsibility for its own governance, including and especially, during periods of protest.”14 However, just three years later, during student protests, police in riot gear were thick on the ground.
Those supporting this police presence began to emerge in the media, relying heavily on a characterization of students as violent, criminal, and terroristic. One of the hallmarks of that mediation was an invocation of the famous 1969 exchange of letters between Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse about the 1968–69 student uprisings in Germany. The letters—a remarkable record of a dispute between Frankfurt School critical theorists both on the meaning of the student movement and on the right to call the police—were invoked precisely at the moment in which vice chancellors were meeting with the security structures of the state to coordinate a national security response to the university uprisings in order to break the student strike and push on with the academic year. We draw heavily on these 1969 letters not to valorize the Frankfurt School theorists, nor because their correspondence characterizes the entirety of what happened at universities in South Africa, but rather because the exchange allows us to see a crucial move made in both 1968 and in 2015–16, in vastly different contexts and historical moments, to be sure, but nonetheless with political implications that we want to take very seriously.
In early 2016, a national online newspaper ran the first article about the letters, “Theodor Adorno vs Herbert Marcuse on Student Protests, Violence, and Democracy.”15 Here, the parallels between the 1968 movement and the 2015 student movement were largely implied, but what was significant about the article was that it transferred into the public debate in South Africa the hostile language that Adorno used to describe the 1968 student movement, including most significantly the allegations of “pure Stalinism,” “left fascism,” “brutal practicism,” and “totalitarianism.” These concepts, the article went on, allowed Adorno to assess the student movement as not properly political, but rather as “performing radicalism” in “illiberal” and antidemocratic ways. The article ends with the assertion that “not all security arrangements are by definition inimical to freedom,” a suggestion that lays some critical theoretical ground for calling the police. Six days later, the Wits vice-chancellor gave a lecture at the University College London during which he picked up the terms of the article, almost wholesale, as he made Adorno's assessments of 1969 work as a justification for calling the police on black students in postapartheid South Africa almost half a century later:
This is of course not a new debate in the global academy. It is in part related to the one that took place in the late 1960s between Herbert Marcuse and Theodore Adorno. Marcuse, in his desire to find a social movement capable of overthrowing capitalism, ignored the student movement's shortcomings, its illiberal expressions and its sometimes violent actions. Adorno, who had been a direct target of these actions, was appalled by its Stalinist tendencies, its brutality at significant moments, and its embrace of the politics of humiliation. He feared as a result that it would tip over into a fascist movement.16
The Adorno-Marcuse debate was drawn into the postapartheid context as substantiation for the characterization of black students in protest as protofascistic. Adorno's terminology became a dominant theme that the Wits vice chancellor, who was also the chair of the board of Universities South Africa, continued to use as justification for securitization, understanding his role as saving South African universities—and indeed the postapartheid project—from pending fascism and generalized violence. In the book that he subsequently wrote about the student movement, he not only escalated these warnings against the dangers of “left fascism,” but labeled those academics at Wits university who supported the student movement as “the Pol Pot brigade,” in effect creating a named list of students and academics to be watched and monitored as dangerous communists with violent predilections.17 The warnings were made against the background of a surprisingly confident assessment of postapartheid South Africa as a “democracy” in which revolutionary struggle was neither timely nor appropriate. Black student protesters were framed as subjects who should better know their time and place, take guidance from elders who had already lived through the struggle against apartheid, and comport themselves in a more “ethically pragmatic” fashion.
Amid this generational tension, Angela Davis arrived to give the annual Steve Biko Lecture at the University of South Africa in 2016. To thunderous applause from young black students in the audience, she warned:
From my earliest years as an activist, I eagerly read Sechaba and the African Communist. My comrades and I embraced the leaders of the ANC and the leaders of the SACP [South African Communist Party] as our leaders. Solidarity with the antiapartheid struggle infused our movements against racism, our movements for social justice, with a vast reservoir of energy. . . . I would not have been able to imagine then that two decades after the defeat of apartheid we would be confronted with militaristic responses to peoples' protest.18
The tenor of her talk aimed to offer a bridge between generations, and to allow for an approach to the protests that could understand the necessity of ongoing, difficult, permanent, intergenerational transfer of radical ideas and demands. “I have to constantly remind myself,” she said,
that the struggles of our contemporary times should be thought of as productive contradictions because they constitute a rupture with past struggles but at the same time they reside on a continuum with those struggles and they have been enabled by activisms of the past. . . . Veterans often take themselves and their knowledges too seriously. Sometimes we assume that our questions and the tentative answers we provided to those questions deserve to be accorded a permanence that silences future questions and answers.
Davis's effort to act as a bridge between movements and generations comes out of her own experience of struggle since the 1960s, and must at least in part have been formed by her own encounter with the dispute between Adorno and Marcuse over student protest. She had, after all, sought them both out as teachers in the 1960s.
Davis first heard Marcuse speak alongside James Baldwin against US militarism during the Cuban missile crisis in 1961, and she sought him out for weekly reading and study in philosophy. From these exchanges with Marcuse, she decided to pursue a PhD under the supervision of Adorno, Marcuse's longstanding interlocutor who had returned to Frankfurt after the Second World War. In Frankfurt she came into close contact with the German student movement toward which Adorno was to develop such hostility. As the political movements that blossomed in 1968 began to emerge, she decided to return to the United States to study with Marcuse while engaging in political struggle in California, and increasingly beyond it as she developed her commitments to communism and black struggle.19 In her autobiography, Davis describes how her student organization at the University of California, San Diego, began to build support amongst faculty. Central to that support was Herbert Marcuse, who participated in the occupation of a UC San Diego administration building by the student movement's Lumumba-Zapata Coalition, founded in 1969.20 Davis reported how Marcuse contributed a sizeable amount to the bail fund for two black students charged with attempted murder of a police officer—her sister Fania Davis and Fania's husband, Sam Jordan.21 It was also in 1969 that Marcuse and Adorno penned their famous correspondence.
