Workers Vanguard No. 911
28 March 2008
South Africa: For a Black-Centered Workers Government!
Zumas ANC: Repackaging Capitalist Enslavement
Break with the ANC/SACP/COSATU Nationalist Popular Front!
JOHANNESBURG—As he approaches the 100-day mark as the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma is working to consolidate his position as the presumed successor to Thabo Mbeki as president of South Africa. Zuma handily defeated Mbeki at the ANC’s 52nd National Congress in Polokwane in December with the backing of the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) leadership and the ANC Youth League. Zuma was elected by secret ballot in one of the most divided ANC congresses since 1958, after which a faction broke away to form the Pan Africanist Congress. The top six positions in the ANC were swept by Zuma supporters, including SACP national chairman Gwede Mantashe.
Zuma’s champions on the left portray him as an ally of the trade unions and as close to the black masses, while Mbeki is painted as a tool of big business. Among the more than 4,000 delegates at Polokwane, Zuma’s supporters accused Mbeki of concentrating power around his presidency and alienating the ANC membership, while Zuma was seen as more approachable and willing to listen to the SACP and COSATU, the ANC’s partners in the ruling Tripartite Alliance. In fact, both bourgeois politicians are committed to maintaining neo-apartheid capitalist rule.
Zuma’s election was a distorted reflection of the anger at the base of society over the fact that the last 13 years of neo-apartheid rule had benefitted the white capitalists and the emerging black elite, known as “gravy trainers” or “fat cats,” at the expense of the impoverished masses. By neo-apartheid, we mean a situation where the rigid, legally enforced racial segregation and subjugation that defined apartheid are no more, but behind the “liberation” rhetoric of the Tripartite Alliance and the democratic trappings of “one man, one vote,” the economic and social foundations of white supremacy based on the superexploitation of overwhelmingly black labour remain intact.
The “coalition” behind Zuma includes prominent black businessmen and a section of the capitalist class that hopes that his popularity among the dispossessed makes him better able to contain their anger in this very unstable society. Much of the black population rightly feels cheated because while apartheid is gone, the expectation of achieving racial and social equality has not been met. Under the title “SA’s Time Bomb,” the weekly Mail & Guardian (6 July 2007) observed before the opening of the SACP’s 12th National Congress last year: “Mid-winter. An angry wind is blowing through South Africa’s wealth-gap. Delivery failures fuel violent protest in bleak townships. Poverty is pushing crime to new levels. Workers want their share of swollen profits.”
Today there is constant repression by the Alliance government against people protesting evictions and demanding basic, decent housing and the provision of electricity and water. In the current electricity crisis, the Eskom utility has periodically shut down service not only in the cities and townships but even in the platinum and gold mines and other key capitalist enterprises. Thousands of miners are facing retrenchment (layoffs) as the bosses threaten to shut down less productive mines.
We noted after Mbeki ousted Zuma as deputy president in June 2005, ostensibly for corruption, that “the SACP and COSATU tops have sought to deflect the growing anger against the government among the working class and township poor into support for the Zuma ‘camp’ of the ANC” (“Permanent Revolution vs. ‘Two-Stage’ Stalinist Betrayal,” WV No. 875, 1 September 2006; reprinted in Spartacist South Africa No. 5, Spring 2007). We revolutionary Trotskyists are on principle opposed to the Tripartite Alliance, a nationalist popular front that subordinates the interests of the exploited and the oppressed to the capitalist ruling class. This is a bourgeois government, acting as the executive committee managing the affairs of the capitalist class as a whole. We do not extend any political support to any bourgeois politician, be it Zuma, Mbeki or Nelson Mandela. Nor would we run for an executive office of the capitalist state, such as mayor or president. From the local level to the national government, such offices are responsible for commanding the armed bodies of men—the police, prison guards and army—that make up the core of the capitalist state.
Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), fights to break the proletariat and oppressed masses from the capitalist Tripartite Alliance and all forms of class collaboration. We fight to build a Leninist-Trotskyist workers party that stands for the political independence of the proletariat. Along the lines laid out by Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, we say that the liberation of the exploited and oppressed requires a proletarian revolution that overthrows neo-apartheid capitalism and establishes a black-centred workers government that would expropriate the capitalist class and fight to extend workers rule internationally, especially to the imperialist centres of West Europe, North America and Japan.
