Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Spartacist South Africa

View archives

Printable version of this article

Spartacist South Africa No. 8

Winter 2012

Malema’s Populist Mystique and the ANC Succession Battle

Break With the Bourgeois Tripartite Alliance!

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party to Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government!

In late February, at the tail-end of a bitter, month-long wildcat strike by mineworkers at Impala Platinum (Implats) in Rustenburg (see article, p. 15), tens of thousands waited in the blistering late-summer sun to hear Julius Malema speak. The arrival of Malema and his entourage in a convoy of BMWs and Range Rovers was greeted with cheers of “Juju! Juju! Juju!” from the crowd of workers and others from the impoverished Freedom Park township. One striking worker expressed the illusions many have in Malema: “This guy knows the story—he isn't afraid to tell the truth... I believe he will help us. Because he cares.” Malema played to the crowd’s deep-seated hatred of the blood-sucking Implats bosses, declaring, “These are our mines and we must fight until we benefit from these mines.”

But the real point of Malema’s visit to the Rustenburg mineworkers was shown by his appeal to them to submit to the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) bureaucrats who had stabbed them in the back, stay loyal to the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) and the ruling Tripartite Alliance, and get back to work: “Workers must be prepared to negotiate and the employer must also talk. It’s give and take, comrades—you can’t demand and do nothing.” Indeed, later that day an ANC-brokered meeting between strike leaders, NUM officials, and Implats management sealed the end of the strike without the workers’ central demands being met.

A week later, similar scenes played out at a rally in Johannesburg for the 7 March Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general strike protesting against labour broking and the introduction of highway tolls. After the COSATU leaders conceded to the workers’ demands to hear Malema, he appeared and told them, “You are the ANC as am I. We will die the ANC!” Malema was the most popular speaker at this trade union rally, overshadowing COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Malema’s appearance on 7 March also highlighted the fractures within the largest trade union federation, with COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini complaining bitterly about Malema receiving a platform to address the general strike. (Dlamini is a close ally of Jacob Zuma, who Malema has been campaigning to remove as president of the ANC and the country.) The COSATU bureaucracy, as a component part of the ruling bourgeois Tripartite Alliance together with the ANC and the reformist, Stalinist-derived South African Communist Party (SACP), is being wracked by the succession battle currently raging in the ANC ahead of its next elective conference, which will be held at the end of the year in Mangaung, in Free State province.

Malema—who has now been expelled from the ANC as a result of disciplinary charges for sowing divisions and bringing the party into disrepute, and has been removed as president of the ANC Youth League—has been by far the most outspoken representative of the anti-Zuma faction in the ANC. There are also many others—including top-ranking ANC leaders—working semi-covertly to oust Zuma (to manage the divisions, open campaigning has been suppressed by the official ANC leadership). With control over the access to considerable amounts of government largesse and business connections at stake, the plotting and back-stabbing is only going to increase. Things could get hectic: In April, a statement by the Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans’ organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, which is in the pro-Zuma camp, responded to Malema’s denunciation of Zuma as a “dictator” by threatening that such acts would have been dealt with by a firing squad in the days of the anti-apartheid struggle!

The working class has absolutely no interest in supporting either side in the squalid ANC succession battle. There is now widespread working-class anger at Zuma and his allies, who have essentially continued the same anti-working-class, neoliberal policies of Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, since taking over from him. The bitter divisions which are now ravaging the ANC and the Alliance reflect, in a distorted way, the contradictions and massive anger at the base of society caused by the frustrated aspirations for genuine liberation which were not—and could not—be met as long as the system of neo-apartheid capitalism remains. Malema takes advantage of this genuine anger with populist demagogy. But if the disillusionment and anger with Zuma among the workers and poor masses is simply channeled into support for another variant of bourgeois nationalism like that peddled by Malema, the demoralisation and defeats will only continue. The populist Malema—not to mention the other anti-Zuma forces in the ANC—is no less than Zuma a political representative of the capitalist exploiters who will stop at nothing to maintain wage slavery. All factions in the ANC are class enemies of workers liberation.

