Spartacist South Africa Supplement
Revisionist Minority Splits from SSA
The Fight for a South African Section of the ICL
For nearly two years Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) has been in a protracted internal struggle over the application of the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution to neo-apartheid South Africa, i.e., the programme needed to successfully lead the working class to power in a socialist revolution. This struggle resulted in the formation of factions based on written positions in October 2015. Factional struggle is the best means in a Leninist organisation for resolving serious disputes over questions of programme. The right to form a faction to struggle for leadership of the party based on one’s programme is at the core of Leninist democratic centralism—it ensures that the programme supported by the majority of the party’s membership can be fought for publicly, while allowing for maximum internal political debate. The factional struggle in the SSA culminated in late March of this year with the split of the revisionist minority faction, which called itself the Leninist Faction, from Spartacist/South Africa.
In a 31 March statement, the misnamed Leninist Faction announced its intent to make public bogus financial grievances against our party, which of course meant they were splitting from the ICL. This split declaration was preceded by verbal threats of violence and acts of physical intimidation by members of the Leninist Faction against members of the majority faction, the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity, who were branded as “imperialists” and the “face of the imperialists” by the Leninist Faction’s provocateurs.
Such threats have no place in any section of the workers movement, much less inside a Leninist organisation such as the ICL which prides itself on its longstanding opposition to violence in the workers movement. But these gangster methods reflect the complete bankruptcy of the political programme they argued for inside the organisation—one of conciliation of the backward consciousness among layers of the oppressed; denial of the racial divisions in neo-apartheid South Africa; rejection of the need for a Leninist vanguard party to combat false consciousness and act as a tribune of all the oppressed in the fight for a black-centred workers government; and contempt for disciplined collaboration as part of a democratic-centralist international organisation.
The ICL’s international leadership promptly circulated all of the Leninist Faction’s documents and motions to the entire ICL membership—the documents from the dispute filled more than two full internal discussion bulletins. Leaders of both sides in the dispute were brought to not one, but two, plenums of the International Executive Committee (IEC) in order to debate the issues in front of our highest leadership body between International Conferences. Yet the Leninist Faction’s revisionism was so transparent that not a single member of the ICL internationally has expressed support for their faction’s positions.
The Leninist Faction was led by the SSA’s long-time, central leader and former editor of Spartacist South Africa, Mandla, and included one other long-time cadre. Both gave many years of valuable service to the cause of building a revolutionary party in this country, and their experience in the trade union movement and anti-apartheid struggle was vital to informing discussions to shape the line of our organisation. Despite their previous contributions when they were animated by the ICL’s programme of revolutionary internationalism, they were not immune to the pressures of bourgeois ideology and had undergone a dramatic political degeneration by the time they split. However, a substantial majority of the cadre in the South African section, with years of experience in the organisation, successfully fought this revisionist challenge.
While these comrades wrote many documents over the last two years of this fight, the documents we publish below are the main statements of the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity, which was formed in order to fight for the existence of an ICL section in South Africa and to maintain the precious continuity of Trotskyism here. In addition, the SSA is making publicly available the key documents from both sides of this factional struggle in the form of a new bulletin titled, “The Fight for Trotskyist Continuity in South Africa” (Spartacist/South Africa Discussion Bulletin No. 1, April 2016). This is in order to allow interested leftist youth and workers to judge for themselves the merits of each faction’s political arguments.
From a Flinch ...
While the factions were first formally constituted in October 2015, the fight can be traced back to a dispute that began in June 2014 over the political content of the article “Struggles of the Poor in the Western Cape” in Spartacist South Africa No. 11 (Winter 2014). The article as published is a reflection of the political impulse by Mandla—at the time editor of SSA—and elements around him to soft-pedal black-coloured divisions in neo-apartheid South Africa, as though the unity of all the non-white masses follows automatically from the fact that they are all oppressed.
These racial divisions—fomented and manipulated by the bourgeoisie—are blatantly evident and constitute a crucial obstacle to revolutionary proletarian consciousness. This is particularly so in the Western Cape, where such divisions are a big factor keeping the reactionary, white-dominated Democratic Alliance (DA) in power. Yet the article in SSA No. 11 dealt with black-coloured relations in only a perfunctory manner, pointing to no concrete examples of antagonism between the two populations. No attempt was made to polemicise against illusions in “non-racialism”, “nation-building” and the “rainbow nation” that are pushed by the ANC, its supporters and sundry reformists.