SACP: A Bourgeois Workers Party
Opposing the fight for socialist revolution, the SACP declares that “the post-1994 democratic state is not inherently capitalist, it is, in fact, a sharply class-contested reality” (Bua Komanisi! Special Edition, May 2006). This claptrap flies in the face of the teachings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and V.I. Lenin, who tirelessly argued that there is no such thing as a class-neutral “democracy” and combated illusions that the state can reconcile the counterposed class interests of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Every state is an apparatus of repression protecting the social interests and property forms of the dominant class. Summing up the lessons of the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx and Engels declared: “The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes” (1872 preface to the German edition of the Communist Manifesto). The proletariat can be emancipated only through a socialist revolution that shatters the capitalist state and creates a workers state—the dictatorship of the proletariat.
As under apartheid, the role of the capitalist state in the “new,” “democratic” South Africa is to defend the rule and profits of the Randlords—and the interests of their senior partners on Wall Street and in the City of London—against the oppressed black, coloured (mixed-race) and Indian toilers. The fundamental racial divide between the privileged white minority living in First World conditions and the mass of the black populace living in Third World poverty continues to exist. To justify its rule, the Tripartite Alliance promotes the ideology of nationalism—the false belief that the black African people, brutally oppressed by the white rulers, all have a common interest that stands higher than class divisions. The SACP packages this class collaborationism as the “national democratic revolution,” a version of the Menshevik-Stalinist programme of “two-stage revolution.”
The false consciousness of nationalism, now reinforced by the replacement of the arrogant technocrat Mbeki by the populist Zuma, is the glue holding the Tripartite Alliance together and the biggest obstacle to winning advanced workers to a Marxist viewpoint. A crystal clear example is the notion spread by the SACP, COSATU leaders and other reformists that black police in post-apartheid South Africa are the workers’ friends. This illusion is reinforced by the fact that some cops in the “new” South Africa formerly served as armed fighters in the ANC’s struggle against apartheid. Black cops under apartheid were despised because they were correctly seen as serving the interests of the oppressor. But now, the line of the ANC and its reformist supporters is that the state, with its majority-black “democratic” government, serves the masses. So a white cop may still be a racist Boer but a black cop is your “comrade.” Meanwhile, they’re doing the same thing: breaking strikes and firing rubber bullets at township and student protesters. The police are paid enforcers of racist capitalist rule. In South Africa and elsewhere, the ICL demands: Cops out of the labour movement!
The reformist SACP, with its decades of deeply ingrained class collaboration, is an obstacle to the fight to forge a revolutionary leadership of the proletariat and the oppressed masses. The SACP is what Lenin called a bourgeois workers party, with a working-class base and a pro-capitalist leadership and programme. There is growing anger, discontent and ferment at the base of the SACP. A revolutionary workers party will be built in political combat against the SACP and other reformist groups, whose best elements must be won away from their class-collaborationist leaderships to the Trotskyist programme.
SACP, COSATU Tops: Capitalism’s Labour Lieutenants
By virtue of its role in production, the proletariat uniquely has the ability to withhold its labour power and thereby turn off the spigot of capitalist profit. This gives it the potential to lead all the oppressed to shatter the capitalist system of exploitation, seize the means of production and build a collectivised economy. Heavily overlapping the COSATU bureaucracy, the SACP leadership’s services to the bourgeoisie are not simply on an electoral level. It has been instrumental in containing labour struggle, at the same time providing ministers and provincial premiers to staff the ANC-led government and its repressive state apparatus.
The SACP’s loyalty to the bourgeois order was clearly seen in the 1990 Mercedes-Benz South Africa strike in East London, part of a massive upsurge in black labour struggle during the waning years of apartheid. Workers occupying the plant ran the flags of the ANC and SACP, recently legalised in the course of “power-sharing” negotiations with the apartheid rulers, up the company flagpoles. Recoiling in horror over this display of the workers’ social power, late SACP leader Joe Slovo and National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) head Moses Mayekiso flew in at the company’s request to get the strikers back to work. As we warned in “South Africa and Permanent Revolution” (Black History and the Class Struggle No. 8, July 1991), the SACP, drawing on its credentials for militancy in the fight against apartheid, “is the vehicle through which South African rulers seek to tame the combative black unions and draw them into active participation in the construction of the ‘post-apartheid’ capitalist state.”
A few years later the Mandela government moved to halt a wave of strikes by mainly black workers whose expectations had been raised by the demise of apartheid. This was the period of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), drawn up by COSATU, which the SACP paints as a golden era in line with its mythology of a “national democratic revolution.” The alleged “pro-worker” policies of the RDP were supposedly reversed with the implementation of the 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme (GEAR). The SACP holds up the RDP as “proof” that an ANC-led government can be pressured to serve the interests of the working class. This is premised on a lying denial of the class character of the Tripartite Alliance: a bourgeois government that serves capitalist interests. The same fairy tale is pushed by reformists like the Democratic Socialist Movement which claims that up until the introduction of GEAR, the ANC could have been won to socialism!