5 April 1969
I find it really difficult to write this letter, but it has to be done and, in any case, it is better than covering up differences of opinion between the two of us. . . . To put it brutally: if the alternative is the police or left-wing students, then I am with the students—with one crucial exception, namely, if my life is threatened or if violence is threatened against my person and my friends, and that threat is a serious one. Occupation of rooms (apart from my own apartment) without such a threat of violence would not be a reason for me to call the police. I would have left them sitting there and left it to somebody else to call the police. I still believe that our cause (which is not only ours) is better taken up by the rebellious students than by the police. . . .
You know me well enough to know that I reject the unmediated translation of theory into praxis just as emphatically as you do. But I do believe that there are situations, moments, in which theory is pushed on further by praxis—situations and moments in which theory that is kept separate from praxis becomes untrue to itself. . . . And the means that they use in order to translate theory into activity?? We know (and they know) that the situation is not a revolutionary one, not even a prerevolutionary one. But this same situation is so terrible, so suffocating and demeaning, that rebellion against it forces a biological, physiological reaction: one can bear it no longer, one is suffocating and one has to let some air in. And this fresh air is not that of a “left fascism.” It is the air that we (at least I) also want to breathe someday, and it is certainly not the air of the establishment.
5 May 1969
Your letter had a remarkable effect on me and—to be as frank as you—hurt me . . .
The police should not be abstractly demonized. I can only reiterate that they treated the students far more leniently than the students treated me: that simply beggared description. I disagree with you on the question of when the police should be called. Recently, in a faculty discussion, I was told that I only had the right to call the police if blows were about to rain down on me; I replied that, by then, it would probably be too late. In the case of the occupation of the Institute no other course of action was possible. . . . Today, I would react no differently to the way that I did on 31 January. I regard the students' recent demand that I carry out public self-criticism as pure Stalinism.
I know that we are quite close on the question of the relation between theory and practice, although we really do need to discuss this relationship thoroughly some time. . . . I would also concede to you that there are moments in which theory is pushed on further by practice. But such a situation neither exists objectively today, nor does the barren and brutal practicism that confronts us here have the slightest thing to do with theory anyhow. . . . You object to Jürgen's expression “left fascism.” But you are a dialectician, aren't you? As if such contradictions did not exist—might not a movement, by the force of its immanent antinomies, transform itself into its opposite?
4 June 1969
On “left fascism”: of course I have not forgotten that there are dialectical contradictions—but I have also not forgotten that not all contradictions are dialectical—some are simply wrong. The (authentic) left is not able to transform itself into the Right “by the force of its immanent antinomies,” without decisively changing its social basis and objectives. Nothing in the student movement indicates such a change. . . . Democracy grants us freedoms and rights. But given the degree to which bourgeois democracy (on the basis of its immanent antinomies) seals itself off from qualitative change—through the parliamentary democratic process itself—extra-parliamentary opposition becomes the only form of “contestation”; “civil disobedience,” direct action. And the forms of this activity no longer follow traditional patterns. I condemn many things about it just like you, but I come to terms with it and defend it against opponents, simply because the defence and maintenance of the status quo and its cost in human life is much more terrible.22
Adorno's engagement with German students in 1968—who criticized him for his resignation and retreat in the face of expanding emergency laws, the Vietnam War and Cold War militarism, and Third World uprisings—left him in a “phase of extreme depression.” Caught in the trauma of Germany in the wake of the Holocaust, he was terrified that “an undiminished fascist potential” would be reawakened, and saw in the students' actions a regressive and inhumane “mode of behavior” that did not, to his mind, constitute a proper political register nor a proper political subjectivity that could be trusted to create progressive change. His calling the police on students to protect his institute in Germany was in stark contrast to Marcuse's support for the student movement in the United States. Marcuse could not understand why Adorno didn't sense the difference between the kind of establishment violence that could wield enormous power over students, and the power that the students were claiming in the context of their protest actions: “Terrible as it is, the Vietnamese peasant who shoots his landlord who has tortured and exploited him for decades is not doing the same thing as the landlord who shoots the rebelling slaves.”23
But Adorno was convinced that the students' actions were a repetition of the status quo, and that the students were unable to reach the level of critique that would allow them to engage their historical moment dialectically. His famous retort in the short essay “Resignation” described the students as engaging in “pseudo-activity,” constructed around “pseudo-problems” that did not overcome the condition that they were attempting to resist.
Pseudo-activity . . . an activity that overplays itself and fires itself up for the sake of its own publicity . . . is generally the attempt to rescue enclaves of immediacy in the midst of a thoroughly mediated and rigidified society. Such attempts are rationalized by saying that the small change is one step in the long path toward the transformation of the whole. Even political undertakings can sink into pseudo-activities, into theater. It is no coincidence that the ideals of immediate action, even the propaganda of the act, have been resurrected after the willing integration of formerly progressive organizations that now in all countries of the earth are developing the characteristic traits of what they once opposed.24
When Davis delivered the Steve Biko Memorial Lecture, she was quick to remind veterans of how many mistakes they all made in the movements of their time, and how inevitable it is that a younger generation will also make mistakes of all kinds.
