Workers Vanguard No. 933

27 March 2009


ANC, C.O.P.E.: Two Faces of Neo-Apartheid Capitalism

South African Elections: No Choice for Workers, Poor

Break with the Tripartite Alliance!

For a Black-Centered Workers Government!

JOHANNESBURG, March 21—On April 22 national elections will be held for the fourth time in South Africa since the end of white-supremacist apartheid rule in 1994. That “political breakthrough,” which put the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) in power, did not bring about social and economic equality for the brutally oppressed black, coloured (mixed-race) and Indian masses. The rigid, legally enforced segregation and subjugation that defined apartheid are no more. But behind the “liberation” rhetoric of the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the reformist South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) bureaucracy, 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. Neo-apartheid has benefitted the white capitalists and the emerging black elite.

In the upcoming elections, Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League, declares that there is not a single party that represents the interests of the working class and the poor. Following the split in the ANC last year and the formation of the Congress of the People (C.O.P.E.) by supporters of former president Thabo Mbeki, the Tripartite Alliance partners have been working overtime to rally support for the ANC under the populist Jacob Zuma, who won election as ANC president over Mbeki at the 2007 Polokwane conference. In denouncing C.O.P.E. as an anti-working-class party, SACP/COSATU leaders point to the fact that its leaders split from the ANC to the right. In reality, despite the ANC’s “pro-worker” and “pro-poor” rhetoric, the ANC and C.O.P.E. are both bourgeois-nationalist—i.e., capitalist—parties. Both represent the interests of the aspiring black bourgeoisie and the predominantly white capitalist ruling class.

During the 1980s, there were huge confrontations between the apartheid regime and the oppressed masses, expressed particularly with a rising wave of militancy by black labour. 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). Especially through the SACP, the proletariat was politically subordinated to the bourgeois-nationalist ANC. When the ANC did consummate its aspirations to share power with the white ruling class in 1994, it was the logical outcome of its programme. Since then, the ANC/SACP/COSATU government, which until recently included the founders of C.O.P.E., has imposed austerity, broken strikes and presided over the deep poverty of the masses, helping to lead to a revival of capitalist profits.

As revolutionary Marxists, we give no electoral support to bourgeois parties as a matter of principle. Unlike the SACP’s reformist leadership, we do not tell the workers and impoverished masses that their demands for the basic necessities of life will be won through their leaders’ getting their hands on the “democratic” bourgeois state—on a national, provincial or municipal level. Paraphrasing Karl Marx, revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution (1917): “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament—this is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism.” Nor do we spread the illusion, common to the entire reformist left, that workers and the poor will achieve their demands through pressuring the Tripartite Alliance, a nationalist popular front that chains working-class organisations to the capitalist exploiters through the bourgeois ANC.

The SSA calls for workers and the poor to break from the Tripartite Alliance. We fight to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist party that will lead the struggle for socialist revolution. The neo-apartheid capitalist state must be smashed and replaced with a workers state that expropriates the banks, mines and factories and creates a planned economy where production is for social use, not private profit. We fight for a black-centred workers government. There can be no justice in South Africa until the non-white majority has power in a workers state that would unite the many black tribal- and language-based groups along with the coloured and Indian populations, with ample room and full democratic rights for those whites who would join in building a society based on genuine equality.

Tripartite Alliance Oversees Masses’ Misery

It is a measure of the hellish conditions of life in South Africa that some 1,000 people die of AIDS every day. The health care system is criminally neglected—a problem compounded by the enormity of ignorance promoted by government officials. Mbeki was infamous for denying that HIV causes AIDS. Zuma reinforced backward attitudes and ignorance about AIDS by stating during his 2006 rape trial that he took a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to prevent himself from becoming infected. 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 current government has verbally disassociated itself from Mbeki’s denialism. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people who need anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) lack access to or cannot afford them. For four months beginning last November, more than 15,000 people needing ARVs in Orange Free State were denied them because the province had run out of its supply, and many patients there are still waiting to receive them. We demand free ARVs for all HIV/AIDS patients as part of the struggle for free quality health care for all!

