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Workers Vanguard No. 1128

23 February 2018

South Africa: Zuma Out, Ramaphosa In

ANC Factions: No Side for Workers

For a Black-Centered Workers Republic!

We print below excerpts from an article written in January by our comrades of Spartacist South Africa for their newspaper. That month, the African National Congress (ANC) removed Jacob Zuma as head of the party. On February 14, after more than a week of tense behind-the-scenes talks, the ANC leadership succeeded in pressuring him to resign as president of South Africa, making way for the new ANC head, Cyril Ramaphosa, to take over. That same day, police raided a residence of the Guptas—a capitalist family originally from India with ties to Zuma—carrying out multiple arrests.

*   *   *

The African National Congress’s 54th national conference, held in December, was one of the most bitterly divided in its 106-year history. And while the official party rhetoric since the conference has shifted to emphasising “unity,” the results of the conference show clearly that the ruling party remains evenly split between the two main factions. On the one hand, the faction behind Cyril Ramaphosa won the prize of getting him elected to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC. At the same time, the main rival faction—supporters of Zuma, who remains president of South Africa—is well represented in the ANC’s leading bodies.

The (mainly white) big bourgeoisie and its media mouthpieces were, for the most part, firmly in Ramaphosa’s corner. They breathed a sigh of relief over his victory, with the rand gaining significantly against the U.S. dollar. This relief, however, has been tempered by concern that Ramaphosa could be constrained, by a divided ANC leadership, in acting swiftly on the capitalists’ most pressing issues. In particular, the latter are hoping that Ramaphosa can broker a deal to quickly remove Zuma and his close allies from their positions in the government. There are worries that Zuma and Co. could increasingly resort to populist manoeuvring in order to hold on to power.

A case in point was Zuma’s surprise announcement of free higher education for families earning up to R350,000 [$30,000] per annum, made at the start of the ANC conference in an unsuccessful attempt to garner support for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his preferred candidate to succeed him as ANC president. This policy pronouncement was met with consternation by the capitalists, who are keenly looking to Ramaphosa to cut government spending and for whom it makes very little financial sense to invest in the education of the black masses. While clearly done by Zuma for his own hypocritical purposes, this is a significant concession to the working class and poor which comes after years of on-and-off mass protests against fees....

Notwithstanding their bitter quarrels with one another, all factions of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance are committed to maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation. This was amply demonstrated by the massacre of 34 striking black mineworkers in Marikana five years ago, the blood of which stains the hands of the leaders of both the Ramaphosa and the Zuma factions. At the moment, both factions are pushing for amendments to the Labour Relations Act that would severely restrict the right to strike and impose government arbitration—a blatant attack on the power of the trade unions which must be fought with hard class struggle.

Reflecting the seething anger that many mineworkers in the platinum belt still feel towards the ANC and Ramaphosa, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) responded to Ramaphosa’s election in a 19 December press statement with denunciations of his so-called “New Deal.” Correctly warning that this economic programme is aimed at attacking the right to strike and implementing brutal austerity, the AMCU statement noted: “The reaction of the markets demonstrates how big capital, domestic and foreign, perceive the new leader of the ANC as the gatekeeper to their interests.” At the same time, the AMCU statement promotes dangerous illusions in the bourgeois ANC, including by urging the new leadership to “discard their pro-market, pro-big business programme that has left a trail of social and economic destruction.”

For the working class, it is suicidal to entertain illusions in, or give the slightest political support to, any of the ANC factions. As the wave of wildcat strikes following the Marikana massacre powerfully demonstrated, the working class does not lack for militancy and bravery. This country’s industrial proletariat—centred on the mines, large manufacturing and transport—has the social power and historic interest to bring the racist capitalist exploiters to their knees and begin the reconstruction of society on an egalitarian, socialist basis, under a black-centred workers government. This alone shows the way to achieving the genuine liberation so yearned for by the masses that fought to end apartheid.

