Tag Archives: Colonisation

South Africa and the question of truth

Hendrik Mentz says our current debate is riddled with category errors

First published by politcsweb

‘There is only one truth. It’s a bitter truth, but it’s a truth that can save us’ (Vasily Grossman)

For Maxim Gorky, there were two truths, and he advised Vasily Grossman to write the new truth of the (Communist) Revolution into his first novel, Glϋckauf, if he wished it to be published [1]:

We know there are two truths and that, in our world, it is the vile and dirty truth of the past that quantitatively preponderates […] it is a disgusting and tormenting truth. It is truth we must struggle against and mercilessly extirpate. [2]

Grossman wrestled with Gorky’s dualistic epistemology until he concluded – as Plato had centuries before – there can only be one truth:

‘No, Marusya […] You’re wrong. I can tell you as a surgeon that there is one truth, not two. When I cut someone’s leg off, I don’t know two truths. If we start playing at two truths, we’re in trouble. And in war too – above all. When things are as bad as they are today – there is only one truth. It’s a bitter truth, but it’s a truth that can save us. If the Germans enter Stalingrad, you’ll learn that if you chase after two truths, you won’t catch either. It’ll be the end of you.’ [3]

South Africa, and the question of truth

The challenge of what constitutes truth also faces South Africans today.

During the time of the first democratic elections in the country which ended apartheid (1994), our truth was the rainbow nation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela. Now, however, a quarter of a century on, the belief in our oneness has been shattered. Instead, Gorky’s sense of ‘a vile and dirty’ past with its ‘disgusting and tormenting truth’ is what now prevails with accusations of ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘you stole the land’ – and which must now be ‘mercilessly extirpated’ by a new truth that will liberate ‘the people’ from the shackles of a white colonial past.

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