What’s desperately needed is a revolutionary proletarian perspective, independent of and in opposition to both ANC factions and all forms of bourgeois nationalism. This means breaking the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance along class lines and forging a genuinely communist, Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party capable of providing the revolutionary leadership needed for the workers to sweep away this racist capitalist system and replace it with a black-centred workers government which can begin to build a decent, humane society on a socialist basis. Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution provides the answer to the dead-end of nationalism and its reformist hangers-on. An important task in breaking pro-communist militants of the SACP and COSATU ranks from the reformism pushed by their leaders and cohering the nucleus of such a Leninist-Trotskyist party, is to politically combat and defeat the populist-nationalist false consciousness which bourgeois demagogues like Malema are able to exploit to gain a hearing among the workers.

SACP/COSATU Betrayals Pave Way for Populist Demagogue

The fact that someone like Malema can be seen by many workers as the best representative of their interests is in many ways just obscene. Here is someone who loves to flaunt his expensive Breitling watches, Armani suits, Range Rovers, multiple million-rand homes and 139-hectare farm. Bourgeois newspapers have carried prominent exposés about the slush funds he uses to collect kick-backs from wealthy “tenderpreneurs”, and the alleged profits he’s made off of his business deals are big enough to owe some R10 million in unpaid taxes. Much of Malema’s fortunes are derived from acting as a parasitic middleman in plundering the state coffers in Limpopo, one of the most bitterly impoverished provinces where much of the population has no access to basic services like running water, roads, etc. Recently, public hospitals in Limpopo could not even provide food to admitted patients because of unpaid bills.

That many workers could come to put their faith and hopes in such a shamelessly bourgeois politician is above all the responsibility of the reformist leaders of the SACP and COSATU. Together with the ANC, the SACP and COSATU tops administer neo-apartheid capitalist misery via the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance. This coalition is a nationalist popular front through which the working class rank-and-file of the SACP (a bourgeois workers party with a working class base but a pro-capitalist programme and leadership) and COSATU (still the largest trade union federation) is subordinated to the capitalist exploiters in an alliance with the outright bourgeois ANC. For years, the SACP and COSATU misleaders have repeatedly sold out working class interests in the name of this class-collaborationist alliance, leading to increasing demoralisation of the workers, who have continued to defy their own leaders to engage in militant struggles.

Among the most prominent crimes in the long list of SACP/COSATU betrayals: In 1990, SACP leader Joe Slovo and National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) general secretary Moses Mayekiso were sent to put a stop to a weeks-long plant occupation by workers at Mercedes-Benz in East London, which threatened the “negotiated settlement” with the white minority rulers. In 1995, under Mandela’s presidency, SACP national chairman Raymond Mhlaba dismissed 6 000 striking nurses as head of the provincial government in the Eastern Cape. In 2010, under Zuma’s presidency, COSATU general secretary Vavi isolated and then strangled a bitterly fought, weeks-long strike by nearly a million public sector workers, bringing it to an end just days before an ANC National General Council meeting in order to avoid embarassing Zuma. The betrayals continue, as seen recently at Implats in Rustenburg.

At the ANC’s last elective conference, in December 2007 in Polokwane, Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as ANC president. The main base of Zuma’s support was provided by a bloc of COSATU, the SACP, and the ANC Youth League (including a certain Malema, who at the time vowed that he would “kill” for Zuma). The SACP and COSATU leaders in particular promoted the lie that Zuma was a “friend” of the workers who would restore the populist “soul” of the ANC, which had supposedly been sacrificed by Mbeki and Co. in the so-called “1996 class project”. At the time, we Trotskyists of Spartacist/South Africa told the simple truth in opposition to these myths: “An ANC run by Zuma would be just as anti-working-class as the current ANC” (Spartacist South Africa No. 5, Spring 2007).