As we noted in our press at the time, the RDP’s promise of reforms was a total sham (“Mandela Regime Cracks Down on Black Labor,” WV No. 637, 19 January 1996). The supposedly progressive period of the RDP largely coincided with the first post-apartheid regime, the Government of National Unity, a coalition between the Tripartite Alliance and the white Nationalist Party of F.W. De Klerk. It was in this context in 1995 that a militant municipal workers strike was fired on by the cops, and a national nurses strike took place. With nurses denouncing Mandela as “the driver of the gravy train,” a number of SACP and COSATU bureaucrats denounced the strike as “counterrevolutionary.” The strike was broken and 6,000 nurses were dismissed by the Eastern Cape provincial government headed by the late Raymond Mhlaba, who was SACP national chairman at the time! This was followed in 2000 by the crushing of a wildcat strike at Volkswagen in Uitenhage, near Port Elizabeth. After Thabo Mbeki, addressing Parliament, denounced the strike as “illegal and unjustified,” SACP leader Blade Nzimande called his speech “very unifying.” The SACP-dominated NUMSA bureaucracy mobilised to break the strike. More than 1,300 workers were fired, and 200 armed cops occupied surrounding townships to suppress resistance.
Last year’s public workers strike was sold out by the COSATU tops, who refused to mobilise unions like the miners and metal workers that had the social power to win the strike. The same SACP that claimed to support the strike acted as strikebreakers via its government ministers: Safety and Security minister Charles Nqakula set the army and cops against the strikers, while Intelligence Services minister Ronnie Kasrils unleashed his spies against the teachers union.
Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the October Revolution of 1917, pointed out in his unfinished 1940 essay “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”: “Either the trade unions of our time will serve as secondary instruments of imperialist capital to subordinate and discipline the workers and to obstruct the revolution or, on the contrary, the unions will become tools of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.” There must be a new, class-struggle leadership of the union movement committed to the independence of the working class from the capitalist state. Forging such a leadership is inseparable from the fight to build a revolutionary workers party through breaking the proletariat from the Tripartite Alliance.
The Popular Front: Not a Tactic but the Greatest of Crimes
At the Polokwane congress, SACP national officers took positions at the very top of the ANC. These are the fruits of the long drawn-out call on workers to “swell the ranks of the ANC,” which plays on illusions that the working class can gain “hegemony” within the Tripartite Alliance. As part of the ANC-led government, the SACP tops bear responsibility for the government’s attacks on workers and the poor as well as the criminal neglect of those suffering from AIDS and HIV.
The ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance is a nationalist popular front, a bourgeois formation. As described in the Spartacist pamphlet, The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited, “The popular front is nothing more than an expression of the theories and practices of class collaboration—a bloc of organizations and parties representing various classes on the basis of a common program, the defense of bourgeois democracy.” In the popular front, the reformist workers parties accept the limits of the programme of their capitalist “ally.” The SACP/COSATU alliance with the ANC means the subordination of the independent interests of the proletariat to those of bourgeois nationalism. The Tripartite Alliance chains the workers to their class enemies where the capitalists and black elites are the riders and the workers are the horses. This will continue under Zuma.
In Russia, after the February 1917 Revolution, when the tsar’s government collapsed, the reformist Mensheviks supported the liberal bourgeois Provisional Government and later joined it, forming a popular-front government (though the term did not exist at the time). Lenin waged a merciless political struggle against the Mensheviks and those in the Bolshevik Party who conciliated them. This was crucial in preparing the Bolsheviks to lead the October Revolution, which created a workers state. It was in this period that Lenin programmatically converged with Trotsky, whose perspective of permanent revolution laid out that the Russian Revolution would succeed only as a proletarian revolution, supported by the poor peasantry and fighting for international extension. Although betrayed and ultimately sold out by the Stalinist bureaucracy that usurped political power from the proletariat beginning in 1923-24, the October Revolution contains crucial lessons for the fight for proletarian revolution in South Africa and internationally (see “The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution,” WV Nos. 901-904, 26 October, 9 November, 23 November and 7 December 2007).
The history of the international working-class struggle against capitalist wage slavery abounds with betrayals by Stalinism, whose anti-Marxist dogma of “socialism in one country” meant pursuit of the pipe dream of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism and opposition to the struggle for international socialist revolution. In many cases workers paid with their blood for the treacherous policies of their leaders. An example was the Second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, where Stalin’s Comintern ordered the Chinese Communists to liquidate into the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang (GMD), which led to a bloody massacre of Communists and militant workers by the GMD. In 1935, with the elaboration of the “Popular Front” at the Seventh (and last) Congress of the Comintern, the Stalinists explicitly and officially embraced the programme of class collaboration with the “democratic” bourgeoisies. Popular-front betrayals were committed in France and Spain in the 1930s, in Chile in the 1970s and elsewhere. Time and again, opportunities for workers revolution were squandered by the Stalinist misleaders. In 1936, Trotsky characterised the popular front as the “main question of proletarian class strategy for this epoch. It also offers the best criterion for the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism” (The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39).
