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From London to Maputo: Ruth First and the Failures of Independence

Citation: Zeilig, Leo (2012) From London to Maputo: Ruth First and the Failures of Independence. In: Historical Materialism 9th annual conference: Weighs Like A Nightmare, 9-12 November 2012, SOAS, University of London. (Unpublished)


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

Ruth First’s work examined the projects for radical transformation of African’s political economy. She was hard-nosed about the failures of independence, writing in 1970 First argued that decolonisation had been little more than ‘a bargaining process with cooperative African elites’. But she remained an enthusiastic advocate of some of these ‘projects’ on the continent. In 1975 she wrote to her husband, Joe Slovo, ‘I may say I’m thrilled to bits. Tanzania is one thing, but Mozambique! Wow.’ Two years later she moved to Maputo to contribute to the transformation of the country. This paper will look at First’s contribution to the critical appraisal of post-independence ‘emancipatory’ projects in Africa and her own commitment to the transition to socialism in Mozambique. In this ‘commitment’ are many of First’s greatest strengths, but also some limitations and contradictions. The paper will present a biographical account of Ruth First’s brilliant enquiries into national independence and development. [This recording includes Leo's paper, a response from Matt Mahon and audience questions to both Leo and to Pierre Rousset, the other speaker on the panel.)

Creators: Zeilig, Leo and
Subjects: Economics
Human Rights & Development Studies
Keywords: Ruth First, Libya, two-stage revolution, Mozambique, FRELIMO, theory, transformation, decolonisation
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Collections: Ruth First Archive
  • 9 November 2012 (completed)


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