After Polokwane, the main thing which changed with Zuma taking over as ANC president is that the reformist tops became more directly integrated in administering and defending racist neo-apartheid capitalism (one of their main complaints against Mbeki had been that he was “marginalising” the ANC’s Tripartite Alliance partners). The result is that the reformists, especially the SACP central leadership, have emerged as the most loyal, craven defenders of Zuma. Some of Malema’s most bitter enemies are those SACP leaders who see him as a direct threat to the power and privileges which they were rewarded with for their support of Zuma—like SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, who in 2009 became minister of higher education in Zuma’s cabinet and is now backed by some to become Zuma’s deputy at Mangaung, and SACP chairman Gwede Mantashe, who was elected secretary general of the ANC in 2007.

At the same time, the COSATU bureaucracy (which includes many SACP leaders) has been split over which faction to back in the ANC succession dispute. While some COSATU tops have clearly sided with Zuma (the National Health and Allied Workers Union [NEHAWU] has publicly declared its support for another term for Zuma), others like COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi have tried to play both sides and maintain a posture of loyal critics of the ANC tops within the Alliance, and some COSATU leaders have flirted with supporting Malema and the Youth League.

Among the latter group is NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim, who has criticised Nzimande and the SACP for “ideological confusion” and neglecting their duties as the “vanguard” of the working class. Jim and Vavi have both at times come out with demands that Nzimande withdraw from his ministerial post in order to devote himself full-time to the duties of SACP general secretary. But there should be no illusions that these criticisms have anything to do with a break from the Tripartite Alliance. They are just an attempt to posture as more “independent”, in an effort to head off working class discontent and keep it within the framework of the nationalist popular front. Irvin Jim made this absolutely clear when criticising the SACP tops, appealing at the very same time for NUMSA members and other trade-unionists to “swell the ranks” of the ANC and its National Executive Committee (NEC) in order to maintain the mythical “pro-poor bias” of this bourgeois party.

The ANC is a capitalist party which continues to enjoy the overwhelming political loyalty of the black majority because it is seen as the party which brought liberation from white minority rule, and there is currently no viable alternative. The reason why nationalism—the false view that all blacks share common interests, regardless of class differences—can play a dominant role in chaining the workers to the bourgeoisie is because the history of white minority rule means that class exploitation has mainly been experienced as race oppression. All wings of the SACP and COSATU bureaucracies promote the ANC as the “leading force” in the “National Democratic Revolution (NDR)” in order to sell the workers this treacherous “alliance” between exploiters and exploited.

The “NDR” is the South African variant of the time-worn Stalinist “theory” of “two-stage revolution” where, supposedly, first the workers help bring the bourgeois-nationalists to power and then, in the indefinite future, advance to socialism. In reality, the “second stage” is the nationalists slaughtering workers and communists. In South Africa, many SACP and COSATU reformist misleaders have just used this as a pseudo-theoretical cover for their wretched betrayals in order to advance themselves into the black elite.

Even the bourgeois “democratic breakthrough” stage of the “NDR” is a bankrupt sham. The negotiated settlement which ended apartheid in the early 1990s was a betrayal of the black majority’s struggle for liberation. While the apartheid system of rigid, legally enforced segregation and subjugation ended, the social reality in South Africa remains the superexploitation of mainly black labour, the impoverishment and degradation of the black masses, alongside white privilege—what we’ve characterised as neo-apartheid capitalism. While shamelessly exploiting nationalism to retain the loyalty of the oppressed, the ANC and its Alliance partners act as front men and enforcers for the continued dominance of the (still overwhelmingly white) Randlords and their imperialist backers.