Uses and Misuses of Race and Class in South Africa
The SACP uses the historical overlap between race and class in South Africa to justify its class-collaborationist alliance with the ANC, which dates back to decisions made at the 1928 Sixth Congress of the Stalinised Communist International. This overlap derives from the fact that the European colonial-settler rulers did not allow the development of a black African property-owning class. After the discovery of diamonds and gold in the second half of the 19th century, the capitalist class made fabulous profits in mining and other industries off the brutal exploitation of black, coloured and Indian workers.
It was not until the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, which was marked especially by the militancy of black labour, that the white rulers came to understand the importance of developing a black petty bourgeoisie as a buffer between the impoverished black majority and the privileged white minority. This began to take place before the post-1994 procession of ANC cronies riding the gravy train. The appetite by a layer of blacks to be integrated into the dominant white capitalist class was prevalent at the 1912 founding of the ANC, which was dominated by tribal chiefs, lawyers and other representatives of the black elite.
The ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter, which many SACPers uphold as a “socialist” document, makes no reference to socialism or to the working class taking power. Raising basic democratic demands like “one man, one vote” and equality before the law, it called for the country’s mineral wealth, banks and monopolies to “be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.” While many point to this as a demand to nationalise industry and the land, this was a nationalist-populist call that had nothing to do with the socialist expropriation of the capitalist class. At bottom, the Charter sought to advance the creation of a black capitalist class. In any event, Mandela & Co. dropped all talk of nationalisations soon after “power-sharing” negotiations got under way. Today, while the Alliance government trumpets its “black economic empowerment” schemes, the black “credit card millionaires” remain indebted to the banks and their white sponsors. Hence financial corruption has become the main avenue of capital accumulation for the small layer of black exploiters.
During the 1980s there were huge confrontations between the apartheid regime and the oppressed masses. While defending the courageous anti-apartheid fighters against state repression, we stressed that “the ANC’s policy of ‘making the townships ungovernable’ is designed to pressure, not overthrow, the white ruling class” (“Smash Apartheid! For Workers Revolution!” WV No. 395, 17 January 1986). Simultaneously the ANC had embarked on a campaign to persuade the Western capitalists to divest from South Africa. In 1994 the ANC did consummate its aspirations to share power with the white racist ruling class. Many complain today that the ANC in power has abandoned its “revolutionary” past. But what the ANC is doing is the logical outcome of its bourgeois-nationalist programme. In overseeing the exploitation of “their” own working people, they have acted in a fashion not qualitatively different from what was done by other former bourgeois-national liberation movements, such as those in Algeria or Zimbabwe.
A key factor in the ANC coalition’s accession to power was the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which for decades had supported the ANC materially and diplomatically. As the Stalinist regime of Mikhail Gorbachev fell apart, and in the context of militant labour struggles in South Africa, the ANC embraced “power sharing” with the racist apartheid rulers, a section of whom accepted that ANC rule no longer threatened the white economic oligarchy.
The road to genuine national and social liberation in South Africa is laid out by Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which is based on the understanding that the bourgeoisie in countries of belated capitalist development is too weak, dependent on the imperialists and fearful of the masses to carry out the democratic tasks associated with the classic bourgeois revolutions in England and France. Only proletarian socialist revolution can satisfy the acutely felt needs for social and economic justice for the oppressed majority. This perspective is powerfully captured in Trotsky’s 20 April 1935 letter to his South African supporters: “Insofar as a victorious revolution will radically change not only the relation between the classes, but also between the races, and will assure to the blacks that place in the state which corresponds to their numbers, insofar will the social revolution in South Africa also have a national character” (quoted in the 1997 ICL pamphlet, Polemics on the South African Left).
The task of national emancipation requires the proletarian seizure of power and the establishment of a black-centred workers government, which would fight like hell to extend socialist revolution internationally. “Black-centred” precisely means that it is not racially exclusive but includes a full role and democratic rights for coloureds, Indians and those whites prepared to live under a government based centrally on the black African toilers. As we have noted:
“Instead of the mass starvation and internecine tribal strife which have marked the ‘independent’ neocolonial states of black Africa, proletarian class rule in South Africa will open the way to socialist construction, based on the higher levels of industry and culture, in which whites will also have a necessary place.
