"A Perversion Of Organisational Culture; Some Proposals On The Question Of Obedience And Conformity"
By Sandile Khubisa
At first sight, and superficially; orthodoxy would bring to an imagination some form of religious sect or a spiritual philosophy. However for purposes of this short paper, it would be important to stress that a more elaborate and expanded interrogation and contemporary explanation of the concept is warranted. This also requires that the principles of hegemony be dealt with (albeit briefly).
An appropriate approach henceforth should be the utilization of the dialectical method, which remains the most precise means to establishing truth and reasoning. Hence an examination of obedience and conformity as practices should be undertaken in relation to each other as well as to material factors plus philosophical and/or sociological entries.
It would also be quite significant to encapsulate in this paper reasons as to why; philosophy and sociology have to form a conceptual basis for explanations and serve as reference to postulations that the paper carry. These scientific theories have largely been neglected in favour of political and economistic analyses when contributions seeking to discover social and political behavior of individual persons and /or organisations are being made in recent times. But then again, it is critical to examine to an extent through illustration, the context from which orthodoxy is referred to in this opinion piece.
This paper seeks to establish whether orthodox beliefs and thoughts contribute to an obedient and conformist behavior of political activists and whether these behavioural patterns can be overcome. But wouldn’t it be proper to begin by determining if indeed obedience and conformity are detrimental to the general and overall pursuance of the struggle?
The expression, that ruling classes through an employment of various tactics and strategies, which are mostly institutionalized, will seek to impart their ideologies over lower classes, is indeed true. Meaning, through use of law, as well as related institutions and power structures the dominant forces in society will gain hegemony over society so as to pursue either their short, medium or long term interests.
But what are these ideas? And what are these power structures?
Once ruling classes have established and henceforth institutionalized by making into law; certain principles and codes-everyone is thereafter expected to abide by these codes. This order of things is gradually normalized and therefore becomes traditional.
Retrospectively, in religion a belief and adherence to such traditions as having been established, enforced and ingrained in society or such institution some sort of becomes an orthodoxy. But if laws of development are to be followed, orthodoxy as a concept can no longer be confined to the field of theological studies, it expands beyond onto other domains of study.
To these laws and principles which the ruling classes have imparted on society, the lower classes are expected to abide. The question of ethics and morality cannot be overlooked with respect to this development. Any attitude which appears to be in contravention of these norms and standards as having been enacted by these laws is regarded as inconsistent with appropriate and accepted behavior.
Following the 2014 National Elections, the EFF caused much furore when it proclaimed , it would attend national parliament in "working-class" clothes i.e. overalls, helmets, aprons and gumboots, instead of normal formal clothing , mainly represented by a suit and tie.
This was seen as being disrespectful to the legislative arm of government, as well as to the general citizenry. But the question to be posed would be; what normalizes formal clothing in Parliament? What makes it an appropriate or accepted dress code?
Despite several calls for the EFF to be obedient to the parliamentary code of dressing, it simply refused.
[However it should be noted that, this was an apparent stunt by red beret brigade, judging by the extravagant attire its MPs wear outside of parliament TV cameras-it had nothing to do with genuinely altering or tinkering with, the dominant bourgeois mode of thought]
There was also a soft drink advert a while back, wherein a dread-locked gentleman in preparation for a job interview cuts off his dreads. Upon arriving at the interview, he realizes that the panelist is also dreadlocked.
Here too, a question should be asked; what creates this perception that dread-locks are inconsistent with formality? These are some examples of how certain ideas which are not necessarily natural become hegemonized over society.
Perhaps these developments have brought us to a stage wherein a national dialogue is warranted to engage over the question of national identity.
With a scourge of racist occurrences over the last two or three years having resurfaced more often than at any other period since the dawn of democracy, the task of nation-building appears to be more intense than it has ever been during the democratic dispensation.