Our critiques were expressed in the inadequate discourses of the past, and the young activists want to reveal the erasures, they want to question what we did not have the full capacity to question in our time. Therefore, they sway, they teeter, they totter, they falter, they make terrible mistakes, just as we did at their age. When we stood on the shoulders of those that came before us. But just as we have learned from our mistakes, they must be allowed to learn from theirs. They be must be allowed to learn from theirs even when it appears that they are simply repeating our mistakes.25
This is a reading of movements as the grounds for experimentation, the source of repeated mistakes that hold the possibility of harm and failure as much as of learning and political victories. Movements generate politics out of refusal and risk and are always messy and worrisome, even if their principles are visionary. They must proceed from the right to make mistakes and learn from others' responses, apologize, and return to critique and struggle, transformed. It is a disposition not unlike the best forms of pedagogy, or any experimental practice that allows for a vulnerability to mistakes and failure, and for the cultivation of thoughtful recovery.
In the documentary Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, about the history of one of the world's most admired jazz record labels, musicians discuss the disposition for improvisation in jazz. “It takes some kind of courage and fearlessness, the courage to be vulnerable. . . . But the more you challenge yourself to muster up the courage, the more the uncertainty becomes your ally.”26 This description of improvisation has profound implications for politics and for critique: finding a way to venture toward a creative vulnerability with and to others, to be open to learning and invention, to deliberately cultivate the willingness to be exposed, leaning into uncertainty with others who share a willingness to move toward something more beautiful. It approaches what we mean by abolition pedagogy. Later in the documentary, there is an account by Herbie Hancock about a lesson he learned from playing with Miles Davis in 1965. “It was a particular night where everything was working,” he recalled,
and we got to a place in the music where the flow was happening and the music was just speaking, and it was during Miles's solo, and at the high point I played this chord [on the piano] that was . . . it was so wrong . . . it was so wrong. And I just felt like I had destroyed everything, right? And Miles took a breath and then he played some notes that actually made my chord right. How do you do that? You know? I was ready to crawl under the floor. But the difference was that . . . he didn't judge what I did. He heard it and heard it as a part of the music. Oh! Like something new that came into the music, and he found something that worked. And so it taught me a lesson that I have tried my best to not only maintain, but to utilize. The idea of being nonjudgmental is such an important virtue for creating value in so many different ways. It was a lesson that came from Miles Davis and the life of that group, in that moment.
“How do you do that?” Turn something wrong into something right? Move through a mistake, toward something more interesting, more valuable because of the collective work that has gone into its creation? This is the opposite of calling the police. It stays with the moment to find the possibility of something new—a new sound, a new idea, a new relation, a new way through. Miles took a breath, and played some notes that leaned into the mistake, correcting it by adding his own craft to it. His long experience gave him the capacity to listen for the relationship between what is posed and what is possible, and to move with the disruption to create something new. We recognize this as a moment of abolition pedagogy, in which Miles opens a route in the midst of the jazz towards a reconsidered destination, and to keep the musicians—including himself—communicating, reaching, inventing beyond a repetitive score, beyond the script. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten call this a mode of study—a term we take from them to mean a complex interaction between reading the word and reading the world, listening and contributing, pushing on in a critical pedagogical orientation that has little or no need for the institution of the university, other than to steal its resources for a liberatory agenda.27 It is the same set of gestures that Clyde Woods reads in “blues epistemology,” a world-making mode of study that carries transatlantic archives, histories of black learning, knowledge, subjectivity, and critique, and that creates the inheritance of jazz. Eli Meyerhof picks up Woods’ idea to pose “blues epistemology versus the white,settler-colonial, capitalist project.”28 Similarly, we draw out abolition pedagogy as an effort to deliberately juxtapose and combine alternative spaces of knowledge and places of critique to arrange a zone of thought against the world as it is, and to open routes beyond an unimaginative pragmatism in the present.
We think Marcuse understood something of this form of study when he bailed out students who were accused of violence, to allow them to keep on folding their ideas, their learning, and their experience back into the movement. He was present in occupations. He kept on teaching in the midst of the student struggle. His mode of study was in stark contrast to Adorno's, which was contemptuous and fearful of the parts of the student movement he found mistaken and improper. His not allowing for the movement to confront itself, to be open to its own democratic possibilities, betrays a lack of trust in the assembly that movements convene. Adorno used the prefix “pseudo-” to mark his lack of trust in, and to discredit the possibilities of, experimentation in struggle and cultural critique, to narrow his definition and accommodation of dissent:
Pseudos: conjuring; pretense; insincerity; fakeness. So little, in Adorno's estimation, can get any proper purchase on history; can escape a repetition of the world; can avoid succumbing to a form of obedience that we aren't even able to recognize, so steeped are we in the ensnaring terms of the world as it is, as it connives us into being. Any truth that we might discover so quickly turns out to be a lie, a false promise, a fake. “Lies have long legs,” he writes: “they are ahead of their time.”30 Of course, and with respect, Adorno's anxieties about the real possibility of fascist turns were produced by the experience of living through the rise of Nationalsozialismus. Much of his work on and attention to culture—as mass culture, as the culture industry—was produced during his exile from Germany as he watched the tragedy of the Holocaust unfold. His anxiety about pending fascism was real, and his reading of its potential unfolding in unwitting forms of cultural action was based in his experience of the 1930s. He and his Frankfurt School colleagues wanted to bring to us the insistence that we must be vigilant about the grounds from which such violence can spring, how we are constantly being prepared for authoritarianism by capitalist forms of life and relations, and how we might cultivate a suspicion toward anything, everything, particularly what proposes a solution or an escape.