South Africa is the one place in sub-Saharan Africa where there is the possibility for a workers state, because here the black population has been partially absorbed, at the bottom, into a modern industrialized society which can, based on the revolutionary reorganization of society, provide a decent life for its citizens.”
—“South Africa: Razor’s Edge,” WV No. 376 (5 April 1985), reprinted in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 8 (July 1991)
We have defended our call for a black-centred workers government against the Workers International Vanguard League, an organisation based in the Western Cape that is characterised by a kind of “coloured nationalism” and that buys into the big lie that national liberation and racial equality can be achieved under capitalism (see “A Reply to the Workers International Vanguard League” in our 1998 pamphlet Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacists No. 1). Against the capitalists’ divide-and-rule policies that pit sections of the working class against each other on colour, national and tribal lines, our call promotes the class unity of the proletariat, from the black miners to the large concentrations of the coloured and Indian working class in the Western Cape and the city of Durban and its surroundings, respectively. It also fights against tribal divisions among black Africans, which were artificially maintained and reinforced under apartheid but which continue to be felt. An ominous example was seen recently in Welkom, Orange Free State, when the National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa’s most powerful industrial union, became bitterly divided along tribal lines.
In reviving the call for a black-centred workers government, we note that we incorrectly stopped using this slogan after 2001. This deprived us of a crucial weapon in combating the illusion that the “national democratic revolution” has achieved a “rainbow nation” based on the ANC’s celebrated doctrine of “non-racialism.” Not a day passes in the “new” South Africa without a horrible example of continued racist oppression. In mid January, an 18-year-old white youth killed four black people and injured nine in a shooting spree at the Skierlik squatter camp in North West province. More recently came the revelation of a video shot last year by four white students at the University of the Free State, a stronghold of right-wing Afrikaners, that showed them grotesquely abusing older black workers on the campus, including by feeding them urine-spiked food. This was part of a campaign lasting more than a decade against integrating university residences.
The ANC and Neo-Apartheid Capitalism
In rallying support for Zuma, the SACP and COSATU misleaders point to his plebeian background and history as a central leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing, during the anti-apartheid struggle. Zuma, who spent ten years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, often sings the Umkhonto song, “Awuleth’ Umshini Wami” (Bring Me My Machine Gun), at his public appearances.
After he was ousted as deputy president, Zuma began playing to the anger at the base of the ANC over Mbeki’s purging and silencing of his opponents, portraying himself as concerned with workers and the poor. While Mbeki is viewed as wanting to move toward breaking the ANC from the SACP and COSATU, Zuma has repeatedly asserted the importance of maintaining the Tripartite Alliance. At last year’s SACP congress, Zuma liberally quoted from the Communist Manifesto and thanked the party for helping educate him. COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi recently told the Mail & Guardian (29 February), “We have never presented Zuma as a socialist who will lead a socialist revolution or a messiah with a magic wand. But we are comfortable with his leadership style; he is humble and accessible.”
In the lead-up to the Polokwane congress, Zuma travelled around the world in an attempt to reassure capitalists that he would not change government policy. More recently he suggested to the Financial Mail, a mouthpiece for the capitalists, that South Africa might need to reform its labour regulations—i.e., squeeze even more out of the workers. After catching heat from the union tops, Zuma turned around to declare that he would “lay down his life” for the workers. But when the public workers strike polarised the country last June, Zuma did not even express support for the strikers.
Zuma is a bourgeois populist politician, claiming to represent the interests of the people. But “the people” are divided into classes with counterposed interests. The two fundamental classes in modern society are the bourgeoisie, whose interests Zuma represents, and the proletariat. If Zuma becomes president, he will be the head of the capitalist state that exists to suppress the working class and the poor on behalf of the bosses.
Even within the framework of bourgeois politics, there is nothing inherently progressive about populism. Populist appeals frequently incorporate heavy doses of bigotry, appealing to backward attitudes pervasive in capitalist society. Thus Zuma openly expresses contempt for women and homosexuals. Notoriously, during his 2006 trial on rape charges, which resulted in his acquittal, he ignorantly said that he took a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to prevent him from becoming infected! Mbeki, meanwhile, is infamous for denying that HIV causes AIDS.
Zuma has also called to get tough on crime, which we communists understand to be a code word used to prepare public opinion for further attacks against the poor and unemployed, and especially their immigrant components. He has said that there should be a referendum on bringing back the death penalty if enough South Africans express their support—a previously taboo issue among ANC leaders given the horrors of executions as a tool of apartheid repression. Moreover, the death penalty would be used as a weapon against perceived political opponents of the bourgeoisie, ultimately the proletariat and its vanguard. We are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle. We do not accord the state the right to determine who lives or dies.