Meanwhile, starting in 2004 in Orange Free State, protests over the lack of “service delivery”—housing, electricity, basic sanitation, roads—have spread to virtually all the black townships in the country. On March 8, Zuma was confronted during his door-to-door campaign in a township in Mpumalanga province by angry residents. He sat motionless as Sthembile Nkosi, a single mother of one, told him she did not register to vote because nothing has changed in the past 15 years. “We are promised a better life, but we only see the better life on TV,” she scolded. Among the residents’ many grievances is the spread of disease due to lack of proper sanitation. With one toilet for every four families, and most of these blocked, people are forced to relieve themselves in the bush. While the recent cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has taken thousands of lives, many parts of South Africa have also been hit by cholera because they lack clean water supplies and working sanitation systems.

Such conditions can be seen throughout the desolate rural areas as well as in shacks and squatter camps in urban townships. People have been on waiting lists for government-provided houses as far back as 1996. Much of the coloured population—descended from a mixture of Malays brought to the Cape Colony as slaves, whites, indigenous Khoi and San peoples and others—lives in utter destitution in townships like Crossroads and Uitsig in the Western Cape. In and around Durban, where the Indian component of the proletariat is centred, a good number of Indians also live in shacks, sometimes right next to mansions.

The power of the trade unions, based on labour’s role in producing the wealth of society, must be wielded in defence of the township and rural masses, most of whom are unemployed or only marginally employed. In the absence of such a class-struggle fight, disillusionment and anger can take starkly reactionary forms, as seen in the pogromist anti-immigrant violence that took 62 lives last May. Responsibility for anti-immigrant violence must be placed squarely on the Tripartite Alliance government, which presides over the capitalist system that keeps the vast majority in wretched conditions and brutally oppresses immigrants.

On March 2, the government tore down the last camp in Gauteng province housing immigrants displaced by the pogroms. Cops beat and pepper-sprayed the refugees while the camp outside Pretoria was literally burned to the ground. Women and children slept outside after being refused entry into the Lindela Repatriation Centre, where immigrants are routinely humiliated and brutalised, as the only other choice the state gave them was to return to the townships where they might well be killed with impunity. At the same time, hundreds of Zimbabweans displaced by the closing of a refugee camp in Limpopo province headed to Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, already jam-packed with people who fled the May pogroms. Durban ANC ward councillor Vusi Khoza is facing charges of murder, assault and robbery after a January mob attack on foreign nationals claimed the lives of a Tanzanian and a Zimbabwean.

Adding fuel to these fires, COSATU leader Zwelinzima Vavi ranted at an ANC election rally in Sebokeng, near Johannesburg: “There is no country in the world where borders are as uncontrolled as here” (Daily Sun, 10 March). In an interview in the Sunday Independent (15 March), Vavi “explained” his statement by complaining that “the Fishmonger restaurant in Illovo [a Johannesburg suburb] employs 53 people, only seven of whom are South Africans.” Condemning “foreign” workers for “stealing jobs” is the common coin of trade-union bureaucrats throughout the capitalist world, often serving to incite reactionary violence. Vavi’s poisonous diatribes show the real face of the nationalism of the COSATU tops and their political patrons in the SACP, whatever their sermonising against “xenophobia.”

Proletarian militants must fight against any attempt to channel workers’ anger over poverty and unemployment into anti-immigrant racism and other devices—from tribalism to bigotry against women and gays—used by the capitalists to divide the working class and weaken its struggles. This is especially crucial as tens of thousands lose their jobs in mining and manufacturing due to the world economic crisis, adding to an unemployment rate already over 40 per cent. As we did last May, Spartacist South Africa raises the demands: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! (see “South Africa: Mobilize Trade Unions Against Anti-Immigrant Terror!” WV No. 915, 23 May 2008). The courts have granted the right to vote to expatriates, many of them whites who left South Africa after the ANC’s rise to power. We say that immigrants and refugees who live in South Africa must get the vote.

