Spartacist South Africa No. 11
Elections 2014: Twenty Years of Neo-Apartheid Misery
For Proletarian Independence From ANC, EFF and ALL Bourgeois Parties!
Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Vanguard Party!
The May general elections brought to mind Karl Marx’s observation that the essence of bourgeois democracy is for the oppressed to decide every few years “which particular representative of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament” (V. I. Lenin, State and Revolution). The ANC tops wasted no time making clear that they would use their victory at the polls to kick the workers and oppressed even harder in the teeth. Jacob Zuma declared the party’s 62 percent majority a “green light” to push ahead with the neo-liberal attacks outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP), while secretary general Gwede Mantashe and other ANC leaders promptly convened a press conference to solemnly vow that they would “quickly restore investor confidence” (Business Day, 12 May).
Just a few days later, police reinforcements rolled in to the platinum belt and the army was put on standby, in an effort to squash the mineworkers strike being led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Despite all the bourgeois hype about “twenty years of freedom”, “the South African miracle”, etc., the platinum strike—where the mineworkers are fighting a literally life-and-death struggle for a living wage of R12 500—is a reminder of how little has changed. The apartheid system of rigid, legally enforced white minority rule may be gone, but South Africa remains a racist hellhole where the vast majority of blacks remain at the bottom, brutally oppressed and exploited for the benefit of the filthy rich capitalist rulers, who are still mainly white.
One difference is that now the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners from the SACP and COSATU bureaucracies have taken over as the enforcers of racist capitalist rule. Their bloodiest crime to date in this role was the August 2012 massacre of 34 black mineworkers in Marikana, who were on strike against the London-listed platinum giant Lonmin. At the time, there was a lot of hypocritical hand-wringing from the bourgeois media, government ministers, preachers and the like. To placate public outrage over the killings and refurbish the image of the bloody bourgeois state, President Jacob Zuma appointed the Farlam Commission of Inquiry to hold public hearings investigating the causes that led to the Marikana massacre. But now the blood has dried, and even the most minimal, lying pretext of state “accountability” is being discarded. A few weeks after the May 2014 elections, the government announced that it was changing the commission’s “terms of reference” … to remove any investigation into its own responsibility!
At the same time, more details have emerged of the direct involvement of all levels of the executive of the bourgeois state in preparing the Marikana massacre, as well as their collusion with the Lonmin bosses. One report gives further details of the role played by former National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a member of the Lonmin board of directors at the time. In e-mails to Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson, Ramaphosa reported on 15 August 2012 about the appeals he had made to mining minister Susan Shabangu and police minister Nathi Mthethwa for government intervention against the wildcat strike. One outcome was that a meeting of Zuma’s cabinet was held the same day, where Ramaphosa had urged Shabangu to brief the president and “get [Mthethwa] to act in a more pointed way” (“Deja vu and dirty tricks at Lonmin”, 25 May, bdlive.co.za). Less than twenty-four hours later, the Lonmin strikers were gunned down in cold blood by Zuma’s and Mthethwa’s cop thugs. Several months later, Ramaphosa was rewarded by the bourgeois ANC when he was elected deputy president of the party at its December 2012 congress in Mangaung; after the 2014 elections, he was also made deputy president of the country.
Such is the role of the executive of the capitalist state, which, as Marx and Engels pointed out over 160 years ago, “is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (The Communist Manifesto, 1848). This is never going to be changed through elections or parliament. It will take a thoroughgoing socialist revolution, smashing the repressive machinery of the capitalist state and replacing it with the dictatorship of the proletariat, to get a government that will represent the interests of the working class and the vast majority who are today oppressed—a black-centred workers government.