Zuma also partakes in Zulu traditionalist practices such as polygamy and maintains ties to the Zulu royal family. Many Zulus and others saw Zuma’s dismissal in 2005 as an anti-Zulu plot by Mbeki and other Xhosa central leaders of the ANC. The ANC is not a tribalist organisation; it represents the interests of the (overwhelmingly white) capitalist class against workers of all racial and ethnic groups: Zulu, Xhosa and other black Africans, Indians, coloureds and whites. However, the workings of capitalism ensure that tribal divisions are maintained and fostered under the ANC/SACP/COSATU government.
Lately Zuma has been running from one court to another to fend off revived and expanded criminal corruption, racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges. The charges came down shortly after Zuma’s victory at Polokwane, feeding the view that Mbeki was using state institutions to avenge his defeat. COSATU and the SACP have rallied behind Zuma over the case, calling to drop the charges. If Zuma is convicted at his trial, scheduled for August, he could be prevented from taking office as South Africa’s president following the 2009 parliamentary elections. There is already talk about the ANC replacing Zuma with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, if this happens.
Our position is that the working class has no interest in taking a position on the charges against Zuma per se. The whole affair reeks of bourgeois hypocrisy. South Africa’s government is corrupt from top to bottom, as is every other capitalist government on the face of the earth. From our Marxist standpoint, the worst corruption is the political corruption represented by the SACP/COSATU misleaders’ tying the proletariat to its class enemy in the name of the “national democratic revolution.”
Left Tails of Tripartite Alliance
Spartacist South Africa is unique in calling to break with the Tripartite Alliance and to build a Bolshevik workers party. In contrast, the activity of the reformist left is firmly within the boundaries of the Alliance, reinforcing the political chains binding the masses to neo-apartheid capitalism.
At the SACP 12th National Congress, dissidents centred in Gauteng and Eastern Cape provinces put forward a resolution that the party run its own candidates in the 2009 parliamentary elections, separate from the ANC slate. The argument that this would represent a form of working-class independence was a sham. The resolution explicitly asserted that the “revolutionary alliance led by the ANC” is “an historic and important alliance that should be preserved.” This meant that the SACP would continue to serve in the capitalist government but as part of a coalition with the ANC rather than as ANC ministers. The resolution’s backers included SACP cadres who claim to oppose the ANC but have actively suppressed workers struggles on behalf of the Alliance, not least by helping break the 2000 Volkswagen strike.
Some left groups criticise the SACP for its open embrace of Zuma while calling for mass pressure on Zuma’s ANC to supposedly force it to be responsive to the workers and the poor. This viewpoint is shared by some elements of the journal Amandla, which has ties to both the SACP and to bourgeois academics like Noam Chomsky and other spokesmen for the popular-frontist World Social Forum (WSF). An Amandla (20 January) editorial on the Polokwane congress complained that “the leadership struggle has produced no candidate with an alternative to the social liberal or pro market policies implemented by Mbeki.” Covering up the bourgeois character of the ANC, it went on to say that “a popular tsunami” was necessary for “disentangling the ANC from the many threads binding the organisation, some of its leading members and its policies to big business.” Rather than calling to break from the ANC, Amandla is simply seeking to apply pressure to reform this bourgeois-nationalist organisation.
The same basic line is offered by the WSF-affiliated Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), the Keep Left! organisation associated with the British Socialist Workers Party of the late Tony Cliff and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). The APF, to which Keep Left! is affiliated and whose honchos include Trevor Ngwane and former SACPer Dale McKinley, is financed by capitalist institutions like Oxfam (Canada) and War on Want, which receives funding from the European Union imperialists. This is totally in keeping with the World Social Forum, whose backers include such bulwarks of the capitalist order as the Ford Foundation and a number of bourgeois government leaders. The APF has always played the role of a left tail on the Tripartite Alliance, advising it on how to implement capitalism supposedly with a human face.
At a 26 January WSF “day of action” in Johannesburg, Keep Left! leader Alan Goatley shared the stage with SACP Gauteng provincial secretary Zico Tamela and others. With no words of criticism, they gloated about their renewed unity following the ANC congress. Keep Left! voted for the Tripartite Alliance government in 1994 and 1999 and during that time made an entry into the SACP, which did not last. These Cliffites entered the SACP based on their shared embrace of neo-apartheid rule and the proposition that now that the Soviet Union was no more, they could mix banners with this Stalinist party. These shameless anti-Communists enthusiastically supported the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union.