In the midst of our current set of authoritarian predicaments, there is wisdom in returning to Adorno's warnings. We take the important point made around the time of the student uprising that history often flips popular protest action into reactionary politics.31 But the way to work against this is not to resort to the authoritarian violence of the police. These flips are precisely a product of the histories of repression and bad education that are of a piece with the police, and should not be used as an excuse for further repression. There may well be healthy forms of repression, but we are certain this is not one of them, because it abandons the obligation to take forward, messy and difficult as it is, the project of freedom. It is at the messiest moments of struggle that we need the transformative wisdom of radical pedagogy to stay with the difficulty, and to find new ways through. Experiences of damage and terror can produce something other than useful warnings. Histories of violence can also produce types of fear and anxiety that are counterproductive to further claims on freedom, further searches for viability, and ongoing work for justice. They can produce trauma, which is often conservative in relation to whatever modicum of safety is acquired in the wake of violation and often reactionary in the face of new demands for transformation and change. This conservativism is especially marked between generations in places with recent histories of revolutionary antagonisms, and particularly where those antagonisms did not yield the results they had once promised. South Africa is one such place. We will never forget a large meeting of faculty, management, and students called at a Catholic church adjacent to Wits campus, where, a few days prior, police had shot the presiding priest in the face for standing at the entrance to the church to protect students' right to sanctuary. A black professor who provided support for the vice chancellor during his calling of the police stood at the pulpit and wept, recalling the violence he had had to endure during the antiapartheid struggle, begging for an end to the confrontation on campus. The trauma of past struggle is real and fuels terrible anxiety. But the veterans' conservative reaction to contemporary struggle is not only traumatic. Adorno was not only recovering from the violence of the Holocaust, but was also drawn into post-Holocaust bourgeois society as the manager of an institute requiring funding.32 The daily habits of university management in bourgeois society draw people into arrangements that blunt the vigor of their critique and the freedom of their experiments. Many black leaders of the antiapartheid resistance movement were drawn—postexile—into South African institutions that quickly assimilated them into a new set of expectations and aspirations, changing their relationship to struggle and to the urgency of forging a new society.
One of the gifts the recent South African student movement gave the country was a frank rebuttal of the national narrative that we had arrived in a postcolonial, postapartheid time. Emerging out of apartheid at the very moment of the fall of the Berlin Wall, South African democracy is one of the most significant examples of how processes of democratization collide with processes of neoliberalization, producing a truly desiccated expression of democracy, and even a weak application of the constitutionalism of the 1990s. As the country with the highest rates of inequality in the world, rates that are growing even after one of the most gruesome experiments in racial capitalist exploitation was legally ended, South Africa can only debatably be described as democratic. Sitting in assemblies in occupied buildings in mass meetings and meetings of subcommittees, students began to develop courage in their actions and their analyses, and to build out of their work against the university a much broader critique of “democracy” after apartheid. As student movements often do, they began to find a militancy around more generalized social claims such as the national redistribution of land and wealth, and opposition to the assimilation of black youth into historically white institutions.33 Of course, this militancy took shape against the background of national institutions that are now presided over by a generation of antiapartheid activists who felt keenly that the sacrifices they had made by giving their lives to the struggle against apartheid had been vindicated by victory, by the arrival of democracy, for which they were responsible. The considerable humiliations and harms that apartheid had wrought on their lives and selves were in part assuaged by the achievement of offices, recognition, and relative wealth. But the antiapartheid generation now in power has not covered itself in glory. It has been mind-bending to see trade union leaders turn into billionaire mine owners, communist party officials become ministers of neoliberalized trade and industry, and the ANC implode into kleptocracy. The heat rising from a younger generation is often met with disdain, with patronizing gestures, or—increasingly—with violence.
The managers and professors who called the police and private security onto campus and constructed media campaigns to justify this security presence were writers of books on social movements, antiracist critical theorists, cadres of the antiapartheid movement. They had now assumed the role of protectors of the institutions built under conditions of racial capitalism for the affirmation of white colonial subjectivity. They relied for support on many of the white middle-class academics at the university who are socialized into high levels of security in their private homes, heavily fortified against the break-ins and theft that accompany such high levels of inequality. This is a contradiction in which the university has come to specialize as it has absorbed critical ideas and language from waves of movements, but is in its daily life privatized and separated from those movements. The attention to interesting, emergent social forms without any real stake in their unfolding reproduces a strained relationship between theoretical and political commitments. There is often a reliance on a certain “romance of education”34—the dream of the inherent goodness and worth of education—as a way to obscure this contradiction and dismiss an attention to praxis. “The primary question,” writes Rodríguez of abolitionist pedagogy, “is whether and how the act of teaching can effectively and radically displace the normalized misery, everyday suffering, and mundane state violence that are reproduced and/or passively condoned by both hegemonic and critical/counter-hegemonic pedagogies.”35 Critique is not enough unless it is pitched toward its terms in the world. In times of protest, these matters tend to become clearer. Asher Gamedze, an intellectual in the student movement working in its education and writing committees, and a free jazz musician, wrote: “To the academics who write papers on radical politics but are sweating in their offices when students and other workers are chowing stun grenades outside, time is up.”36
We find it helpful to read the 1969 confrontation between Adorno and Marcuse not only because of its evocation in the midst of contemporary student struggle, not only because of the striking resonances between these contestations across time and space, but also because it is an exemplary instance of accounting for what critique is and does, a moment of reckoning forced onto the historical record through the encounter with political struggle. The starkness of this Frankfurt School encounter on the political possibilities and obligations of critical theory is brought on by the arrival of explicit political contestation at the site of the university itself. The 1968 student uprisings put the screws on critical theory, forcing it to confront its core methods and ideas: that no action, no thought, exists apart from its specific historical conditions, and the responsibility of intellectual labor is to articulate that condition, taking up a dialectical relationship to drive it on. “Critical” in this context signals the effort to understand the conditions of possibility in which one writes and acts and to pitch that labor toward the world as an immanent impulse to change it. “At the very heart of critical theory,” writes Martin Jay, “was an aversion to closed philosophical systems. . . . It does not think itself capable of giving permanent answers to the age-old questions about man's condition.”37 Rather, its commitments are to history, to the liveliness of thought as a worldly, historical process, at once with the world and against it. The subjectivity of the critical theorist is one that can metabolize the world in order not only to diagnose it, but to position that diagnosis as a force in the world and for the world, as an act of making time, in both senses: clearing some ground for nonrepetitive reflection, but also working toward making history, making new time.