It is this institutionalization of unnatural ideas and beliefs which has supplanted what were previously explicit racial, ethnic and tribal divisions. There is some belief that this is a concomitant of South Africa’s colonial past. The response hence was seen being expressed through the fallist movement, which phrase-used "decolonization" as its" war-cry".
Back to the matter of political activism, the challenge becomes when activists are compelled by circumstance to be subordinated, not just to organization and principle but to masters as well..
This subordination demands activists to be both obedient and conformist to man-created principles, subcultures and traditions which fall or exist outside of the natural order of things as far as these political structures are concerned.
For the masters to be able to sustain this dominance and hegemony over the activist, a system has to be created. A set of unwritten laws and principles has to be established so as to maintain this strangle-hold.
Otherwise there might be a risk that the status quo may be reversed at any given time and sometimes under unfavorable conditions for the pursuit of the overall strategic objectives and interests, either of the emancipatory project or of petty-individual aggrandizement.
This is normally sustained through a politics of patronage. Networks are erected to embed a masteractivist arrangement which is essentially based on control and obedience. The master being in control and the activist obedient to the master, and to their orders. It is often overlooked whether these orders do conform to the entails of the organization, its principles, values and culture. To the activist, the master effectively becomes larger than the organization.
However there has been another dimension which has manifested of late. More often than not; activists and thus receivers of patronage are youthful, with the master-controllers being much older and experienced. Although such might not always be the case, but it seems to be the common order. It could be conceivable that this follows social notions that perceive youth as consumers in, and as problems to society thus exploiting their desire for own development and prosperity.
Any act of disobedience carries with it serious consequences.
The path towards usurping in power for the ambitious activist might be blocked or frustrated, dealing a severe blow to any aspirations the activist might have haboured.
Favours, ranging from monetary hand-outs, employment opportunities or deployments might have its tap shut.
Depending on the organization, political power which might give access to tenders or connections might be taken away from the "now-renegade" activist.
In the field of sociology, conformity differs quite significantly, although similar traits can be seen, from obedience. The former pertains to groups of people whereas the latter is largely an individualist phenomenon.
According to Umar Farooq; conformity is invariably to a certain degree brought about by the socialization process.
"People brought up in the similar socio-cultural environment tend to develop similar habits, interests and value systems and personality traits."-Socialization and Conformity
Now it’s imperative that parallels are drawn with the existential behaviours of political activists in the South African body politic.
Organization suggests that a set of principles, guidelines and value-systems ought to be followed by all members as this is encapsulated in a revered document; A constitution.
Contravening any part of a constitution is regarded as an offence, obviously varying in degrees owing to the kind of transgression committed as well as type of organization.
However, unlike when a set of rules is set down as incontrovertibly true, the constitution is supposedly a living document. It is sanctioned as an expression of the general will, and a reflection of the mass-base and their experiences. It is this dynamism which distinguishes body politic from other aspects of life like religion and other idiosyncrasies. It henceforth cannot under any circumstance be dogmatized despite its extreme importance. (And it is critical to stress that; this is where orthodoxy as a set of rules and beliefs falls short.)
Political activists as a consequence, have a responsibility and are duty-bound to safeguard this principle, therefore also defending the constitution against manipulation and distortion by those whom may have authority at a particular point in time. The mass base has a task to perennially evaluate the content and context of the constitution in accordance to material developments as well as other related laws. This will normally manifest through the occurrence of conferences, congresses and other gatherings depending on the organization in question as well as its processes.
If Karl Marx and Friederich Engels are to be believed when they proclaimed that;
"... the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves."-International Workingmen Association
It would then hold true that at the moment the mass-base and activists surrender their task to protect the constitution and principles of the organization enshrined in it, the objectives for the emancipatory project would be betrayed.
By conforming to master hegemonic domination, which itself is a result of political patronage, manipulation and gross distortion of organizational culture, principle as well as morality......, political activist would be betraying the very same ideals they believe their very existence and activism should be furthering.
