It was with sadness that UKZN Press learnt that one of its authors, Martin Legassick, prolific historian, political economist and lifelong activist for justice, died on 1 March, after a long struggle with cancer.
RIP Martin Legassick (1940 – 2016)
Legassick’s major work Towards Socialist Democracy was published by UKZN Press in 2007 but his internationally regarded contributions to critical sociopolitical analysis date back to a New Left Review article on white violence in 1964. In June 2015 he was among 10 Marxist economists honoured by the World Association for Political Economy with the “Distinguished Achievement Award of World Political Economy of the 21st Century”, largely attributable to Towards Socialist Democracy.
Legassick studied in Britain and the US, and in exile was a member of the African National Congress. In 1985 he was expelled from the ANC as a result of his membership of the Marxist Workers Tendency. He then turned his attention to labour and community organising. Many of the lessons of independent-left political work are found in Towards Socialist Democracy, as he sought to understand the myriad catalysts for self-activity of oppressed peoples.
After 1994, his work in South Africa had not only intense contemporary relevance as he joined social movements and at the end of his life supported the Democratic Left Front, but he also published several books about Eastern and Northern Cape history in the tradition of historical materialism. His base was the University of the Western Cape, but he travelled widely and was known in many of South Africa’s universities and political meeting halls.
It is not just the memory of his unstinting commitment to socialism, but also his intellectual research that will live on. The intensely political contestations of ideas about race and class in South Africa that have endured since the 1960s owe much to Martin Legassick among others of his generation, such as Steve Biko, Archie Mafeje, Harold Wolpe, Ruth First, Neville Alexander and Ben Magubane. His empirical analysis and theorising about whether apartheid was functional to capital are still considered classics, for example, his 1974 articles “South Africa: Capital Accumulation and Violence” in Economy and Society and “Legislation, Ideology and Economy in Post‐1948 South Africa” in the Journal of Southern African Studies.
An enormously rich legacy awaits those who delve deeper into Legassick’s oeuvre. We are proud to have made available, in Towards Socialist Democracy, what Legassick last year termed “the product of 40 years of activism, discussion and research” and we hope this extraordinary scholar-activist output will inspire many more in his footsteps.