After eighteen years of so-called majority rule, South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, in which misery is distributed according to the stark racial lines established under British colonialism and apartheid. For example, statistics from 2005/06 showed that almost 55% of the black population lived below the poverty line of R10 per day, compared to 34% of the coloured population, 7% of the Indian population, and less than 1% of the white population. Life expectancy has plummeted, falling by 12 years from 1996 to 2008, again with blacks being worst affected. This catastrophe is mainly a result of the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic and the government’s criminal neglect and refusal to provide free Anti-Retroviral drugs to all who are HIV-positive. Capitalist misery hits black women the hardest—from significantly higher rates of poverty and HIV infection, to the widespread practices of lobola (bride price) and even ukuthwala (“marriage by capture”) in some rural areas, to studies finding that as many as 40-50% of women are assaulted by their partners. Against this background, the promises of a “better life for all” which the ANC and Alliance leaders made in 1994 increasingly seem like a sick joke, as does the official rhetoric about a “non-racist, non-sexist South Africa” and “reconciliation”.

Permanent Revolution vs. Bourgeois Populism

Malema is a bourgeois populist demagogue who skillfully tapped into the anger and discontent among the country’s impoverished black majority—especially among young black Africans, almost half of whom have never had a job—in order to advance his own political career and enrich himself and his cronies. He ridiculed Zuma for pandering to the Queen of England, the imperialist bankers, and “white monopoly capital”. With his calls to nationalise the mines and expropriate white-owned land, Malema became a lightning-rod for the ire and angst of the white racist reactionaries and mouthpieces of mining and finance capital—which, predictably, only further enhanced his mythology of standing up for the black majority.

The slogan of “economic freedom in our lifetime”, which Malema and the ANC Youth League have been paying lip service to as of late, is impossible under capitalism. The capitalists are at bottom only interested in the “freedom” to exploit labour, in maintaining their class rule to continue extracting profits from the blood and bones of their wage slaves. Bourgeois populists like Malema try to conceal the fundamental division of society into hostile classes with irreconcilably opposed material interests by throwing around phrases about “the people”. This always means deceiving the working people and defending the rule of their capitalist exploiters—sometimes by throwing the workers some more crumbs, and other times through vicious austerity and brutal repression.

A case in point is the demand for nationalisation of the mines. Malema and the ANCYL have been giving Zuma and his cabinet a lot of headaches by campaigning for this demand in the last few years, threatening that any ANC leaders who oppose it will be kicked out at the Mangaung conference. Despite repeated assurances from Zuma and other government ministers that the ANC has absolutely no intention of nationalising mines, unease grew among the mining bosses as the debate dragged on, and they responded by threatening to pull out their capital. Moody’s and other international rating agencies have cited this debate in downgrading South Africa’s credit rating, and there was a general sigh of relief from the financial press over Malema’s expulsion.

Notwithstanding the angst of the mining magnates, the Malema/ANCYL nationalisation policies are bourgeois reform schemes which would not end the super-exploitation of the mineworkers. Their policy document proposes joint-share holdings between the current mine owners and the government (with a majority share for the latter), meaning that the bourgeois state becomes a partner in directly exploiting the workers. There have been many cases of bourgeois governments nationalising ailing industries (with generous compensation to the capitalists) in order to improve their profitability through government-enforced austerity, only to re-privatise them later. It is more or less an open secret that Malema began advocating nationalisation of the mines in 2009 in large part because this would serve to bail out his cronies whose debt-financed BEE mining operations were failing.

Malema and the ANCYL argue for nationalising the mines by citing the statement in the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”. This is intentionally vague, both about what it entails and how the wealth is to be “transferred”. There is absolutely nothing socialist about either this demand or the Freedom Charter as a whole. At best it poses the nationalisation of mines under capitalism by a “democratic” bourgeois state—which, as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, is but the executive committee for managing the affairs of the whole capitalist class. In actual fact, once the negotiations with the white rulers began in the early 1990s, the ANC quickly assured them that they did not have to worry about any nationalisations. After the April 1994 elections, Mandela once again re-stated the ANC position, declaring: “In our economic policies ... there is not a single reference to things like nationalisation, and this is not accidental. There is not a single slogan that will connect us with any Marxist ideology.”