We Trotskyists of Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), oppose running as candidates for executive offices of the capitalist state (president, mayor, etc.) as a matter of principle. Participating in elections to parliament, on the other hand, can serve as a platform for putting forward a revolutionary programme and helping the working class to overcome illusions in bourgeois democracy. However, in the recent elections there was no basis for even the most critical electoral support to any of the parties running, as none of them even remotely represented the interests of the working class. This continues our principled stance of never giving an ounce of political support to the ANC or the Tripartite Alliance, including in the 1994 elections, when the International Communist League declared:
“A vote for the ANC—including its Communist Party members and affiliated trade-union leaders of COSATU—is a vote to perpetuate the racist oppression and superexploitation of the black, coloured (mixed-race) and Indian toilers in a different political form. The workers and all the oppressed must be mobilized independently of the capitalist masters.”
—“South Africa Elections: ANC’s Deal with Apartheid Bosses”, Workers Vanguard No. 598, 15 April 1994
No Choice for Workers, Oppressed
There was not much surprising about the outcome of this year’s elections. While the ANC’s share of the vote continued to decline (as did the overall voter turnout), they still won the kind of majority that bourgeois ruling parties in most countries only dream about. Despite the massive anger at the base of society over the failure to deliver the “better life for all” that was promised in 1994, the atrocities, scandals, corruption and contempt the Tripartite Alliance tops display for the poor, much of the black majority still feels a strong identification with the “party of liberation”, at least when it comes time to vote. There are also still widespread illusions in bourgeois electoralism, as a result of centuries of white minority rule and black disenfranchisement. And there does not appear to be a viable alternative to the ANC.
The lack of an alternative for the oppressed was starkly revealed by the decision of the shack-dweller’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) to support the neo-liberal, racist Democratic Alliance (DA) in this year’s elections. AbM justified this by arguing that it would somehow serve to protect its members from the ANC and the government, which has viciously repressed them, including killing landless activists during protests. The idea that politically supporting the DA is an answer to this repression is truly perverse and a sign of desperation. For years now, the DA has carried out some of the most vicious, racist repression of the black and coloured poor—squatters, panhandlers, farmworkers, striking municipal workers—as the ruling party in Cape Town and the Western Cape (see page 10). Despite trying to polish its image and woo petty-bourgeois black voters, it is still obvious to most that the DA stands for white privilege (as does, the ANC, in fact; the ANC is simply more effective at disguising this fact with nationalism). The DA was unable to gain more than 6% of the votes from black people, even while increasing its overall total to more than 20%.
The opposition party much more likely to attract the support of the oppressed, including sections of the working class, is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which got a little more than 6% of the national vote. According to one report, the ANC’s vote in Rustenburg municipality, where many platinum miners and their families live, fell from almost 75% in 2009 to 57% in 2014. The EFF was the main beneficiary, getting 20% of the vote (“Is the EFF the calm before a real leftist storm?”, Mail & Guardian online, 16 May). There are real illusions in the bourgeois populist EFF, and particularly its “commander in chief” Julius Malema, among mineworkers. The EFF has tried to present itself as the “friend” of the striking mineworkers, including holding its launch as a party in Marikana and recently making two donations, of R50 000 each, to the AMCU strike fund. The leadership of the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU), to which AMCU is affiliated, has helped promote these illusions, endorsing the EFF along with the Pan-Africanist Congress in the elections.
But the EFF’s posture as a “friend” of the workers, like its occasional use of “Marxist-Leninist” verbiage, is totally phony. While seeking to profit from the legitimate anger of black workers through populist demagogy, the EFF is a bourgeois formation both in terms of its programme and social composition. It is fundamentally hostile to the workers movement.
The EFF calls to expropriate the white-owned land and nationalise the mines, banks and other large enterprises—calls that clearly resonate with workers and the poor. But a few months before the elections, Malema and other EFF leaders met with representatives of American, British and South African investors in Alexandra township to specifically reassure them about these demands. As Malema explained after the meeting: “Our elections manifesto came up and we told them that we are not talking about wholesale takeover but 60% of ownership more or less. We are uncompromising on state ownership and participation. The percentages we are prepared to discuss when we reach the appropriate point” (bdlive.co.za, 4 March). This would simply mean that the bourgeois state becomes a partner in directly exploiting the workers.