Frankfurt School theorists were unapologetic about understanding their work to be in service of praxis, an idea much out of vogue these days. “Praxis was used to designate a kind of self-creating action, which differed from the externally-motivated behaviour produced by forces outside of [one's] control.”38Self-creating action: theoretically informed action that opens space for the subject of history to come to terms with its historical conditions, and renegotiate its relationship to those terms, changing itself in the process, readying itself for further action. Adorno called this the “force field” between subject and object. Neither is passive when this work is being done; both are renegotiated ongoingly. It is an active, fundamentally creative project that changes the conditions of possibility for each. This is not Socrates's “gadfly” approach to the relationship between theory and history, asking difficult questions of power, irritating it.39 Nor is this an actor-network relationship between subjects and objects, where these work on each other as equals in serialized interaction. It is instead dialectical, drawing on Hegel's famous critique of Kant, pushing the subject into history, required for the movement of history. The Frankfurt School's reclamation of dialectical method gave us a fleshier subject, with psychoses and personality, mediated by cultural forms; not pushed on inevitably by history, but having to face it in everyday encounters with everyday forms like television and bureaucracy. For Adorno, the force field was driven by a politics of despair, a near-hopelessness at being able to attain the kind of critical distance required for dialectical work.40 Nonetheless, the only way for criticality to be reached is for the intellectual to move through the terms of the world, to have a serious stake in confronting material conditions, to be entailed in the world, not as a mere symptom but as risked in the process of confrontation, always negotiating the possibility of being captured in culture and authority.
For Adorno, the only route out of capture and repetition is critical thought. And critical thought, differentiated from traditional theory, “springs in general from a difference not so much of objects as of subjects.”41 It is the subject, wrestling with the objects of its historical moment, that creates the possibility of the force field, becomes self-creative and true. Adorno saw the fruits of this work most clearly in Theory and in Art, which were not representatives of culture but rather represented the capacity to produce a momentary, historical outside: a place from which to give definition to the terms of the present. “Each work of art is a force-field. . . . Works of art are true only if they transcend their material preconditions.”42 This is not an abstract task producing a permanent outside, but a dialectical task always and ongoingly needing to overcome the specific conditions of the present, one that allows the intellectual or artist to create a force field for reckoning with history. Anything unable to accomplish this feat—the vast majority of things and acts—has a “pseudo”-relationship to critique, for Adorno, and therefore to the possibility of dialectical purchase and the making of new time. He particularly despises the direct action of anarchists, which he calls “pseudo-action”—“one clings to action because of the impossibility of action”43—as well as forms of culture that are prone to repetitive images and rhythms. The rarity of critique that Adorno establishes leaves little room for collective experimental method, or rough struggle. The purity of his “outside” seems, in fact, quite unattainable, if not downright aloof. “The uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in.”44
Giving in: what kind of subjectivity does Adorno's critic require? It was not his finest hour, but sitting depressed in his Institut office, resigned, calling the police on his students, he seems a poor vector for the kind of work his institute elaborated, for the kind of uncompromising encounter with the world that he espoused. He doesn't give us much faith in his appetite for force fields, or in his Thought's capacity to cope with the possibilities inherent in such a moment. We see in his work other incapacities to read the moment, or the record, times when his critical austerity fails to recognize forms of critique that, if he had listened differently, might have forced him to reevaluate his definitions of critique and praxis. His infamous dismissal of jazz as “pseudo-democratic,” unfree, full of musical tricks that create a debased “pseudo-individualism”—is what in particular pulls us up short in Adorno's work.45 His treatment of jazz is similar to his handling of the students, which makes his writing on jazz, and the work of those who criticize it, a useful point of reference for a discussion of his calling the police on the 1969 student movement, which in turn was used as an alibi for calling the police on South African students in 2015.