Exposing the emptiness of his own rhetoric, Malema alibis the betrayals of Mandela and the other Alliance tops who brokered the power-sharing deal. For example, in a political report to an ANCYL National General Council in August 2010, Malema stated: “We understand that in 1994, certain decisions could not be taken because both domestically and globally, the balance of forces favoured imperialists and therefore [was] hostile to progressive change.” As Lenin explained in his 1916 work Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, the current world system is characterised by the dominance of finance capital and monopoly trusts, where a handful of “great” imperialist powers dominate the world, subordinating the neo-colonial and other dependant capitalist countries which they plunder. Malema’s reference to the “balance of forces” favouring “imperialists”—which will always be the case until workers revolutions overthrow them—is a time-worn excuse for the dirty deals carried out by nationalists and reformists in the service of maintaining capitalist rule. Despite his penchant for “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, Malema’s bourgeois programme means he is just as subordinate to imperialism as Zuma, or Mbeki and Mandela before him.

In 2010, Malema visited Venezuela as part of a world tour of countries where nationalisations have been carried out. Thanks to large surpluses from oil exports, the bourgeois regime of Hugo Chavez was able to finance some modest social welfare programmes which temporarily improved the conditions of the Venezuelan working people. These populist measures, as well as the nationalisations in oil and other industries and Chavez’s “anti-Yankee” posturing, were met by the hostility of a section of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and the US imperialists.

As revolutionary internationalists, we defend these nationalisations as limited democratic gains against imperialist domination over Venezuela—a weak, dependent capitalist country. Likewise, we say the international working class has an interest in seeing the military defeat of US-backed right-wing military coup attempts against Chavez, like the one in 2002. At the same time, we give absolutely no political support to the bourgeois strongman Chavez, and seek to break the working class from nationalism as part of the perspective of proletarian revolution to smash the capitalist state which Chavez presides over. Populists like Chavez are fundamentally incapable of breaking the yoke of imperialist domination or bringing about modernisation and development.

As our comrades of the Spartacist League/U.S. noted: “The recent history of Venezuela amply demonstrates that neoliberalism and populism are nothing but two faces of the same coin, sometimes carried out by the same bourgeois regime in different periods. Carlos Andrés Pérez of Democratic Action (AD), for example, is remembered as the president who nationalized oil and mining in the mid 1970s and also as the president who introduced IMF shock treatment” (Workers Vanguard No. 860, 9 December 2005). Besides the nationalisations and social reforms, Chavez has also attacked the oil workers unions and generally sought to straightjacket the workers movement under his political control.

To bourgeois populism, we counterpose the Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution. Based on the understanding that the bourgeois nationalist forces of dependant countries are incapable of solving any of the fundamental problems posed by imperialist domination because of their subordination to imperialist capital and mortal fear of their own proletariat, Trotsky explained: “With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially the colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution of their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation…” But the proletarian revolution, if it is to be ultimately successful in overcoming the backwardness enforced at every level by imperialist domination, cannot stop at the imperialist-imposed national borders: “The socialist revolution begins on the national arena, it unfolds on the international arena, and is completed on the world arena. Thus, the socialist revolution becomes a permanent revolution in a newer and broader sense of the word; it attains completion only in the final victory of the new society on our entire planet.” The programmatic core of Trotsky’s permanent revolution is the struggle for the complete political and organisational independence of the working class from bourgeois-nationalism and the bourgeois state.

For Nationalisation of the Mines by a Black-Centred Workers Government that Expropriates the Bourgeoisie!

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) bureaucracy has opposed Malema and the Youth League’s calls for nationalisation out of class-collaborationism, complaining in November 2011 that the discussion about possible nationalisation of the mines was scaring the capitalists. NUM president Senzeni Zokwana expressed sympathy with the mining bosses’ concern for their profits, stating: “I understand that if you are investing somebody’s money, you should be careful that you do not plant it where there is uncertainty. You have to make sure that the investment is safe” (Business Day, 14 November 2011). The SACP tops have also opposed nationalisation calls, using some orthodox-sounding phrases about the need for “socialisation” and pointing out that Malema’s schemes are bourgeois. But this is just a cover for the fact that they are defending the current policies of the Zuma government, which they are a prominent part of!