Deepening social inequality and enduring tribal/ethnic divisions and white privilege give the lie to the “nation-building” myth propounded by the SACP tops. Socialist revolution will be the supreme act of national liberation for the oppressed majority of this country. We do not accept as sacrosanct the borders drawn by the colonialists. Our call is for a socialist federation of southern Africa, which will lay the basis for overcoming the region’s national and ethnic divisions that are the legacy of colonial and apartheid rule. Immigrant workers will play a crucial role in carrying out this revolutionary perspective.

This programme is based on the theory of permanent revolution developed by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the Russian October Revolution of 1917. As Trotsky explained in regard to countries of belated capitalist development, the tasks of social and economic modernisation as well as national liberation can be achieved only through the seizure of power by the proletariat. The necessary precondition for revolutionary struggle is the complete political independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. There is no wall separating the democratic and socialist tasks of the revolution. Rather, the working class in power would be faced with the socialist reconstruction of society.

Key to the defence of such a revolution from capitalist counterrevolutionary attacks will be its international extension to especially the imperialist centres of West Europe, Japan and North America, the only road to achieving a world socialist order based on material abundance. 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 as we wrote in the April 2008 ICL pamphlet, The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution:

“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.”

The Economic Crisis and the Elections

Despite all the evidence of disaffection with the ANC, it is likely that it will win the elections with a healthy majority. The ANC’s bourgeois opponents are currently up in arms over press reports that the National Prosecuting Authority will drop corruption charges against Zuma, who in any case is due to become president after April 22.

The enduring mass support for the ANC testifies above all to the treachery of the SACP and COSATU misleaders in tying the powerful proletariat to this bourgeois party, which they falsely portray as the embodiment of national liberation. The SACP packages its class-collaborationist alliance with the ANC as the “national democratic revolution”—the South African variant of the “two-stage revolution” doctrine that the party inherited from the degenerating Communist International under Stalin and Bukharin in the late 1920s. The SACP is what Lenin called a bourgeois workers party: a party with a working-class base and a thoroughly pro-capitalist leadership and programme. Key to building a Leninist vanguard party will be splitting revolutionary-minded SACP members from their reformist tops.

Following Zuma’s election as ANC president, the SACP/COSATU tops declared that their role in the “reconfigured” Alliance would be to ensure that workers’ interests are met. But as we wrote following Mbeki’s removal as South African president, “The victory that SACP spokesmen have claimed with Mbeki’s ouster may come at a high price, as the current ANC/SACP/COSATU leadership will now be viewed as more directly responsible for the privations of workers and the poor…. With the capitalist world entering into recession, the government will come under pressure to cut expenditures on social programmes, not expand them” (“ANC Palace Coup Rattles South Africa,” WV No. 922, 10 October 2008).

Now the world economic recession is clobbering South Africa, whose economy is based on the export of mining products and other commodities. Anthony Butler noted in Business Day (9 March): “The hope aroused by Jacob Zuma’s elevation to the highest office in the land—and the now plainly unrealisable promises the African National Congress (ANC) has made along the way—will shortly collide with rising unemployment, deepening poverty and the end of food security.” Butler warned, “The default mechanism of social control—state coercion—is likely quickly to come into play.”

The ANC has already toned down its promises of greater benefits, and the SACP/COSATU bureaucrats will say that their hands are tied because of the economic meltdown. Zuma is talking about the need for workers to make “sacrifices,” including donating a day’s pay to a fund to mitigate the effects of retrenchments (layoffs). Meanwhile, hand in hand with their role in the capitalist government, the SACP reformists participate in NEDLAC (National Economic, Development and Labour Council) and other commissions of government, labour and capitalists, where they are haggling over just how many workers should lose their jobs.

During the 1930s Great Depression, the 1938 Transitional Programme, written by Trotsky as the founding document of the Fourth International, answered demands that workers pay for the capitalist crisis. The document raised such demands as a shorter workweek at no loss in pay to provide jobs for all and a sliding scale of wages to keep pace with inflation, declaring: “If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish.”