This perspective is based on the theory of permanent revolution developed and generalised by Leon Trotsky, co-leader along with V.I. Lenin of the Russian Revolution. Recognising that in the countries of belated capitalist development the national bourgeoisie is too weak and dependant on imperialism to complete the historic tasks of social and economic modernisation, Trotsky posited that in these countries, “the complete and genuine solution to their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation” (The Permanent Revolution, 1930). This places the tasks of socialist construction on the agenda, which ultimately require international extension of the revolution to succeed. Trotsky’s permanent revolution was powerfully confirmed by the 1917 October Revolution.

For the proletariat to lead such a struggle, standing at the head of the non-white toilers and all the oppressed, it must be guided by its own class interests and the strictest political independence from all bourgeois parties—whether the ANC or the bourgeois parties of the opposition. In contrast, for more than two decades the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the trade union federation COSATU has treacherously subordinated the mainly black working class to the racist capitalist exploiters. The SACP and COSATU tops were four square behind Zuma when he became ANC president in 2007, and loyally backed him as his government gunned down the workers in Marikana. Currently, they have shifted their support to Ramaphosa. In the days leading up to the Marikana massacre, Ramaphosa acted as a board member of Lonmin [the company the workers were striking against] to demand that the ANC government take “concomitant action” against the striking mineworkers.

The Tripartite Alliance is a nationalist popular front—a class-collaborationist alliance between the capitalist ANC and workers organisations that serves to enforce bourgeois rule. The ideological glue binding this treacherous alliance is the myth of the “national democratic revolution” (NDR), which asserts the need for a capitalist “stage” during which leadership of the national liberation struggle falls to the bourgeois-nationalist ANC. In reality, the “NDR” has meant writing off the struggle for socialism. It has also served as a justification for the reformist misleaders of the SACP and COSATU to administer neo-apartheid capitalism, which entails the brutal suppression of the workers and popular protests. The Marikana massacre demonstrates what we Trotskyists have always said about “two-stage revolution,” and what has been shown by a long list of Stalinist betrayals stretching back to the beheading of the 1925-27 Chinese Revolution: in the first stage the “progressive” bourgeoisie comes to power; in the second stage workers are massacred.

Neo-Apartheid and the “State Capture” Sham

It is a damning indictment of the current misleaders of the working class and their left coat-tails that, just five short years after Marikana, political life in South Africa is dominated not by the impact of that watershed event but by the farce that is the “state capture debate.” This “debate” is in reality the ideological cover for a struggle over money and influence between competing (though vastly unequal) capitalist factions. On the one hand, the big bourgeoisie—the Randlords, etc.—complains that control over the state has been usurped, under Zuma’s presidency, by the corrupt and nefarious capitalist upstarts of the Gupta family, to whom South Africa is allegedly being “sold.” In response, Zuma, the Guptas and the would-be black capitalist exploiters in their camp call out the hypocrisy of the Randlords and their mouthpieces in order to cynically present their own looting as a valiant struggle on behalf of the oppressed black majority.

Enough of this nonsense! What both sides in this bogus “debate” seek to obscure is the true nature of the neo-apartheid capitalist system, because both are 100 percent committed to its maintenance. Under neo-apartheid, the same white bourgeoisie that ruled under apartheid remains firmly in the saddle, now joined by a small handful of non-white capitalists who’ve “made it,” while the black masses continue to suffer brutal exploitation and grinding national oppression. Whether led by Ramaphosa, Zuma or their predecessors, the Tripartite Alliance rules loyally on behalf of the racist exploiters. It is this system of neo-apartheid that must be reckoned with by the proletariat, which has no interest supporting either side of the farcical conflict around “state capture.”

The hue and cry over so-called “state capture” has many aims, but at bottom seeks to channel popular discontent into defence of the capitalist state and the bourgeois constitution. Exploiting widespread anger at the venal corruption of Zuma and other ANC leaders, this propaganda serves to divert attention from the capitalist rulers they serve and thus is an attempt to shore up the neo-apartheid system and its founding mythology of the “rainbow nation” at a time when they are increasingly discredited. A good example is the report published in May 2017 by the State Capacity Research Project. Appealing for the defence of the state against “capture” by Zuma and Co., the authors plead:

“The nation needs to realise that the time has come to defend the founding promise of democracy and development by doing all that is necessary to stop the systemic and institutionalised process of betrayal that is now in its final stage of execution. It is not too late. The 1994 democratic promise remains an achievable goal.”

