The Coordinator Class in the Colony

In this second installment of the essay on the coordinator class, I want to use the history of colonialism in Africa to illustrate how a coordinator class is created in a colonial state.  It is my belief that the project to create a coordinator class becomes apparent in a colonial state.

It is in the colonial states that the creation of the coordinator class among the natives is not easily distorted by the ‘Capitalists vs Workers ideology’. In the colony, the colonialists are unambigious about the creation of this class. The colonialists create the coordinator class among the natives simply because they are interested in producing a subservient native class that supports and takes care of the interests of the colonialists and the empire. The concept of the coordinator class adequately explains why colonialists have always created a class of educated natives wherever they went.

Some African writers, such as Frantz Fanon, have often referred to this class as ‘elites’ or the ‘petty bourgeoisie’. Both concepts miss the point.  This is because these two concepts (i.e. the elites or petty bourgeoisie) are usually used in accordance with the Marxist perspective of only two classes – the capitalists and the working class. This way of looking at reality compels one to work in terms of the property ownership viewpoint; resulting in formulations that say that  the elites or the petty bourgeoisie are people who own a little but not a lot of capital. Consequently, the notion that something other than ownership differences can be the source of class division and even class rule is not conceivable in this intellectual framework, writes  Albert.

In their own words, Marx and Engels wrote, "society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat (1992, p.14)." According to Marx and Engels, the conditions that create these two classes are property relations. They add that in countries where modern civilisation has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been created, and it fluctuates between proletariat and bourgeoisie. In other words, as far as property relations are concerned, this petty bourgeoisie is defined as a group of people who own a little but not a lot of capital.

This is the kind of logic that permeates the critique and the analysis of the African nationalist movements and governments in the post-colony. Hence, Fanon (1990) argued that because the national bourgeoisie of under-developed countries has no capital, it soon discovers its historic mission: to become the transmission line between the nation and capitalism. He adds that under a colonial system, a middle class which accumulates capital is an impossible phenomenon

 Having adopted the Marxist property ownership standpoint, Fanon fails to see this class for what it is – a coordinator class that relates to the capitalists as intellectual workers.  A coordinator class that has certain antagonistic relations with both capitalists and workers "and thus certain tendencies toward oppressing, oppressed, and rebellious relations toward each of these classes," according to Albert and Hahnel (1978). 

What leads to coordinator class rule in the post-colony is the ideological orientation of the nationalists movements and Marxist organisations that have been the agents of change on the continent, historically. With slight variations in between, the ultimate goal of these organisations has been the abolition of private ownership of the means of production. The nationalists wanted to replace white capitalists with black capitalists, while Marxists organisations agitated for a centralised economy.  Given the ideological framework of the nationalists, one could easily predict that were they to win their revolution, old bosses would be replaced by new ones in the guise of black capitalists. Similarly, given the ideological framework of the Marxists, one could easily predict that were they to win their revolution they would get rid of the old bosses and replace them with the Bolsheviks. 

In either scenario we end up with bosses. Although the nationalist coordinator class expresses its interests differently to the Marxist coordinator class, the point is that this class exists and when the conditions are ripe for revolution, this class invariable hijacks the revolution and pushes for its own coordinator class agenda. When this happened in post-apartheid South Africa, some writers called this phenomena an ‘elite transition’.

As I have pointed out in this article, the concept of elites is usually used in accordance with the Marxist perspective of only two classes – the capitalists and the working class. Furthermore, the concept ‘elite’ is misleading for it forces us to focus on a small section of the coordinator class instead of focusing on the coordinator class as a whole. It is not an intellectual leap to point out that the coordinator class is stronger and richer at one end, and weaker and poorer at the other end. "It is true also of capitalists and of workers. All classes have a broad reach and variation, naturally," writes Albert.  Thus, we are able to say that the richest of the rich and the far less wealthy but still ‘coupon clipping owners’ are all capitalists, simply because they have something that we think is important in common, despite many other differences. The same logic applies when we talk of the coordinator class.

It becomes clear that the Marxist perspective does not contain adequate tools to help us unpack the creation and the maintance of the coordinator class. Fanon’s use of a Marxist perspective to critique nationalism is the case in point. He writes that the nationalists " have come to power in the name of a narrow nationalism and represinting a race; they will prove themselves incapable of triumphantly putting into practise a programme with even a minimum humanist content… (p. 131)." The first part of this sentence is correct, nationalism is narrow and tends to focus only on race, just like orthodox Marxism is narrow and focuses only on the economy. The scond part of that sentence completely misses the point. It is not because the coordinator class is incapable of putting in place a programme that has humanist content; it’s just that they are not ideologically inclined to carry out such a programme. It would not make any sense if the coordinator class decided to sabotage its own project.

Similar to other social classes, this is a class that is out to advance and defend its own agenda and privileges. The fact that this coordinator class happens to be made up of black faces in the colony does not mean it is going to behavior different than the Bolsheviks. The only difference is that the coordinator class in the colony has to fight two battles at once – i.e. race and class struggle. The antagonistic relations which this class has with both white colonial capitalists and the colonised masses manifest itself when the coordinator class engages in this battle to exist. Thus, this coordinator class misuses legitimate race struggle to gain sympathy from the colonised masses, while simultaneously positioning itself in a powerful and influential class position. 

That is why, as Fanon correctly points out, having won independence from the colonialists, the ‘national middle class’ constantly demands the nationalisation of the economy. However, this is not because this class views the nationalisation of the economy as placing the whole economy at the service of the nation and satisfying the needs of the nation. Fanon explains that for this class nationalisation projects mean the transfer into native hands of those unfair advantages which are a legacy of the colonial period.