Fumi Okiji, in her book Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited, discovers in Adorno's hostility to jazz a narrow allegiance to white bourgeois subjectivity that is alarmingly parochial and particularly exclusionary of any reference to black life and thought. It is a reading shared by Amy Allen in her project to decolonize Frankfurt School critical theory, in which she finds a troubling avoidance of the colonized world and of the insurgency of Third World and anticolonial writers.46 In their avoidance, she argues, these theorists tacitly advance a subject of Theory that is normatively imperialist. Adorno could have foreseen this, given that his major critique of Hegel and Marx was that “they failed to acknowledge that the antagonism that they saw as the fundamental driving force for history was itself historically contingent.”47 But his lack of encounter with the colonial underbelly of modernity meant that the world that he saw as the engine and precondition for dialectical thinking and self-creation—the historical conditions that were the only basis for critique—was Eurocentric—parochial, even as in reality Europe was global in its colonial violence—and therefore animated a critical subject that was inevitably positioned as imperialist, deliberately made blind to most of the world.48
It is perhaps this blindness that produces Adorno's encounter with jazz. The very small window of escape from authority that he grants to Theory and Art that have just the right kind of singular self-awareness, rhythm, and color is elitist and exclusionary. If he had thought in more worldly ways about who else might be working the relationship between subject and object, who had to concern themselves with producing a nonidentity between subject and object and with troubling the relationship between the self and the world of authority, he might, for example, have considered the importance of slavery and colonialism in his formulations. But, for Adorno, Okiji explains, the force field seems to require the singular, self-possessed European bourgeois subject as its host. According to Adorno, bourgeois subjectivity was the defining feature of the era, and it is this particular subject location that is most expressive of the historical moment, granted the prerequisite kind of entailment to be able to transcend, even if momentarily, the material conditions that created it.49 For Adorno, bourgeois subjectivity is primed by capitalist society for the kind of subject-object velocity that can create a force field of transcendence. Other subjectivities, which have not yet become expressive of their time, are “premature” and unready for true revolutionary praxis.
Moten, with his ear trained on the critical capacities of jazz, takes great care with Adorno in his writing, but disputes the austerity of his definition of critique, and the subjectivity of Adorno's critical theorist. In Adorno's underestimation of jazz, he betrays his incapacity to understand black life, to listen in such a way that would hear the depth of critical conversation that has been ongoing in the lives that the university was never built to hold in regard. Moten sees in jazz and much black cultural production an aesthetics that is constantly posing critical questions to history, participating in an ongoing movement for freedom and justice, not separate from the intellectual work of critique, not separate from political movement, but participating in probing strategies of dissent and affirmation. If Adorno's faith is in critique, in Theory and Art that are able to capture the historical moment and set it to work dialectically, then Moten's is in a much more restless movement, its rhythms plural, its timing complex. He attends not so much to the grand exposition of the major dialectic, but the “minor” ones in the experience of the underneath, the hold, the fields of cultural practice that are almost always out of time and ad hoc, emerging from collective experiment:
Finding things out, getting at the meaning of things, turns out to demand an investigation of instability, a courting of tumult, derangement, of the constitutive disorder of the polis, its black market, border, and bottom, the field of minor internal conflict, of the minor event through which the essence of an interminable struggle takes form means settling down in the uninhabitable, where one is constrained to initialize what has been dismissed as the pathontological in the discourse the militant ontopathologist. It means producing mad works—prematurely, preternaturally late works—that register the thingly encounter.50
Okiji's formulation of this critical black condition usefully does not think to position reason and experience as separate, nor thought and life as divisible. This urgency of relation between subject and object and the processes that broker between them in black life, do not correspond to the kind of subject-object relation or process that Adorno imagines when he describes critique. For Moten and Okiji, as they work in sympathetic curiosity on Adorno's speculations on jazz, black life is a site for critical negotiation that is ongoing, swamped with difficulty but ongoing. There is no clear separation possible between inside and outside, between experience and critique. As Okiji argues, whereas the white bourgeois subject is “coached” towards “an alleged self-sovereignty, the black person must address head-on the fact of her weakness and is encouraged to see herself as nothing but a marker of ‘race.’”51 The struggle for any kind of freedom takes shape not only in the condition of un-freedom—with which Adorno would agree—but with a form of subjectivity that is consistently relegated, degraded, racialized, and made fungible, such that the distance between freedom and unfreedom, violence and safety, is never guaranteed. A contention with violence must in fact be made always in close quarters to it, as an orientation toward it rather than a transcendence of it.
Moten describes this in the scene he lifts from the film Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, a scene in which Gould forces a “chambermaid” in his hotel room to sit and listen to a recording of his performance of a piano concerto. She is forced to listen, and then suddenly finds a moment to enjoy the music, looking out of the window beyond the hotel and over a river. “Held, she will have been freed by becoming more than herself in having been brought up short by herself, but having inhabited an aesthetic position that inhabits and inhibits her. . . . She improvises in and against and out of that imposition.”52 Moten's description positions an aesthetic experience of freedom as being necessitated by constraint, and animated by improvisation. It is an experience that he sees as being at play in black aesthetics (and politics) more generally, and particularly in jazz, “an interior force of exteriorization, moving toward a possibility coded as outside, an actuality inside. Inside and outside are, then, not only positions but forces; and the not-in-between marks an insistence in the black radical tradition that is embodied in ancient and unprecedented phrasing.”53 Here is a different kind of force field. One that is not born so much out of Thought, of Reason, of the singular will to not give into the world, but in the humidity of a subject always caught up in creative strategies for refusing capture and desecration, the movement between them so practiced, it blurs.