With regard to the demand for “nationalisation” of the mines and other strategic industries, Trotsky explained in the Transitional Programme (1938) that the socialist programme of workers revolution to expropriate the bourgeoisie does not exclude raising the demand for “the expropriation of several key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie” when the situation warrants it:

“The difference between these demands and the muddleheaded reformist slogan of ‘nationalization’ lies in the following: (1) we reject indemnification; (2) we warn the masses against demagogues of the People’s Front who, giving lip service to nationalization, remain in reality agents of capital; (3) we call upon the masses to rely only upon their own revolutionary strength; (4) we link up the question of expropriation with that of seizure of power by the workers and farmers.”

Seizing the mine shafts, machinery and mountains of finance capital which the mining bosses have heaped up through more than a century of superexploitation of mainly black labour, will be a basic and necessary step in the liberation from capitalist oppression. The Nzimandes, Vavis, Malemas and other demagogues of the Tripartite Alliance are enemies of this struggle for true liberation.

The Bankruptcy of Bourgeois Nationalism

While most countries of belated capitalist development are nationally oppressed as either colonies or neo-colonies of the imperialists, South Africa is a peculiar case in that the national oppression of the black majority is carried out not by a foreign colonial power, but  by  a  native  white  bourgeoisie tied closely to the Anglo-American imperialists. This, and the historical absence of a black property-owning class, was the main factor contributing to the dominance of nationalist consciousness among the mainly black South African working class. The ANC, with the crucial assistance of the SACP and COSATU reformists, has exploited this false consciousness in order to use the working masses as a stepping stone toward its aim of fostering a black privileged elite—the central goal of the ANC since its founding 100 years ago. The black elite which has developed since 1994 are among the most brutal exploiters of the workers, while at the same time remaining subordinate to white capital.

Another expression of nationalist consciousness among the working class is the wide-spread, mistaken view among pro-socialist militants that socialism amounts to a populist programme of simple redistributing the existing (white) wealth on a more egalitarian basis. Marxists understand that socialism requires a qualitatively higher level of productivity than currently exists under the irrational, anarchic capitalist system. That is why it can’t be built in a single country, and particularly not in a single backward country like South Africa, where waste, irrationality and ignorance have been developed to an extraordinary degree by the white rulers and their black nationalist front men. Our perspective is one of a socialist federation of Southern Africa, which must link up to socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. As stated in the ICL Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program (February 1998):

“On the other hand, the victory of the proletariat on a world scale would place unimagined material abundance at the service of human needs, lay the basis for the elimination of classes and the eradication of social inequality based on sex and the very abolition of the social significance of race, nation and ethnicity. For the first time mankind will grasp the reins of history and control its own creation, society, resulting in an undreamed-of emancipation of human potential, and a monumental forward surge of civilization. Only then will it be possible to realize the free development of each individual as the condition for the free development of all.”

Malema seizes on the increasingly obvious bankruptcy of the ANC’s official ideology of “non-racialism”—the vague notion that racial oppression and the differences promoted under white minority rule can somehow be overcome under “democratic” capitalist rule—in order to fan racial hatred and divert from his own party’s responsibility for administering neo-apartheid. Malema’s demagoguery includes his cynical resurrection of the anti-apartheid struggle song “Shoot the Boer” (in fact, the ANC’s bourgeois cops are infinitely more likely to shoot black township protesters than “Boere”), for which he was found guilty of “hate speech” in 2011. While combatting Malema’s racialist demagogy, as Marxists we also oppose laws against so-called “hate speech”, which strengthen the bourgeois state and will always be used by the capitalists against labour and the oppressed. Malema has also spewed crude invective against the Indian and coloured minorities.