The EFF’s perspective is to emulate capitalist regimes like those in Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, where they see “state-aided industrialisation”, supported by tariffs and other measures to protect national industry, as key parts of developing a national bourgeoisie with some degree of independence from imperialism. Whether or not there is any chance of replicating such capitalist economic policies in South Africa, it is a fundamentally anti-working-class agenda. To take just one of these “models”, the capitalist regime in South Korea is known for regularly and viciously attacking the trade unions and leftists. This is the domestic counterpart to its counter-revolutionary alliance with U.S. imperialism against the North Korean deformed workers state. As for “nationalisation” and “state-aided industrialisation”, in December 2013 the Seoul regime pulled out all the stops to smash the longest rail strike in the country’s history, which 8700 workers had launched to stop a move towards privatisation of the state-owned company KORAIL (see “Defend South Korean Rail Union!”, Workers Vanguard No. 1037, 10 January).
Counterposed to bourgeois “nationalisation” schemes, we fight for a black-centered workers government that will expropriate the mines, banks and industry without compensation. Seizing the mine shafts, machinery and mountains of finance capital that the mining bosses have heaped up through more than a century of superexploitation of mainly black labour will be a necessary step in liberation from neo-apartheid capitalist oppression. The fact that most of this capital—not to mention the owners of the biggest mining companies—is now in London, New York and other banking centres, underscores the need to link this struggle to the fight for workers power in the imperialist countries. The populist nationalism pushed by the EFF is an obstacle to this revolutionary internationalist perspective.
Grumbles of Discontent From The Bourgeoisie
The ANC and Tripartite Alliance tops have performed invaluable services for the Randlords and their imperialist big brothers by achieving some relative stability for South African capitalism in the 1990s, ramming through the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, and many other things. But although the ANC continues to enjoy the backing of the key sections of the bourgeoisie (and most likely a large majority of the capitalist’s political donations, which are kept secret), the racist rulers still find plenty to complain about.
A pre-election editorial by The Economist is representative of these complaints. While acknowledging all the ANC has done for the white rulers—especially the “miraculously smooth” transition from apartheid to neo-apartheid—this mouthpiece of imperialist finance capital complains that not enough has been done to push through “tricky reforms” (code for attacks on labour, such as making it easier for bosses to hire and fire workers, cracking down harder on strikes, etc.) and that pervasive corruption is undermining the government’s legitimacy and cutting into capitalist profits. Since they know that their ideal ruling party, the DA, is not a realistic alternative until it can make some inroads with black voters, their hope in conclusion is that the ANC “reinvents itself or splits” (“Time to ditch Mandela’s party”, The Economist, 3 May).
At bottom, the bourgeois complaints are not simply, or even primarily, about issues of economic policy. More worrying to the capitalist rulers are the rising levels of social unrest, especially some of the highest levels of strike activity seen in decades in mining and other key sectors of the economy. With the world economy still in a downturn, South Africa appears to be entering a recession after negative growth in the first quarter of 2014. Calls for “decisive action” to break the AMCU-led platinum strike (the longest strike in the history of the country) were growing louder by the day, as well as more generally calls to “discipline” the unions.
For twenty years, the Tripartite Alliance nationalist popular front has been the key mechanism for administering neo-apartheid capitalism. As representatives of the Alliance, the reformist leaders of the largest working-class organisations—the SACP and COSATU—act to discipline their working-class base on behalf of the bourgeoisie, and in return the reformist bureaucracy benefitted materially from a cosy relationship with the government and bosses. But increasingly, the governing needs of the bourgeoisie are shifting in favour of outright repression rather than co-optation of the trade unions. Especially since the 2012 wave of wildcat strikes in the mines and the collapse of NUM in the platinum belt, key representatives of the bourgeoisie are doubtful of the reformist tops’ continued ability to rein in worker militancy, and believe the time has come for the state to take a more confrontational approach with the unions.