That these were not accidental omissions or mere “editorial” shortcomings, as Mandla and his acolytes claimed, would become blatantly clear over the course of the nearly two-year-long struggle that followed. Indeed, the publication of the article in SSA No. 11 proved to be the first step in a conscious break, by the future core of the Leninist Faction, from the basic programme and analysis upon which the ICL’s South African section was established. This article was published over the objections of several cadre of SSA, who criticised precisely these programmatic shortcomings.
The article in SSA No. 11 disappeared the programme set forth in fundamental documents like the ICL pamphlet, The Fight For a Revolutionary Vanguard Party: Polemics on the South African Left (April 1997) and Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacists (Spartacist South Africa) No. 1 (“A Reply to the Workers International Vanguard League”, July 1998). In sharp contrast to the defective article in SSA No. 11, the SSA supplement, “On Coloured Marginalisation and the Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government” (December 2015), was written to uphold and update these important documents, on which the SSA and ICL still stand. Yet it took a sharp factional struggle for this supplement to be published. After months of Mandla and his co-thinkers’ dogged obstruction of propaganda meant to correct the programmatic shortcomings of the earlier article, the final straw came when Mandla killed this propaganda at the last minute, declaring it “not publishable”. In response, the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity was declared.
Following the installation of the Tripartite Alliance government in 1994 through a negotiated settlement with the apartheid rulers, the SSA and ICL stood out for many years as unique in forthrightly characterising the “new” South Africa as a neo-apartheid capitalist system. From the beginning, we denounced the ANC-led Alliance for playing the role of black frontmen for the mainly white South African bourgeoisie and their British and American imperialist senior partners. The betrayal of the promise of liberation for the oppressed black masses has generated enormous discontent over the years, and spurred mass struggles of the workers and the oppressed. The 2012 Marikana massacre and wave of wildcat strikes that followed demonstrated that in an explosive way. In this situation, we have found greater receptivity to our analysis of neo-apartheid capitalism and our programme for fighting to smash it.
This situation presented exceptional opportunities, as well as accompanying dangers, for our party. But rather than seize this opening, the historic leadership of the SSA flinched. Instead, Mandla and Co. latched onto the coloured sectoralist appetites of one of the SSA’s more recent recruits as a cover for their demoralised retreat from a revolutionary perspective. This represented a conciliation of those forces that oppose the Tripartite Alliance government from the right.
... to Incurable Revisionism
After the launching of factions, it soon became apparent that the Leninist Faction not only sought to empty our call for a black-centred workers government of its essential programmatic content and disappear our historic propaganda motivating this call, but in fact opposed our very understanding of the nature of South African capitalism today. At the December 2015 National Conference of SSA, the Leninist Faction voted against a motion re-asserting our historic characterisation of post-1994 South Africa as neo-apartheid, in which the racist social and economic structure of apartheid remains intact, while the leaders of the Tripartite Alliance government act as black frontmen for the class interests of the imperialists and overwhelmingly white South African bourgeoisie (see page 3).
Instead, the Leninist Faction put forward a motion asserting that the racial hierarchy had significantly changed at the top, and that there is now a “black national bourgeoisie” constituting a co-ruling class. As one ICL comrade later wrote in response, these arguments are “not only a denial of reality but a frontal assault on permanent revolution and our program for a black-centered workers government. What the Leninist Faction is challenging is the Trotskyist understanding that the question of national liberation of the black majority cannot be separated from the socialist revolution in South Africa.”
Indeed, the Leninist Faction made the outrageous claim that “the FTC [Faction for Trotskyist Continuity] position that white nationalism is more reactionary than black nationalism, that the main enemy is imperialism and the white capitalist class ... runs counter to and is hostile to our program of permanent revolution”. The idea that self-identified Marxists could seriously equate black nationalism and white nationalism as equally reactionary—in a country where the black majority endured decades of police-state rule under a white supremacist regime that lasted until 1994—is truly grotesque! If one were to follow this “logic”, a conclusion would be neutrality in conflicts like the recent ones on campuses between black students led by nationalist forces like the Economic Freedom Fighters and white racists organised by the likes of Afriforum Youth, such as the racist attack on black protesters by rugby players and fans at the University of the Free State.