We have consistently warned of the danger of such a development from the early days of the “new” South Africa:

“If the many-sided tensions and conflicts in South African society are not centered around a class axis, they will be fought along racial, ethnic and tribal lines. In conditions of unrelieved poverty, if the nationalist principle prevails, Zulu will be set against Xhosa, black Africans against coloureds and Indians, South Africans against immigrant workers and refugees—and this will be done by self-styled ‘progressives’ in the ANC alliance no less than by open reactionaries.”

Workers Vanguard No. 637, 19 January 1996

The “non-racialism” of the ANC and Tripartite Alliance tops—which is echoed by most of the reformist “socialists” who tail after them—is a lie. It only serves to cover up the reality of racist oppression inherent to South African capitalism, while at the same time providing fuel to demagogues like Malema. We counterpose the fight to mobilise the proletariat in concrete opposition to all manifestations of racist oppression and discrimination, linking this to the understanding that only the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism can resolve the national oppression of the black majority and lead to the elimination of all racial, tribal and other divisions. This is concretised in our slogan for a black-centred workers government, our application of Trotsky’s permanent revolution to the problem of national/racial oppression as specifically posed in South Africa. This is an inclusive slogan: “black-centred” precisely means that it is not racially exclusive but includes a full role and democratic rights for coloureds, Indians and those whites who would accept a government centred on the black African toilers and join in building a society based on genuine equality.

While Malema today poses as “friend” of the workers, the logic of nationalism in power is to whip up anti-union sentiment, attacking the organised workers movement for “undermining nation-building”. From Mandela to Zuma, this is something ANC leaders have done repeatedly since taking over the reigns on behalf of the white rulers in 1994: using nationalist demagogy against the unions, claiming that relatively high wages in the industrial and public sectors are responsible for mass unemployment in the townships and abject poverty in the rural areas, blaming strikes and shop floor militancy for repelling multinational corporations from investing in South Africa, etc. In fact, when the Democratic Alliance—an openly neoliberal party of white privilege—marched to COSATU House on 15 May in a reactionary anti-union mobilisation, this was in support of the policies which they share with the ANC/Alliance government (the two-tier “youth wage subsidy” scheme and “regulation” of parasitic labour brokers).

Such anti-union demagogy is something which a populist of Malema’s ilk would no doubt take to new heights as ANC leader. Malema has already provided glimpses of this, at times displaying the virulent anti-communism which is an integral part of his brand of “narrow Africanist” nationalism. For example, after being booed at a conference of the Young Communist League in December 2009, Malema lashed out: “There is everything wrong with the communists trying to take over the ANC.” As usual, Malema’s anti-communism goes along with the the most reactionary social backwardness, including disgusting anti-woman bigotry. For example, Malema has recently joined in the “shower man” song and dance ridiculing Zuma for his ignorant and dangerous statement that he had taken a shower to prevent HIV infection. But during the 2007 rape trial where Zuma made that statement, Malema stood out as one of Zuma’s biggest supporters, including making disgusting apologies for rape.

Malema’s “Left” Nationalist Critics

In an edition of the New Frank Talk pamphlet published in mid-2011, Black Consciousness ideologue Andile Mngxitama strikes a critical pose, arguing that “Malema is not a friend of the poor but is ironically, the best defender of the status quo”. Mngxitama even couches his analysis in pseudo-Marxist phrases and adopts the term “neo-apartheid”, which we of the ICL have used to characterise South African capitalism since 1994. But despite some apt criticisms and interesting analysis, what stands out strikingly is that Mngxitama offers absolutely no alternative perspective to Malema’s populism—because he doesn’t have an alternative, only more of the same dead-end nationalism!

The title of the pamphlet itself exposes the bankruptcy of Mngxitama’s politics: “Is Malema A Mugabe?” Mngxitama’s answer is evidently “no”, so presumably we are supposed to believe that if Malema were a Mugabe, the liberation of the black majority would be assured, right?! Wrong! From signing the 1979 Lancaster House agreement—a sell-out deal brokered by British imperialism which, among other things, set a “willing seller, willing buyer” scheme for land redistribution—to implementing IMF-dictated austerity measures in the 1990s, Mugabe and ZANU-PF for years loyally carried out the dictates of the imperialist masters in Zimbabwe. Only after two decades in power did they abruptly change course and begin, in a cynical maneuver to hang onto power, to expropriate white farms.