The global crisis underlines the unity of class interests of the international proletariat. The nationalism and class collaborationism of the SACP/COSATU bureaucrats are counterposed to those interests. While occasionally giving verbal support to workers’ struggles in other countries, the SACP/COSATU misleaders promote nationalist protectionism, based on the lie that South Africa’s capitalist exploiters and their wage slaves have common “national interests.” “Buy local” protectionism sets up foreign workers as scapegoats for capitalist crises and helps foment anti-immigrant violence.

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande is now calling for tougher trade policies, denouncing in particular the amount of Chinese exports to South Africa (Business Day, 2 March). Here Nzimande is joining the labour traitors in the U.S. and other capitalist countries who wield protectionist poison against the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state. The ICL stands for the unconditional military defence of China against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, we call for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy and create a regime of workers democracy dedicated to the fight for world socialist revolution.

Workers are increasingly angry about their leaders using the unions as stepping stones to build credentials for careers in Parliament and business. COSATU’s Vavi has made a big deal about declining his nomination to be on the ANC’s parliamentary election list. Out of the initial list of 12 COSATU officials, only four remain on the slate. This simply represents a division of labour in the Tripartite Alliance. The SACP, which currently accounts for some 20 per cent of the ANC’s parliamentarians, is well-placed on the new slate. While retaining a few posts on the list, the COSATU hierarchy puts up a pretence of “independence” in order to obscure its role as a crucial prop of the popular-front capitalist government.

One of C.O.P.E.’s main spokesmen, Willie Madisha, has announced plans to split workers from COSATU and form a new union federation supposedly “independent” of political parties. In 2008 Madisha was ousted from the COSATU presidency and the SACP Central Committee. His call for an “independent labour movement” is laughable coming from a prominent C.O.P.E. leader. He is not fundamentally different from the pro-capitalist bureaucrats who sit atop COSATU, NACTU and the other union federations, most of which are defined by their direct ties to different bourgeois political parties. For example, NACTU was developed mainly by the Pan-Africanist Congress and adherents of the Black Consciousness Movement as a more nationalist alternative to COSATU.

We oppose the concept of political unions, which divide workers at the point of production along party lines, leading to scabbing on each others’ strikes. Thus we oppose COSATU’s purging of officials belonging to organisations that oppose the ANC, as has been happening in the SADTU teachers union (Madisha’s former base). We stand for industrial unions, where all workers in a company or industry, irrespective of craft, political affiliation or race, belong to one union. This creates conditions for the maximum unity of the working class in its economic struggles against the bosses. We also oppose the syndicalist notion that unions can be “independent” of politics. There must be a fight for a new, class-struggle labour leadership that supports the building of a revolutionary workers party.

Left Tails of Bourgeois Nationalism

As Marxists, we proceed from the standpoint that the proletariat and its organisations must be independent of the parties and state agencies of the capitalist class. We are opposed to the executive offices of the capitalist state, from president to provincial premier to mayor. The ICL opposes Marxists running for those offices on principle (see “Marxist Principles and Electoral Tactics,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009). Standing for executive positions carries the implication that one is ready to accept responsibility for the administration of the machinery of the capitalist state. However, communist deputies can, as oppositionists to the bourgeois government, serve in parliaments and other legislative bodies as revolutionary tribunes of the working class. This stands in sharp contrast to the SACP, which runs for parliament under the name of the ANC in order to administer the South African capitalist state. A slightly different version of this reformist programme is offered by some SACP dissidents who want the SACP to run for office in its own name as part of the Alliance, with the same aim of getting their hands on the bourgeois state apparatus.

Several leftist groups that had announced their intention to contest the April elections were excluded because they could not raise the exorbitant deposit set by Parliament, amounting to more than R500,000 (over $50,000), for parties contesting national and provincial elections. Despite fundamental programmatic differences, we agree with the Workers International Vanguard League (WIVL) and others in opposing such anti-democratic measures, which virtually guarantee the exclusion of small working-class parties.