Some bourgeois commentators see the impetus for such a shift coming from the split that the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is threatening to lead from the Tripartite Alliance. For example, Peter Attard Montalto of the Japanese financial group Nomura dismissed what he called the “Sandton consensus”—the view that the ANC would respond to such a split with more “left” populism. Instead, Montalto argues, “There is a higher probability of the rump of the ANC left after a workers’ party emerges moving further to the right, securing capital and ownership in a more traditional free-market sense, liberalising labour laws in recognition that its past job creation efforts were unsuccessful. You could potentially have a more investor-friendly ANC going into 2019” (Mail & Guardian online, 9 May).
Whether the various scenarios churned out by the bourgeois think tanks turn out to be more or less accurate, one thing is clear: the bourgeoisie is getting ready for a turbulent period ahead. It is urgently necessary for the working class to prepare for this, which is primarily a political question that requires drawing the lessons from the past betrayals at the hands of the Tripartite Alliance as well as the history of the international class struggle. Chief among these lessons is the need for the complete political and organisational independence of the working class from all bourgeois forces. The looming possibility of a NUMSA-led split from the Tripartite Alliance sharply poses the question of working class independence versus “new” popular front betrayals.
The “NUMSA Moment”: Recycling Popular Frontism
In December 2013, a NUMSA special congress decided to withdraw support for the ANC in the elections, and also to call on COSATU to leave the Tripartite Alliance. After the elections, the NUMSA central committee re-affirmed that it would take the lead in establishing a “United Front” as an alternative to the Alliance, and look into establishing a “Movement for Socialism” as some kind of political party to take the place of the SACP. These moves have enraged the ANC tops and their close allies in the COSATU bureaucracy on the one hand, while at the same time raising the hopes of a lot of worker militants at the base of COSATU.
Ending the Alliance with the ANC would certainly be a necessary and important step toward working-class independence. But on its own, simply leaving the Alliance is not enough as it merely raises the question of what will replace it. And while there are certainly hopes among the NUMSA base for a militant workers party, the programme of the leadership is directly counterposed to a class-struggle perspective and committed to perpetuating the same treacherous, class-collaborationist policies of the past under different labels.
The NUMSA tops are very clear that they don’t reject collaboration with bourgeois parties and participation in bourgeois government coalitions as a matter of principle (indeed, while withdrawing support from the ANC in this year’s elections, they stopped short of opposing a vote to this bourgeois party on the basis of class principles). What they are calling a “United Front” is in fact a call for a new popular front—an alliance of working class organisations with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces on the basis of a common programme that is inevitably bourgeois. In NUMSA’s case, the new “United Front” is to be modeled on the United Democratic Front (UDF) of the 1980s and based centrally on the Freedom Charter. The NUMSA bureaucrats have made it clear that they are open to discussions with Malema’s EFF, including assuring that these bourgeois populist demagogues would be invited to participate in a “Socialism Conference” they are planning.
The Freedom Charter is a bourgeois populist programme premised on maintaining capitalism and seeking merely to make possible “the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class” (“In Our Lifetime” by Nelson Mandela, 1956). The UDF was the popular front of the 1980s through which the militant, pro-socialist black working-class base of COSATU and the SACP were shackled to bourgeois nationalism and subordinated to the ANC. The outcome of this popular front—which the NUMSA tops hope to re-create—is precisely the neo-apartheid capitalist system we have today, a cruel betrayal of the black masses’ aspirations for freedom.
The NUMSA tops’ class collaboration was also seen in their use of the bourgeois courts against their COSATU rivals to get Zwelinzima Vavi reinstated as COSATU general secretary. This unprincipled maneuvering further encourages direct intervention by the bourgeois state and bourgeois parties, which can only help to further the trade unions’ subordination to the capitalist exploiters. Immediately after Vavi’s re-instatement, this opening was used by the ANC, which sent in a task team headed by Cyril Ramaphosa to force the warring factions to toe the line and call a truce for the elections. As part of this deal, Vavi went out on the campaign trail on May Day to herd the workers as voting cattle for the ANC.