While we are for confiscation of the white farmers’ land and oppose the imperialist sanctions, the main beneficiaries of Mugabe’s land “reforms” were his ZANU-PF cronies. The land seizures were carried out in a way which was disastrous for agricultural production, and was also directed against the agricultural workers, perversely helping drive them into the arms of the Movement for Democratic Change, the party of the white landowners and outright pro-imperialists. Mugabe and the bourgeois ZANU-PF government are tied by a thousand threads to the imperialist masters, and are viciously anti-working-class. (For more background, see the article, “Hue and Cry over Land Seizures in Zimbabwe”, Workers Vanguard No. 741, 8 September 2000, reprinted in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 16, January 2001.)

As the popularity of Malema’s calls to expropriate the white farms shows, the land question is also a burning issue for the black masses in South Africa. The land redistribution programme of the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance government, which is based on a “willing seller, willing buyer” arrangement, has been an utter failure. Less than 6 percent of the land has been transferred back to black people, while the white minority, which forms less than 10 percent of the population, owns more than 70 percent of the country’s urban and arable rural land. In contrast to Zimbabwe, there is no peasantry to speak of in South Africa, and most farming is done by large, fully mechanised and capital-intensive agribusinesses employing agricultural proletarians.

In line with their commitment to capitalist relations of private property, most black nationalist organisations call for allocation of more land to small farm owners. In counterposition to this programme of breaking up large, mechanised commercial farms into smaller, unproductive pieces, we are for the expropriation of the large, white-owned farms and for their transformation into collective and state farms under workers rule. Farm workers are going to be central in achieving this goal, which is indissolubly bound up with the socialist revolution to be led by the mainly urban proletariat. To address the lack of housing and related problems, we stand for the expropriation without compensation of privately owned urban land and the building of racially integrated residential areas as part of a massive public works programme.

Ultimately, the politics dished up by Mngxitama are just a re-heated version of the same old bankrupt nationalism. This is summed up by the constant refrain of the September National Imbizo, a nationalist lash-up launched by Mngxitama, Black Wash, and others in 2010: “We are inspired by the great vision of change our liberation fighters were committed to. We wish to rekindle the betrayed dreams of Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko.” The result of the “great vision” of (petty-)bourgeois nationalism is precisely the neo-apartheid system we have today. Not surprisingly, the AZAPO leaders, who represented the Black Consciousness ideology which Mngxitama upholds today, all joined the 1994 “national unity” government, giving their seal of approval to the neo-apartheid betrayal.

For our part, we aim to build a vanguard party of the working class—the only class in modern society which is capable of leading the revolutionary struggle necessary for genuine national emancipation, for women’s liberation from hideous patriarchal oppression, for social and technological progress needed to overcome backwardness and superstition. A Leninist-Trotskyist party would intervene to provide uncompromising, class-struggle leadership to the countless struggles of the proletariat and other oppressed layers for their immediate, burning needs, linking these struggles together and pointing the way to the necessary conclusion of overthrowing the rotten capitalist system through workers revolution. In the course of the class struggle, the working class must be broken from its current, treacherous leadership and learn to trust only its own revolutionary strength.



Spartacist South Africa No. 8


Winter 2012


Malema’s Populist Mystique and the ANC Succession Battle

Break With the Bourgeois Tripartite Alliance!

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party to Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government!


From the Archives of Women and Revolution:

On Black Women in South Africa: Smash Apartheid! For Workers Revolution!


Tunisian Elections: Victory for Islamic Reactionaries

Workers Must Fight for Their Own Class Rule!


Implats Strike Beats Back Mass Dismissals, Betrayals by NUM Tops

For A Class Struggle Leadership! For Industrial Unions!


Fake Trotskyists in Camp of Counterrevolution

Hue and Cry over China’s Role in Africa