The reformists’ subservience to the Tripartite Alliance was displayed at a 23 February public meeting in Soweto featuring speakers from the APF-affiliated Socialist Group, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, a greater Johannesburg SACP district, Keep Left! and the DSM. While the meeting was titled “Is Jacob Zuma an Answer to the Workers’ Struggles?” the only clear “No!” came from Spartacist supporters and several others who intervened during the floor discussion period. In contrast, Keep Left! spokesman Claire Ceruti bragged, “We brought Mbeki down” and proclaimed that without mass protests, Zuma “will almost surely betray us.”
DSM speaker Weizman Hamilton described how his organisation spent nearly two decades as the Marxist Workers’ Tendency inside the bourgeois ANC, which they only left in 1996, when, he said, the adoption of GEAR supposedly marked the “turning point in the transformation of the ANC into the conscious agent of capital.” The DSM/CWI’s political support to capitalist parties and governments extends to Venezuela’s nationalist populist strongman Hugo Chávez, the bourgeois Green Party in the U.S. and far beyond. Hamilton cynically intoned that the ANC was never a working-class organisation. As one older black man said during the discussion period, why are we being told now, after all those years of supporting the ANC, that it is capitalist and that we need socialism?
Hamilton repeatedly raised the call on COSATU to form a “mass workers party.” This is not a call to break with class collaborationism but a pitch for a new reformist party. The COSATU bureaucrats already have a “mass workers party”: the SACP. Together they act to police the working class and township masses on behalf of the capitalist rulers. Speaking from the floor, Trevor Ngwane of the Socialist Group echoed the DSM’s pitch and stated that such a party would mainly provide an electoral alternative to the Tripartite Alliance.
Spartacist comrades intervened to put forward our programmatic opposition to the nationalist popular front and the reformist left that tails it. One comrade noted that the bourgeoisie deals with opposition not only through repression but also through co-optation. Pointing to the WSF/APF as exemplifying the latter, she described these formations as products of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union and “death of communism” ideology.
Another Spartacist speaker denounced Keep Left!’s line that cops are workers, stating that this tramples on the Marxist understanding of the capitalist state. Ceruti responded by indicating a member of the main police “union” in the audience, saying, “I’m very glad that the comrade from POPCRU is here” and that “police are also people.” The DSM is known for supporting strikes by security guards, prison guards and cops, while a number of SACP dissidents who swear allegiance to the dictatorship of the proletariat are involved in organising police “unions.”
Leninist Party: Tribune of the People
In fighting to build a revolutionary workers party, we raise transitional demands that link the immediate, felt needs of the masses to the proletarian seizure of state power. Such demands can link the township poor, who are often the most combative in fighting for their needs but who lack social power, with the industrial proletariat, which has its hands directly on the means of production. The SACP and COSATU misleaders treacherously keep the township protests isolated from labour struggle, which is not surprising given that they are part of the government enforcing service cut-offs.
To deal with the astronomically high levels of unemployment especially among black Africans, we demand a massive programme of public works and the division of available work amongst all those capable of working through a shorter workweek without loss of pay. Such demands are vital in a country where millions lack decent housing and many have no electricity, telephone, water or even sewage services. The number of people trying to live on under US$1.00 a day has doubled between 1996 and 2005. Prices of necessities are skyrocketing. We fight for a sliding scale of wages to fully protect against cost-of-living increases! As Trotsky wrote in the 1938 Transitional Programme, “If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.”
People have been on the waiting list for tiny, flimsy “Reconstruction and Development Programme” houses since 1996, and the backlog has become completely unmanageable. Nationalising privately owned urban land would lay the basis for building racially integrated residential areas, battering down the old apartheid walls and solving the problem of mass homelessness amongst the poor who live in squalid shacks and squatter camps. To finally redress the expropriation of land by white farmers, codified in the 1913 Land Act, and the relegation of rural blacks to the desolate former bantustans, a proletarian regime would expropriate the large commercial farms and promote collectivised and state-owned agriculture under the control of farm workers.
Currently, some 1,000 people die every day because of the criminal neglect of AIDS by the Tripartite Alliance government. The demand for expropriation of the pharmaceutical companies is critical in the fight to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to people with HIV/AIDS. Pouring massive resources into research to find a cure is an international necessity. A revolutionary workers party would call to nationalise all private hospitals and clinics as a step toward providing free, quality health care for all!
A Trotskyist party in South Africa would champion women’s equality, demanding equal pay for equal work and the full integration of women into the workforce as well as free, safe abortion on demand and an end to tribalist patriarchal practices such as lobola (bride price) and polygamy. Women were not only part of but often played a leading role in the early trade-union movement and in the struggles against the apartheid-era pass laws and repression in the townships, getting raped and violated in many different ways by the apartheid security forces. As Lenin noted in addressing the First All-Russia Congress of Working Women one year after the Bolshevik Revolution, “There can be no socialist revolution unless very many working women take a big part in it.”