It is not a coincidence that the Leninist Faction came up with these positions at the same time that the bourgeois right wing in South Africa is loudly complaining that black rule is destroying the South African economy and society. This finds echo among some layers of the coloured population who complain that the apartheid terms of oppression have now been reversed and the black majority is today oppressing South Africa’s minorities. This false consciousness is reflected in the increasing number of coloured votes for the DA in several regions.
From the beginning of the internal dispute in 2014, a constant theme of those who became the Leninist Faction was to downplay or deny the fact that this was an expression of anti-black sentiment among a layer of the coloured population. As against the Leninist Faction’s bogus claims, to confront such false consciousness does not mean writing off the coloured population—which is highly heterogeneous—as a reactionary mass. As the December 2015 SSA supplement on coloured marginalisation emphasised, there are not only examples of conflicts along racial lines, but also those that highlight the potential for forging class unity between black and coloured workers, such as the 2012-13 Western Cape farm workers strike.
Forces like the DA obviously want the oppressed masses to believe that the reason they are poor and exploited is because of greedy black people who’ve “made it” and are corrupt, and not because the economic system of apartheid and white privilege have stayed firmly in place. The whole purpose of last year’s anti-corruption protests and the ongoing “Zuma Must Fall” campaign is to hide the fact that the imperialists and white capitalists are fundamentally responsible for the poverty, exploitation and repression faced by the black masses. The job of the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners is to be the sheriffs, keeping order on the mainly white bosses’ behalf. The “anti-corruption” movement is an unholy alliance of the black nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters, the DA, religious organisations and various other bourgeois forces, as well as sundry trade-union bureaucrats. While the pro-capitalist NUMSA bureaucracy postures as a “socialist” alternative to the sell-out COSATU tops, they too have participated in this rotten “anti-corruption” movement.
Leninist Faction leader Mandla enthused over the “anti-corruption” protests, and wanted our party to intervene at them without having set a line in opposition to the clearly reactionary nature of this movement. Meanwhile, Mandla tried to block our intervention into last year’s student strike at Wits by claiming we first needed “a line” on this elementary struggle for free education. At the SSA National Conference, Mandla’s faction voted against a motion laying out that we supported the student strike but opposed the anti-corruption movement.
As befits a faction defined primarily by demoralisation over the relevance and applicability of the ICL’s revolutionary programme to South Africa, these renegades were willing to junk just about any aspect of Trotskyism to maintain their rotten bloc. Thus, when one Leninist Faction member repeatedly argued publicly that the Chinese deformed workers state was “socialist”, the Leninist Faction excused this as an issue of “semantics” and then abstained on a motion at a 13 February SSA meeting reasserting our programme in opposition to this fundamental departure from Trotskyism. As the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity’s motion explained:
“It is basic Marxism that socialism—which can only be based on a higher level of productivity than in the most advanced capitalist countries—cannot be built in an isolated country, and especially not a historically backward one such as China, but requires a series of successful proletarian revolutions including in the advanced industrial countries.”
Trotskyists stand for the unconditional military defence of China and the other deformed workers states against imperialism and internal capitalist counterrevolution. On this basis, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the parasitic, nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies and open the road to socialist development, which is contingent on the international extension of the revolution. The Leninist Faction’s flippant attitude to such vital questions for the working class as the nature of the world’s largest remaining deformed workers state, was but one measure of their abandonment of an internationalist perspective.
“Leninist Faction”: Anti-Internationalist and Anti-Leninist
In fact, hostility to international intervention into the discussions and disputes taking place in the SSA characterised Mandla’s duplicitous conduct throughout this struggle, in which he presented one face at international party gatherings and during visits to work with leading cadre in the international centre and an entirely different face back in the SSA, which he increasingly treated as his personal fiefdom. Despite the fact that he was a full member of our International Executive Committee and therefore had voice and vote at the party’s highest leadership level, he whipped up the crassest anti-internationalism among his factional supporters.