If we can dislocate Adorno's definition of critique as a force field between subject and object from a bourgeois European subjectivity, then we might not only find critique in places where Adorno would never have thought to look for it, but also discover that force fields obtain in many different forms of expression. We might find in his dictionary of pseudos whole archives of critique. It would become possible to see critique in a range of different traditions and forms, even in sites that aren't usually associated with critical theory. A moment in a popular education process in which a conversation unfolds about the historical conditions for action in the preparation for mobilization. The long conversation between analysis and strategy in the global communist movement. Nearly the entire history of black and feminist praxis, always concerned with reading the condition of the world from bodies negotiating its daily oppressions, entailed in the constant process of conceptualizing the conditions for freedom. In fact, we might see that critique—force fields of real reckoning with the world—seldom lives in the formal institutes of critical theory, captured as they are by capitalist and racist rationalities of the university, and by forms of life that are far from critical entailment in worldly processes. This is true as much, if not more, of centers for critical theory in the Global South, for the most part severed not only from a confrontation with movements and majorities, but also even from students and classrooms. Perhaps this is why, when the student movement in South Africa arose at the very universities that house these centers, bringing with it repertoires of black protest from the urban peripheries, forms of action that didn't fit into the scene of the historically white universities, they reached for Adorno and for the police.
What they reached for, too, in their citation of Adorno, was his bourgeois subject as the proper subject of history, with proper comportment—a subject with which they sought to teach black students a civilizing lesson, repeating damaging histories of the colonial university as well as of the police.
South African protesting students came to the term “epistemic violence” as a way of defining a condition in which the historically constituted objects of knowledge at universities, as in South African society in general, were radically out of sorts with their own subjectivities, creating a psychic and experiential jarring at the heart of their formal education. We remember a meeting of the humanities faculty to discuss Wits University's security arrangements during the shutdown. A young black academic, growing increasingly upset by the ways the university was dealing with student protesters, took the palm of his hand and smacked the thick brick wall of the room, shouting, “This place has violence in its walls!”54 Rather than bending their black subjectivities to fit the colonial university in a project of assimilation, students engaged in a collective project of hardcore refusal, burning things, humiliating white professors, shutting down the university. Black students no longer hid in the library to sleep because of their inability to afford accommodation; they took over the administration buildings for accommodation, upping the velocity of the force field. Students disrupting the functioning of institutions to make space for black life in the midst of a university system designed for racism appeared as mad, ungrateful, out of place, when read through the internal histories of those institutions, their own assumptions about progress and propriety.
The disjunctures in time and space that black students revealed and opened at universities passaged an anger that had not yet been expressed in historically white and middle-class spaces in South Africa. This is an anger that has been long detonated in black townships, circulating intensely on the bodies of poor black people, overexposed to violence and premature death in the course of everyday life. Students' struggles at historically white university campuses redistributed some of that violence, shifted some of it onto an institution built to reproduce white bourgeois subjectivities, in an effort to unmake the university, to repurpose it to serve the people who had now entered its doors. The redistribution of violence that black struggle at universities suggested was met with fear, not only from white people who have long been protected from this violence by the edifice of the apartheid security state, but also from black colleagues and students whose relationship to the university partly shielded them from this violence. The translation of this fear into riot police, spies, and state repression by leadership that, thirty years ago, was facing the same tactics during the apartheid regime, and that was supposed to be responsible for the transformation of the institutions of colonialism and apartheid, is what abolition pedagogy refuses.
If protesting students were cast as pseudorevolutionary, premature, and out of sync with democracy, then what Moshibudi Motimele calls “curriculum time” sought to regulate them back into the academic calendar, insert them back into the degree program for the reproduction of the racial patriarchal capitalist labor market, to reintroduce the romantic idea of education as inherently worthy, to make them follow the rhythm of democratic expectations regardless of how the expectations of democracy had been jettisoned and delayed.55 That this was done with such high levels of securitization was pathologically familiar in South Africa, reminding us of the profound historical relationship between formal education and the policing of black life. University managers and large parts of the professoriate pointed to scary moments in the struggle and denounced and rejected them, accusing activists of not being proper political subjects with proper politics, not working in the correct way at the correct time. They trucked in diagnosis and denunciation as critique. This is a pattern of academic practice, one that minimally extracts information from the social context in which it operates for the purposes of “knowledge-production,” but does not feel the obligation to hold itself, as a self-creating force field, in the dilemmas and antagonisms between subject and object.