Still using the Marxist perspective, Fanon attempts to understand this class. He writes that the native bourgeoisie, which has adopted unreservedly and with enthusiasm the ways of thinking characteristic of the colonialists, realises that it lacks something essential to be a bourgeoisie: capital.   

It is clear that the notion that something other than ownership differences can be the source of class division and even class rule, is not concievable within Fanon’s intellectual framework.

The Creation of a coordinator class in the colony

As I have already stated in this essay, the main characteristics of the coordinator class in a colonial state is that: this class has antagonistic relations with both the colonialist and the colonised masses of the people. Education is the most potent weapon that the colonialist uses to create this schizophrenic existence of the coordinator class.

Referring to the socialisation of this class in the colony, Fanon (1986) writes that: "The middle class in the Antilles never speak Creole except to their servants. In school the children of Martinique are taught to scorn the dialect (p.20)." And for those who put in a lot of effort and stay long enough in school to master the colonial language, they acquire more than just language skills; they also learn how to fit in, how to conform and the need to support the colonial power structure, to paraphrase Chomsky.

The colonial power structure is based on white supremacy and capitalism. White supremacy does not benefit the black coordinator class, hence they have historically fought tooth and nail against it. However, this same class is comfortable with a capitalist economy, simply because under this system with their relative monopoly over empowering work, the members of the coordinator class have much higher incomes and more social status than working class people.

However, because Fanon does not have intellectual tools rooted in radical politics to grapple with the character of the coordinator class in the colony, he resorts to mainstream psychology to explain this social class. Consequently, instead of analysing  the ideology and the hidden curriculum that goes with the colonial education, he pursues intellectual dead-ends by psychoanalysing what it means for the colonised to speak the language of the coloniser.

"The Negro arriving in France will react against the myth of the R-eating man from Martinique. He will become aware of it, and he will really go to war against it. …Furtively observing the slightest reactions of others, listening to his own speech, suspicious of his own tongue – a wretchedly lazy organ – he will lock himself into his room and read aloud for hours – determined to learn diction (Fanon, 1986, p. 21)."

This might well be the case. However, the motivation that drives the person arriving in France to want to speak impeccable French might not be the inferiority complex. I am inclined to think that this person is behaving in this manner simply because he wants to pass for a coordinator class member. He wants to alert the French that he has gone through all the indoctrination processes in the colony, and therefore wants to demonstrate that he has mastered the colonial language – indirectly implying that he has also mastered the other cultural and social conventions that were on offer at school.

The reason behind this is that colonial education does not exist to produce graduates who are ideologically oriented toward the colonised. For example, in his book entitled ‘Disciplined Minds’, Schmidt (2001) reveals how medical students are selected for training under a capitalist system.

"It is crucial to note that the underrepresented majority is not necessarily better served merely by selecting working-class, minority or women students instead of middle-class white males; it is possible to do that in a way that produces doctors who are no more oriented toward the underrepresented majority than are the traditional lot. In fact, when the standard criteria do admit members of the underrepresented majority, they do so in just that way (p.110)."

The research I conducted last year (2007) on University of Cape Town graduate students shows similar findings. The students I interviewed were graduate psychology students. 

Four out of five African students that I interviewed felt that the psychodynamic theory they were being trained to practice in was almost impossible to work with. One student explained that:

"…Psychodynamic theory is difficult to apply in areas I wanted to work in, such as in community health clinics and public hospitals. Psychodynamic theory can be very individualistic; it’s about the person, it’s about the infant and it’s about the intra-psychic person. And when you are based at a community health clinic or in public hospital, one does not have the luxury of exploring those things. In most cases, to intervene in the community needs a systemic kind of perspective."

Another student expressed similar views. 

"I felt that the course material did not represent anything about me as an African person.  … I felt that the course required a dramatic shift in my identity as an African. This shift, which was experienced on a personal level, placed me in an awkward and extremely uncomfortable position as I could not bring anything of my own culture to this new position. I felt extremely lost and the material felt alien." 

Another student argued that the UCT programme ought to be tailored within the Afrocentric psychological challenges.  A black female student said the programme was too Eurocentric, "I remember I used to sit in seminars and think ‘that’s for them [whites], it does not apply to me’." In addition, she felt that psychodynamic theory is not easy to work with in South Africa, especially if one is based at public hospitals and at community health clinics.

The quotes above show a group of black students being compelled to assimilate without questioning a Eurocentric perspective – the only worthwhile and meaningful way of interpreting reality, so it seems (hooks, 2000).  This is how the coordinator class is created in the post/colonial states.

Part three follows…


Albert, M. (2003). Class: What do we want, how do we get it? Zcommunication. Retrieved from: http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/16634

Albert, M. & Maass, A. (no date). A debate between Albert and Maass about Marxism. ZCommunication. Retrieved: http://www.zmag.org/isoreply1maass.htm

Albert, M. & Hahnel, R. (1978). UnOrthodox Marxism: An essay on capitalism, socialism and revolution. Boston, South End Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black skin, white mask. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1990). The wretched of the earth. London: Penguin Books.

hooks, b. (2000). Where we stand: Class matters. New York: Routledge.

 Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1992). The Communist Manifesto. New York.

Schmidt, J. (2001). Disciplined minds: A critical look at salaried and the soul-battering system that shapes their lives. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield  Publishers, Inc.

Leave a comment