Prior to its exclusion from the ballot, WIVL published an election manifesto that claimed to combat illusions in Parliament and characterised the government as a popular front, calling for a break with the Tripartite Alliance. But WIVL’s reformist programme reinforces the political chains binding workers to the bourgeoisie. Incredibly, the manifesto avoids any mention of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; it does not denounce homophobia or the tribalist, patriarchal practices of lobola (bride price) and polygamy, or even raise the elementary call for free abortion on demand. Nor does the manifesto call to stop the deportation of immigrants, instead regurgitating the kind of insipid calls to fight discrimination that are the stock in trade of the nationalist popular front.

In 1998, WIVL supporter Abraham Agulhas led the breakaway union OCGAWU as it sued the Chemical Workers Industrial Union in the courts of the capitalist class enemy. Inviting the courts to intervene in the unions’ internal affairs serves only to shackle labour’s power and to place the unions further under the thumb of the capitalist state. Labour must clean its own house! (For a substantial account of our differences with WIVL, including its opposition to our call for a black-centred workers government, see our July 1998 pamphlet, “A Reply to the Workers International Vanguard League,” Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacists No. 1.)

In supporting the 2006 national security guards strike, WIVL helped reinforce widespread illusions among workers that cops and security guards in the “new” South Africa are “comrades,” unlike those under racist apartheid. This is a stark expression of the predominant false consciousness of nationalism, which is the glue holding the Tripartite Alliance together and the biggest obstacle to winning advanced workers to a Marxist worldview. 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. The truth is that just as under apartheid, cops and security guards, who are auxiliaries to the police, today act as guard dogs of capitalist property and profits, breaking strikes and firing rubber bullets at township and student protests.

The SSA is unique on the left in demanding: Cops, security guards out of the unions! In the current elections, the SACP’s “Vote ANC!” manifesto calls to “build street, village and block committees to fight crime” and to “strengthen and support community policing forums” (CPF), which has been SACP policy for some time. We oppose such structures, which act as auxiliaries to the murderous cops and encourage vigilantism. CPF members reportedly were ringleaders of the January anti-immigrant pogrom in Durban. According to the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), twice in the last nine months, activists in Sebokeng have been killed by CPF members or cops. One victim was an APF member.

The labour movement must defend those who come under attack for engaging in protest actions, such as the “Kliptown Five” activists, including a leader of WIVL, who were recently sentenced on phony charges of “public violence” stemming from a September 2007 APF housing protest in Soweto (see box above). Despite the fact that APF protests have repeatedly been attacked by cops, the APF hailed a strike by Johannesburg municipal cops, the paid thugs of the bourgeoisie.

In 1995, while everyone else on the left was celebrating the dawn of the “new South Africa,” we warned: “The ANC-led nationalist movement cannot achieve any semblance of ‘liberation’ for the nonwhite masses since it is committed to maintaining South African capitalism, which has always been based on the brutal exploitation of the black toilers” (see “South Africa Powder Keg,” Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12, February 1995). Unlike the reformist Keep Left!, part of the International Socialist Tendency of the late Tony Cliff, and Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), part of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, we have always opposed giving electoral or any other form of political support to the ANC. In 1994 the ICL gave critical support to the Workers List Party, which, despite a reformist programme that did not even criticise the ANC, drew a crude class line with its independent campaign.

The DSM, which was buried inside the ANC for nearly two decades, left this bourgeois party only in 1996. The Cliffites voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999. Now, following the split by Terror Lekota and other ANC leaders who went on to form C.O.P.E., Keep Left! leaders Alan Goatley and Claire Ceruti have all but explicitly called for a vote to the ANC in Socialism from Below (November 2008), painting a “class line between the Lekota ANC and the Zuma ANC” and declaring, “Boycotting is not an option with this choice.”

Like the DSM and WIVL, Keep Left! acts as a pressure group on the Alliance through the APF and other single-issue groups which sow the illusion that this bourgeois government can be pressured to serve the interests of the poor. Combating such illusions is crucial to forging a workers party of the Bolshevik type, one that would act, in Lenin’s words, as a tribune of the people by mobilising the enormous power of the South African proletariat on behalf of all the poor and oppressed. The SSA dedicates its efforts to this task as part of the ICL’s struggle to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.