Five hundred years of racial capitalism do not produce the grounds for resistance to arrive as perfectly articulated political action clothed in civil respectability, even at university, perhaps especially at university. That working out is rough and hard. What we have are complex, contradictory, impure expressions of the detritus of a violent system whose origins are five centuries old. The purity of expression—the small window of opportunity for Thought—that Adorno's subject demands is quickly lost in the thick of the social condition in which we find ourselves in real time. In the inflamed and sore confrontations that arise out of this history and in disputes over its institutions and relations, we cannot have as our only options the requirement of civility or the riot police. Being above the politics of the movement, the fleshy heat of struggle, affords Adorno's position a long-range view of the conditions in which that struggle unfolds. But it often relies on a kind of subjectivity that becomes increasingly corrupted by its own separation from the movement that it seeks to diagnose. It is assimilated into the institution of the university, away from radical study, and comes to replicate the very white liberal democratic subjectivity for which the university was built.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, in her book Golden Gulag, defines carcerality as “a geographical solution that purports to solve social problems by extensively and repeatedly removing people from disordered, deindustrialized milieus and depositing them somewhere else.”56 This is the logic of the camp and the prison: a pragmatic displacement that doesn't in fact resolve anything, and most often creates greater harm and inequality. Over twenty years ago, Gilmore, with Angela Davis and a collective of other activists and intellectuals, drawing on generations of work in many parts of the world against slavery, apartheid, and the continued ravages of global racial capitalism, began to demand the abolition of prisons and police. Davis describes this current use of the term abolition as referencing W. E. B. Du Bois's account of “abolition democracy,” which argued that unless new institutions were created to support black people exiting the condition of slavery, the problem of slavery would simply be passed on to other institutions built for purposes of sustaining racial capitalist society.57 The more the problem is passed on to other, untransformed institutions, the more it is deferred, prolonged, entrenched, and is subjected to more devastating methods of containment. A few years ago, we were in conversation with the legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. He talked about the forced removals of black people from white urban space that the apartheid state violently enacted from the 1950s. “They thought they could get rid of us by moving us to another place,” he said, “but nothing in the universe goes away. It all stays. It all returns.”58
How we respond to the return is of great consequence. An abolitionist approach doesn't allow us to imagine that we can simply disavow something with diagnostics and expulsion, that we can make it go away with police or a cage. It refuses to succumb to forms of pragmatic intervention that recirculate harm back toward the subjectivities made most wretched by it in the first place. It is an obligation to not turn away from the work to be done to roll back the condition of violence, especially its racialized maldistribution. We want to be clear that any dismissal, however small, however willful, of the existence of histories of violence—imagining that a contemporary expression of protest occurs without deep context in its claims as much as its affect—constitutes an unacceptable form of feigned innocence, in particular at a university, which has at its disposal the records of historical violence. We see this dismissal at play in overly simplistic demands for “nonviolence” in a condition saturated by violent histories. What we are calling abolition pedagogy means, in our multiple modes and spaces of study, the building of force fields through which to reckon with that history and its mess in the present; it means holding space for intensity, allowing intensity to build without fear—or understanding our fears—readying our own subjectivities for different worlds, and surely for the many scary moments in the coming time. The best we can do is to sit with the mess, knowing that our own understandings and subjectivities have been created by it, making them inadequate but nonetheless all we have to work with in crafting alternatives together. This is the difference between a naive nonviolence and a transformative antiviolence, the active work of unsedimenting violent hegemonies. In this we would do well to remember that malpractices and mistakes can provide the basis for new sounds, new ideas, new relations, new ways of proceeding, if we are able to find ways to listen and move well with them.
For more on the student movement, see gamEdze and gamedZe, “Anxiety, Afropessimism, and the University Shutdown”; Ndelu, Dlakavuv, and Boswell, “Feminism and Women's Resistance”; Motimele, “Rupture of Neoliberal Time”; Luckett and Mzobe, “#OutsourcingMustFall”; Luckett and Pontarelli, “#OutsourcingMustFall”; Chikane, Breaking a Rainbow; Ahmed, “Rise of Fallism”; Gamedze, Magano, and Naidoo, Publica[c]tion.
It remains an open question how much of the violence emerging in protest was in fact the role of agent provocateurs. During the recent hearings of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in South Africa, it was revealed that a covert operation by the State Security Agency, called Project Academia, infiltrated the student movement in order “to neutralise the fees must fall protest” (Commission of Inquiry into State Capture).
In March 2021, when a new phase of protests at Wits took shape around the financial exclusion of students from the university, the metal roller doors were used to keep students off of campus, pushing their protest onto the streets of Johannesburg, where they had to face the notoriously violent public order police. On March 10, Mthokozisi Ntumba was killed during a peaceful protest when a member of the public order police unit fired a rubber bullet into his chest at close range.
Lieutenant General Gary Kruser, who was the deputy national police commissioner who oversaw the planning and management of student protest in the Gauteng Province in 2016, was brought directly into the employ of Wits University in 2018 (African News Agency, “Police against Naked Protest”). Kruser, along with the university management, introduced a new specialized unit to deal with protest, including to gather intelligence to preempt and prevent protest (as explained to a university special faculty meeting where the new unit's role was discussed).
There are several others who have used the term “abolition pedagogy,” and we acknowledge their work here. Some use it to describe educational work in prisons or classrooms that span educational and prison institutions. See Alexander, “Education as Liberation”; Ronda and Utheim, “Toward Abolition Pedagogy.” Others use it to critique the school-to-prison pipeline. See Shange, Progressive Dystopia; Rodríguez, “Disorientation of the Teaching Act.” See also Eli Meyerhoff's use of the term “abolition university” in his book Beyond Education. We are particularly indebted to the searing critical work of Dylan Rodríguez, whose essay we came to late in the writing of this piece, but whose orientation we share.
The lecture was later published as Habib, “Goals and Means,” 126.
Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock in Huber, Blue Note Records, 56th minute.
Risking a certain violence to Adorno's texts, we sample them here to make a point about the depth and repetition of his allegation of “pseudo-” or fake effort in his arguments and writing. These words are drawn from Adorno's works: Negative Dialectics ; Minima Moralia ; Aesthetic Theory ; “Resignation”; “Theory of Pseudoculture.”
Jay, Dialectical Imagination, 4; emphasis ours.
See Marasco, Highway of Despair, for an interesting reflection on despair as a productive political affect for critical theory.
Moten, Black and Blur, 46–47; emphasis ours.
See Khunou et al., Black Academic Voices, for a more detailed discussion of the experience of black academics at South African universities.
Abdulla Ibrahim, pers. corr., Fugard Theatre, Cape Town, January 17, 2019.