‘Revolutionary traveller’ Saul looks back on life of activism in new book

York Professor Emeritus John S. Saul is not a revolutionary tourist. He does not alight on countries in the global south as a way of travelling to exotic locales or to boast of being in the midst of foreign struggles. Instead, he is a self-proclaimed revolutionary traveller, someone who seeks to make profound changes in the lives of others who are striving for equitable social outcomes and more humane treatment. This committment to social justice has taken him to the heart of Africa, and elsewhere, but the work continues even once at home again in Canada. 

It is this idea of travelling as an activist – both generally, and more specifically as it applies to his own life – that Saul has turned his eye to in his new book, Revolutionary Traveller: Freeze-Frames from a Life (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2009). It is here that he draws on his own articles, written over a span of 40 years, which together with a linking narrative serve to trace not only his own career as an anti-apartheid and Liberation Support Movement activist in Canada and southern Africa, but also help recount the history of the various struggles in which he has been directly involved.

Saul’s unique memoir is capped by longer summary pieces on the global processes of empire and decolonization which he has witnessed, as well as pieces on the reading, listening, playing and family pleasures that have enlivened his life’s passage.

“I’ve primarily been driven on by the desire to make a difference, even, if it were within my powers, a radical difference, as regards the extremely inequitable – along racial, class, gender and other lines – balance of force and of power that shapes people’s lives, both in Africa and in Canada, but that, I also believe, people, ordinary people, can and must hope to control in order to realize more equitable and humane purposes than is true at present,” said Saul at a recent seminar for the African Studies Program at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.

“Of course, I’m not the only political scientist or Africanist who has attempted to do this, so I’m not making any special claims for myself, merely trying to situate my own project as being, self-consciously, a social science from the left, as it were.”

Right: John S. Saul

Revolutionary Traveller details Saul’s time in the newly independent Tanzania, where he took a stand regarding reform, his time working for the FRELIMO movement in Portuguese controlled Mozambique and against the South African apartheid regime to his liberation support work with the Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa and its Southern Africa Report magazine.

His book looks back on the political, activist and academic aspects of his life, linking them together in one struggle against what Saul sees as the common enemy – capitalism, locally and globally.

A longtime campaigner for economic justice in Africa, Saul has taught as a political science professor at York since 1973, and cumulatively, for almost a decade, in Africa, including Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. He is currently working on a short analytical history of South Africa and a study of the world-wide anti-apartheid, liberation support movement since 1945.

He is author of more than 18 books, mainly on Africa, including Decolonization and Empire: Contesting the Rhetoric and Reality of Resubordination in Southern Africa and Beyond (Fernwood Publishing, 2008). Together with his previous two books, Development After Globalization: Theory and Practice for the Embattled South in a New Imperial Age (Zed Books, 2006) and The Next Liberation Struggle: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy in Southern Africa (Monthly Review Press, 2005), it forms a loose trilogy.

“These books were all designed to clarify the challenges that faced popular movements and regimes attempting to redress the many inequities in the world, especially the role of governments and corporations in countries like Canada who sought to maintain western hegemony and profits despite the enforced demise of formal empire,” says Saul, who is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and The Acadamies of Arts, Humanities & Sciences of Canada.

For more information about Revolutionary Traveller, visit the Arbeiter Ring Publishing Web site.