From: Labour Struggles in South Africa The Forgotten Pages 1903 - 1921 by Evangelos A. Mantzaris
Private enterprise is one of the million illegitimate children of historical processes which are determined (and at the sme time determine) human actions and philosophies. It is principally this exercise, however, that brings academic work to the "common people". Because it is a fact, that academic production isolated from the person in the street, (the worker, the clerk, the dust collector, the "layman"), cannot even be considered as an illegitimate child of historical processes; it is a mere abortion. There are enough South African academics, especially in the so-called "humanities" who spend the best years of their lives digging dusty archives of some obscure shanty-towns or well-kept Victorian drawers located in fancy castles. Then, they exchange their findings and ideas in noisy pubs of international hotels, crowded conferences, cocktail parties and student-staff parties in Observatory or Kraal-mines. The problem arises, however, when "after the event" the research findings (sometimes very important, stimulating and well-written), are locked into a death-cell of an international journal ("contribution to knowledge"), or try to escape through the Daedalic bars of millions of sentences of a voluminous "collection of essays", in a desperate effort to survive the dust and insects of a University Library, dying moment by moment, hand-in-hand with Comrade Time. Even worse, this valuable research can be thrown into the dustbins of half-educated administrators or greedy publishers.
The essays appearing here are fairly- well-known to a small circle of friends and collegues, as they were presented in various forms in workshops, seminars and public lectures. Some of them were turned down by various academic journals as being "too academic", "too polemical", "too political", "too long" and so on.
In some ways one has to understand the attitude of editors and referees of "academic" journals. It is understandable for example that the Denver Engineering strike described in this book did not have the same devastating effects as the 1922 "Rand Revolt" and the cigarette-makers' strikes were not as important as the 1913 tramways strike. It is not coincidental, however, that all these strikes and industrial actions generally had the same common roots, parameters and denominators. On the same level, one could argue that the Industrial Socialist League never had a real political significance in the arena of the South African social set-up. Who can deny, however, that its socio-political significance can only be understood, if only seen through its activities, ideology and practice?
The relation of history, theory and sociology is the crux of this collection of essays. People expecting to find the "ultimate" in socio-historical research in these essays will be, I am afraid, utterly disappointed. The "ultimate" is an ideologist's Utopia. But then what the reader should expect? A dialectical relationship between history and sociology? Essays in social history? Exposition of historical sociology? or in the end (or the beginning) a dialogue of the deaf, or the blind? Several examples can illustrate this point. If sociology can be precisely defined as' a study of human societies (or social formations), the action and interaction of different classes, groups, or individuals, how can one define History? Isn't is very similar if not identical?
And then, if yes, how can we talk about parochialism? And surely there is nothing wrong when a sociologist uses the State Archives or a historian utilising a sociological theory of social control. In 1942 for example George Homans published a book entitled "English Villagers of the Thirteen Century". Interestingly enough Homans was (and still is) regarded as a pioneer Sociologist. "Pure" sociologists hastily attacked him as "Swimming against the stream". He was definitely not. The book was well-received as a pioneer work of historical sociology, and still is. Durkheim, Weber and Tonnies used historical data and analysis extensively in order to substantiate their sociological theses. Pareto discussed thoroughly the social systems of Athens, Rome and Sparata in his treatise of sociology.
The rise of "social history" emanating from the works of Beard and Schlesinger gave impetus to works such as Freyre's study of masters and slaves. This extraordinary story of the author's native plantations defies academic (or intellectual) categorisation. It is as much history as it is sociology.
Without a clear understanding of historical processes actions and interactions the struggle of ideas realised in the political, economic and cultural sphere of human life, a sociologist is like a lousy swimmer after the sinking of cruiser ship. He/she will inevitably drown into the deep blue waters of abstract conceptualisations and dead ideas.
* Permission has been granted for the reproduction of articles that have previously appeared in Journals.