The end of the last academic year and the beginning of the current one in January has seen fierce struggles by students at Wits University in Johannesburg, Durban’s University of Technology, Tshwane (Pretoria) University of Technology and other campuses defending their right to learn. The Alliance government’s response has been police repression, with scores of students arrested and many others fired on with rubber bullets. Free, integrated, quality education through the university level, with a living stipend for all students, and the nationalisation of private schools and universities is our answer to the financial exclusions facing students from poor and working-class backgrounds.
Against the myth that the neo-apartheid rulers are cohering a nation on the foundations left by the white-supremacist regime, we point out that South Africa is not a nation. The boundaries of almost all African states, including South Africa, were arbitrarily drawn up by the imperialists and have no national legitimacy. Anglo American and the other Randlords dominate not only South Africa but also many countries to the north. Our call for a black-centred workers government is part of our struggle for a socialist federation of Southern Africa.
A large percentage of workers in mining and other industries in South Africa come from neighbouring countries and have been an integral part in building the economy and the labour movement. The leader of the first industrial union of non-white workers, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, was Clements Kadalie, an immigrant from present-day Malawi. We demand full South African citizenship rights for all foreign-born workers and their families and for whoever else has made it to this country!
It is in this light that we register our outrage against the brutal, apartheid-style midnight police raid against asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe and other migrants at the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church in January. The cops arrested some 1,500 people, stole legal papers and other personal possessions and assaulted occupants including Bishop Paul Verryn. “Illegal” farm workers from Zimbabwe are regularly rounded up and jailed, often without being paid for their back-breaking labour. With the Tripartite Alliance government using immigrants as scapegoats for entrenched poverty and unemployment, deadly attacks on Somali shopkeepers and other immigrants are growing in the black townships.
South African workers must defend the rights of immigrants as integral to the struggle for their own interests. This stands in counterposition to the COSATU leadership’s protectionist “buy South African” campaign. We fight to build a revolutionary workers party that acts as the tribune of the people, championing the rights of all the exploited and the oppressed—from immigrant workers and the unemployed to women and gays—against the common capitalist enemy. This is crucial in transforming the proletariat from being a class in itself to a class for itself—i.e., conscious of its historical task as the gravedigger of capitalism.
For Revolutionary Internationalism!
The liberation of the black and other non-white masses can never be achieved short of the overthrow of South African capitalism, a system based on white privilege and superexploited black labour. A black-centred workers government would seize the economy from the fabulously wealthy conglomerates that are the true masters of neo-apartheid capitalism. It would expropriate without compensation the industries, mines and banks—the complete antithesis of the late SACP leader Joe Slovo’s “sunset clauses” for the “democratic” transition, which guaranteed the privileges of the white population that owned everything while blacks owned nothing. The expropriation of the bourgeoisie would begin to lay the material foundations for social equality. But this perspective can only be fully realised through the extension of socialist revolution to the most advanced capitalist countries and the establishment of a collectivised, planned world economy.
Many militants in South Africa believe that a workers revolution would inevitably be crushed by the imperialists and write off the possibility that the workers in North America, Europe and Japan will ever overthrow their “own” capitalist rulers. No one would deny that the U.S. and other capitalist powers represent a formidable obstacle to proletarian revolutions. But the struggles of working people in the imperialist powers against the capitalist bosses—for example, the 2005 New York City transit strike in defiance of the law; last year’s French rail workers strike; this month’s public workers strikes in Germany—underline what we wrote in Part Four of “The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution” (WV No. 904, 7 December 2007):
“The imperialist countries are class-divided societies with deep discontents and insoluble contradictions, necessarily leading to class and other social struggles. In the course of sharp class struggle and through the instrumentality of a revolutionary party that patiently educates the working class in the understanding not only of its social power but of its historic interests, the workers will become conscious of themselves as a class fighting for itself and for all the oppressed against the capitalist order
“Our struggle to forge Leninist vanguard parties is based on the understanding that when such parties become rooted in the working class, this will reflect a qualitative change in the political consciousness of the proletariat.”
A proletarian revolution in South Africa would resonate powerfully among working people throughout the world, from Nigeria’s oil workers and the working masses of northern Africa to working people in Brazil, the U.S., Italy, Greece and elsewhere. Conversely, a successful proletarian seizure of state power in one of the imperialist countries would have enormous revolutionary repercussions in Asia, Africa and Latin America. All this underscores that the fight to build a Bolshevik workers party in South Africa must be waged as part of the struggle to reforge Trotsky’s Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.