Their maneuvering on behalf of Vavi may very well have backfired for the NUMSA tops. Once he was back in office and hopeful of renewed offers of influence within the ANC, Vavi decided he no longer needed their backing or that of the other eight COSATU affiliates that took his case to court, and announced that he would not support their new court case to force COSATU president S’dumo Dlamini to call a special congress. This was after he had rejected NUMSA’s call that he refrain from campaigning for the ANC. According to some reports, Vavi also spurned appeals from NUMSA to become the leader of the new “workers party” they hope to launch.
Besides assisting the bourgeoisie and its courts to keep the unions under their thumb, all this unprincipled maneuvering only serves to demoralise those sections of the working class that are looking for alternatives to the Alliance, and breed cynicism. What’s needed instead is a principled political fight to cohere a class-struggle opposition to the sell-out tops in both factions of the COSATU bureaucracy. A key demand for this struggle is the complete independence of the trade unions from the bourgeois state.
The various groups that make up the pseudo-socialist left are all tailing the NUMSA bureaucracy. With varying degrees of criticism, they all hail the “NUMSA Moment”—the name coined for the NUMSA tops’ efforts to create a “new” popular front on the basis of the Freedom Charter and launch a reformist workers party to replace the SACP. This is not surprising, since most of these pseudo-socialist groups had previously supported the ANC and Tripartite Alliance as long as they were still relatively popular. After turning away from open support for the Alliance in recent years, they turned to forming various “movements” on the basis of lowest-common-denominator politics. What all of these lash-ups inevitably had in common was the aim to pressurise the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance government.
A good example is the Democratic Socialist Movement, section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which last year launched the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) as a supposed step toward a “mass” (reformist) workers party—and above all to contest the 2014 elections. In their year-long election campaign, WASP made a series of desperate attempts to chase after “the masses” through opportunist, unprincipled maneuvers. First they approached Malema’s EFF for an election bloc; then they pleaded pathetically for the NUMSA tops to “lead us”, including supporting their use of the bourgeois courts; they tried to curry favour with dissident AMCU shop stewards by holding a strike-breaking press conference to counsel against the strike on the eve of the strike (see article, p. 10); finally, they announced Moses Mayekiso—a former NUMSA leader, who more recently tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to make a career as a bourgeois politician with the right-wing ANC split COPE—as their presidential candidate. In the end, all these opportunist crimes didn’t pay too well: WASP managed only about 8300 votes, or 0.05% of the total, in the national elections.
Programme for Black Proletarian Power
With key sections of the working class questioning their continued political loyalty to the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance, and the ongoing militant class struggles in the mines, there are important openings for the forging of a revolutionary vanguard party. But this outcome is not guaranteed, and trade union militancy alone will not be enough. To prevent that militancy from being channeled into another dead-end of class collaboration or bourgeois populism, the decisive question is programme. The working class needs a programme that reflects its independent class interests and leading, revolutionary role. Not just a programme to struggle for better wages and working conditions from the capitalists, but a programme to seize power from the capitalists and run the economy in the interests of the majority.
The NUMSA tops’ programme is clear: they hope for a return to the days of the Congress Alliance before the end of apartheid, to the ANC of Mandela and Tambo and the SACP of Chris Hani and Joe Slovo. These are some of the key architects of the neo-apartheid order, including Slovo’s “sunset clauses” for continuing white priveleges. At the core of NUMSA’s “new” proposals today is a desire to return to the supposedly “revolutionary” programme of Stalinist “two-stage revolution”, which in South Africa has always gone by the name “national democratic revolution”. This was spelled out explicitly in a recent statement by NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim: “Our call for a United Front of the working class and a Movement for Socialism is precisely a defence of the national democratic programme, the Freedom Charter, which remains the only programme that is capable of laying the basis for socialist transformation of South African society” (numsa.org.za, 20 May).