In a motion put forward at the December 2015 SSA National Conference, Mandla and the Leninist Faction attempted to smear the informal group of international comrades who follow events and our work in South Africa and have closely collaborated with the section, referred to as “South Africa watchers”, as an “Orwellian Big Brother” scheme, reminiscent of “the degeneration of the Soviet Union under Stalinism and the wiping away of internal party democracy”. A plenum of the International Executive Committee in December 2015 rejected the anti-communist implications in this motion, noting that “on the contrary, such informal consultation was a common practice of the Bolsheviks and the 3rd International of Lenin’s time”.
The IEC plenum further affirmed that it was the obligation of the international leadership to intervene into the dispute because at stake was a programmatic question which, if not resolved in defence of our existing programme, would have taken the SSA out of the ICL. The following description of opportunism from Trotsky fits Mandla and his faction perfectly:
“By its very nature opportunism is nationalistic, since it rests on the local and temporary needs of the proletariat and not on its historical tasks. Opportunists find international control intolerable and they reduce their international ties as much as possible to harmless formalities...on the proviso that each group does not hinder the others from conducting an opportunist policy to its own national taste.... International unity is not a decorative façade for us, but the very axis of our theoretical views and our policy.”
—“The Defense of the Soviet Union and the Opposition”, September 1929
In the Leninist Faction’s 31 March letter which effectively announced their intention to split, they charged our party with using “economic compulsion ... to settle scores against internal political opponents” because of a decision by the SSA leadership to end non-wage assistance Mandla was receiving to facilitate his political work. In fact, Mandla, and thereby his faction, continued to receive financial assistance throughout months of the factional dispute, and long after Mandla had withdrawn from all but the most minimal party work. The punchline of the Leninist Faction’s 31 March statement was the demand that the ICL pay over R1,3 million to Mandla. Given that Mandla was receiving more than double the R12 500 monthly that the Marikana miners fought and died for, the working class will surely laugh at the claim that Mandla has been victimised.
As a matter of principle, the ICL does not take money from the capitalist state anywhere. All the party’s funds come from supporters of our political views, most of whom work for a living. The higher wages earned by our supporters in imperialist countries go toward high sustaining pledges, which help to subsidise the political work of the smaller and poorer ICL sections. Thus the Leninist Faction was in fact trying to shake down communist-minded workers in the imperialist countries as well as all the other places, from Mexico to Poland and Greece, where our supporters contribute financially toward the work of the ICL.
It would be hard to formulate a more cogent expression of the Leninist Faction’s hostility to and distance from the ICL and its purpose, or of its own political bankruptcy: in the end they split, not over the question of programme, but over the question of money. Their 31 March statement declared that only “the international working class public opinion can be the final arbiter” of an internal party matter. This was not only a declaration of their split from the ICL, but an appeal to those lacking revolutionary consciousness to mobilise against the Leninist vanguard. As James Robertson, founding member of the Spartacist League/U.S., underlined in a speech to a national conference of the West German Spartacus (Bolschewiki-Leninisten) in February 1973:
“The fundamental principle for communists is that one struggles among one’s comrades to gain a majority for one’s program, and that anyone who seeks to mobilize backward forces and alien class elements from outside a revolutionary Marxist organization in order to struggle for ascendancy inside that organization is no communist.”
—“In Defense of Democratic Centralism”, in Lenin and the Vanguard Party (Spartacist pamphlet)
For New October Revolutions!
The Leninist Faction’s refusal to differentiate between the mass of the working class, many of whom have backward views, and those more advanced layers that the Leninist vanguard seeks to win, was expressed earlier by Mandla when he asserted at a 13 February meeting of the SSA that “the interests of the proletariat are much more important than any organisation, faction or individual”. As one ICL comrade wrote in response:
“Mandla’s words stand out as a succinct rejection of the need for a programmatically-based Leninist party, forged in sharp political struggle against the misleaders of the South African working class and their backers on the fake-left—one which sees its task as recruiting the most advanced layers of the working class and oppressed to the revolutionary vanguard in the fight for a socialist revolution. In addition, it disappears the historic role of individuals at certain crucial moments in the history of the fight for proletarian rule, namely Lenin and Trotsky.”
As Trotsky often noted, splits and fusions are both necessary parts of the struggle to forge a revolutionary vanguard. We go forward from this factional struggle with renewed determination to forge the Leninist-Trotskyist party that the working class needs to successfully sweep away the racist capitalist system. Such a party will necessarily be a disciplined section of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.