By forming cliques and cabals, the ruling elite effectively corrodes the unity and strength of the organization, dismantling the motive forces thus subjecting the objectives of the emancipatory project to their own will, ethos and interests. Cliques and cabals are easily manageable and controlled through an employment of the master-activist technique as previously outlined in the passages above. Hitherto it can be observed that there is an intimate relationship between natural law, organization as well as formal legal systems. Now to clear a cloud which may begin to gather over what may seem to be a paradox between revolutionary theory and bourgeois philosophy, Alan Woods has this to say
"The role of philosophy has been correspondingly reduced. However, there are two areas where philosophy retains its importance: formal logic and dialectics....
The dialectical method was developed to its highest degree by Hegel. However, it appears here in a mystical, idealist form. It was rescued by the revolutionary work of Marx and Engels, who for the first time showed the rational kernel in Hegel’s thought. In its scientific (materialistic) form, the dialectical method provides us with an indispensable tool for understanding the workings of nature, society and human thought."-Marxism and Philosophy
As a result of the static nature of orthodoxy as well as its rigidity and susceptibility to manipulation and distortions, it is incompatible with emancipatory objectives and therefore in the context of this discussion, deserves to be dismissed and treated with contempt. Its philosophy comes across as perverse just like the manipulative political-master’s mode of thought and logic.
"However, the oppressed, who have adapted to the structure of domination in which they are immersed, and have become resigned to it, are inhibited from waging the struggle for freedom so long as they feel incapable of running the risks it requires. Moreover, their struggle for freedom threatens not only the oppressor, but also their own oppressed comrades who are fearful of still greater repression. When they discover within themselves the yearning to be free, they perceive that this yearning can be transformed into reality only when the same yearning is aroused in their comrades. But while dominated by the fear of freedom they refuse to appeal to others, or to listen to the appeals of others, or even to the appeals of their own conscience. They prefer gregariousness to authentic comradeship; they prefer the security of conformity with their state of unfreedom to the creative communion produced by freedom and even the very pursuit of freedom."-Pedagogy of the oppressed
With an obvious risk of sounding alarmist, this paper could afford to make use of this Paulo Freire passage, as an analogy to draw parallels between the behavior of the oppressed classes and that of subordinated political activists. Both behave in more or less a similar fashion, share the same fears and are both comfortable in their state of dependency. The thought of taking responsibility for the struggle, for their own tasks has them trembling in their boots. The idea of forsaking their political-master to become critical thinkers sounds too heavy for their "not so" broad shoulders....., and of course their feeble backbones.
Notions and beliefs ingrained into the psyche of political activists coupled with techniques of patronage politics as well as "politics of fear", distorts the mental conditioning , erodes revolutional conviction and class consciousness of activists. This repressive technique in itself becomes normalized and reproduces so as to re-inforce itself-vice versa. It becomes naturalized and eventually will become institutionalized within the organization, consequently vulgarizing the whole project for emancipation. This symbolizes an indeterminate shift of the people’s forces towards reaction, which if not guarded against would render the struggle for emancipation ineffective, as it would eventually come to no fruition. It would have been a means to no end. It would have been cast onto a bottomless pit or an illogical dead-end.
What the post-modern condition requires is a rebuttal of these illegitimate power structures and orthodox beliefs imposed upon the organization as well as upon the motive forces of the struggle-the activists, by unscrupulous characters whom have self-anointed themselves as masters. Truly radical ideas must be rescued from an apparent oblivion which these new manifestations seek to plunge into a darkness of illogical conclusions. For the ruling elite may just as well be, contend with the current order of things, and, in a comfort zone.
Today calls for truly militant proletariat attitudes, an altering of social perspectives on the question of organizational cohesion, decisive action and a rejection of obedience, conformity and orthodoxy....
Sandile Khubisa is: YCLSA Greater KwaDukuza District Secretary, COSATU Ndwedwe Local chairperson
Views expressed in this paper are his own and not those of any organization