—Betrayal of the Promise: How South Africa is Being Stolen

So the “Beloved Country” is being “stolen”?! And this, several centuries after the white European colonisers began their dispossession of the native peoples and over a century after this dispossession was codified and legalised in the Natives Land Act! Not only are the black, coloured and Indian toilers who bear the brunt of poverty, massive unemployment, crumbling to non-existent health care and education, police violence, and countless other social ills in this wretched, oppressive society expected to believe that Zuma and the Guptas are the source of it all! No, they are also lectured by these sanctimonious bourgeois professors that “the time has come” to rally round the status quo, anointed in 1994, that Zuma and his cronies are allegedly “betraying.”

The “1994 democratic promise” was above all a promise to the rapacious, colonial- and apartheid-derived capitalist class that its rule would be maintained. The pass laws, influx control and other measures that made up apartheid’s rigid, legally enforced system of racial segregation and white minority rule were done away with. But the underlying socioeconomic structure of the society, based on the superexploitation of black labour and ensuring the privileges of the white minority, remained untouched.

Contrary to the pious, deceitful phrases about the state being a benevolent instrument for “democracy and development,” the state, as Lenin explained, “is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order,’ which legalises and perpetuates this oppression” (The State and Revolution, 1917). Zuma and Co. have not “betrayed” the system that was put in place in 1994, but have—like Zuma’s predecessors—faithfully administered the state on behalf of the Randlords.

Nothing demonstrated this truth clearer than the Marikana massacre of 16 August 2012, when the cops of the Tripartite Alliance government gunned down 34 black mineworkers in cold blood, injuring 78 others, in an attempt to crush a bitter strike against London-based platinum magnate Lonmin. In the aftermath of the massacre, as the strike wave spread to mines across the platinum belt and elsewhere, a virtual state of emergency was imposed and the army was called in as standby to assist the police. As Lenin pointed out, proletarian rights are always thrown to the wind by capitalist states when the workers begin to rebel against wage slavery:

“There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”

—The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918

While Marikana is the starkest example to date, it was no aberration but a concentrated expression of what it means for the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance to administer neo-apartheid capitalism. Since 1994, the Alliance government has regularly sent in the cops to brutalise striking workers and protesting township dwellers, round up and deport immigrants, evict landless people, etc.

We have consistently politically opposed all wings of the bourgeois ANC. At the time when Nelson Mandela took office and declared the blood-drenched country “free at last,” virtually the entire left here and internationally called for a vote to the ANC and was ecstatic over the “new” South Africa. In contrast, we told the bitter truth and counterposed a revolutionary programme for black liberation based on the application of permanent revolution to the specific social reality in South Africa. For example, in the 1995 article, “ANC Fronts for Racist Exploiters,” we explained:

“In South Africa the struggle of labor against capital is integrally bound up with the struggle of the oppressed black African people against white domination. The proletarian revolution is at once the supreme act of national liberation....

“We have sought to encapsulate the Trotskyist program for South Africa in the slogan of a ‘black-centered workers government.’ Today, the social power and combativity of the black African proletariat is manifest for all to see. However, for the black working class to lead the struggle for national liberation it is necessary to break with the nationalist misleaders of the African National Congress, who now openly act as the junior partners of the Randlords.”

—“South Africa Powder Keg,” Part One, reprinted in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12, February 1995

From the standpoint of the working class and oppressed, it is the betrayal of the non-white majority’s just struggle for national liberation, made possible through the heinous political crime of subordinating the proletariat to the capitalist exploiters through the Tripartite Alliance, that represents by far the biggest swindle perpetrated under the “new” South Africa.


Workers Vanguard No. 1128

WV 1128

23 February 2018


South Africa: Zuma Out, Ramaphosa In

ANC Factions: No Side for Workers

For a Black-Centered Workers Republic!


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Free Nina Droz!


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