Zen Communist: Breyten Breytenbach’s view from underground

  • A Nash
Keywords: Zen communism, anti-apartheid movement, liberation, dialectic


In an interview after his release from prison, Breyten Breytenbach describes himself, at the time he became involved in underground politics, as a Zen Communist. He returns occasionally to this interaction of Marxist ideas of social revolution and Buddhist ideas of non-attachment, but never attempts to explain the resulting synthesis systematically. Indeed, for Breytenbach,
being a Zen Communist is to resist systematic positions, to accept contradiction as a constant source of surprise and invention disruptive of all systematic thought. This paper examines how this interaction of Marxist and Buddhist ideas and practices has informed Breytenbach’s politics in three contexts: his initial exploration of a radical philosophy of history in his poetry (“Bruin reisbrief”, “Brown travel letter”); his role in the underground politics of Okhela in the 1970s; his reflections on politics and social change in his prison and prison-related writings.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2309-9070
print ISSN: 0041-476X