The “national democratic programme” of political alliance with bourgeois-nationalist forces has never laid the basis for socialism; it has always subordinated the working class to the class enemy and laid the basis for reaction. This is the lesson to be learned from long history of bloody defeats for the working class. From the slaughter of tens of thousands of communists and workers in Shanghai in 1927 at the hands of former “ally” Chiang Kai-shek, to the Marikana massacre in 2012—the “second stage” is always the bourgeois nationalists turning on and slaughtering workers and communists once they have used them to climb to power.
South Africa today is living proof that national liberation and the other gains that were promised to the masses by the “national democratic revolution” cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. They can only be achieved through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which will inescapably place on the order of the day not only democratic but also socialist tasks, and will at the same time provide a mighty impulse to the international socialist revolution. To prevail against imperialist hostility and open the way for an all-sided economic and social development in Southern Africa and the rest of the continent, requires the extension of the revolution to the imperialist centres and establishment of an international, planned socialist economy. This is the essence of Leon Trotsky’s perspective of permanent revolution, which was powerfully confirmed by the 1917 Russian October Revolution.
The SACP leaders are rightly reviled by many militant workers today—including members of the SACP itself—for their craven support to the ANC tops and Zuma in particular. But it is not enough to simply reject the SACP tops’ current policies. It is crucial for advanced workers to also learn to consciously reject the SACP’s reformist programme (including what is today peddled by Irvin Jim and the NUMSA bureaucracy) in favour of the genuine communism practiced by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky—the revolutionary internationalist programme that was trampled under-foot by the Stalinists and replaced by its opposite. Conditions in South Africa today are crying out for the formation of a party of the Bolshevik type—an uncompromising party based on the independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie, fighting for proletarian leadership of the toiling masses, and acting as a revolutionary tribune of the people to oppose every manifestation of capitalist oppression.
This is the kind of party that Spartacist/South Africa is trying to build. We have consistently opposed, on principle, any political support to the ANC or any other bourgeois parties and from the beginning denounced the post-1994 neo-apartheid system, administered by the Tripartite Alliance government, as a betrayal of the struggle for black freedom. Today, it is necessary to assimilate the lessons of these bitter betrayals as a necessary part of the work of building the revolutionary vanguard party needed to get rid of this racist system of capitalist exploitation. Toward that end, we raise the following:
1. Break with the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance! For political independence of the proletariat from all bourgeois parties—ANC, EFF, PAC, AZAPO, DA, Agang, etc.
2. No reliance on the state that massacred the Marikana strikers. Cops and security guards out of the unions! The capitalist courts have no place in disputes of the workers movement. Labour must clean its own house!
3. Down with labour brokers! The unions must fight for full, permanent jobs for all contract and temporary workers and for equal pay for equal work. Organise the unorganised!
4. For integrated, multi-ethnic defence guards based on the trade unions to fight against anti-immigrant attacks and defend working-class communities against vigilantism. Labour must fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and oppose deportations.
5. Down with the Traditional Courts Bill and all special powers and privileges of the chieftancy! These are particularly oppressive to black women, who are triply oppressed under neo-apartheid. For access to free, safe abortion and birth control on demand, as part of free, high-quality health care for all. Oppose oppressive, backward traditional practices like polygamy, lobola and ukuthwala.
6. For a massive public works programme, at union wages and conditions, to maintain and expand roads, build hospitals, schools, housing, etc. For free, quality health care for all! For free education, open admissions, and a state-paid living stipend through to the university level! Smash “e-tolls”—for free, safe, mass public transport!
7. For a 30-hour workweek with no loss in pay to distribute the available jobs among all who need work and combat unemployment at the expense of the capitalists. For massive wage increases to close the apartheid wage gap, and a sliding scale of wages to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of living. For a class-struggle leadership in the unions!
8. New October Revolutions—not the Freedom Charter—are the only way forward to national liberation of the black majority. For a black-centred workers government, part of a socialist federation of Southern Africa, that fights for international workers rule and an international planned socialist economy. Expropriate the bourgeoisie—from Jo’burg, to London, to Wall Street!
9. Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party as a section of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.