Spartacist South Africa No. 10
Lessons from Marikana
Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party to Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government!
It’s now more than a year since the neo-apartheid state massacred 34 mineworkers in Marikana for their “crime” of fighting for a living wage from the London-based platinum mining giant Lonmin. As we pointed out in a statement shortly after the massacre, responsibility for this bloody crime against the working class lies squarely with the “leaders of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance and their government, who have demonstrated yet again their reliability to the Randlord rulers and their imperialist senior partners”. The Marikana massacre is further proof that the state administered by the Tripartite Alliance is a capitalist state—not a “class-contested terrain” or a “developmental state”, but an instrument of violence for the oppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie.
The Marikana massacre showed, in a concentrated way, the continued and brutal oppression of the non-white majority under neo-apartheid capitalism. That is why the mineworkers’ struggle got so much sympathy amongst the working class and all the poor—striking workers fighting against apartheid wages and conditions of employment; shack dwellers and others in the townships waging service delivery protests against unemployment, corruption, mismanagement and lack of water, electricity, sanitation and other basic necessities; students from poor backgrounds facing fmancial exclusions from institutions of higher education, and learners and teachers struggling in under-resourced schools in a basic education system that regularly ranks at or near the bottom in international comparisons for maths, science and other basic subjects; and street vendors and others trying to eek out a meager living, who are rounded up and swept off the streets by the neo-apartheid police. The massacre became a focal point for all this widespread anger against the Tripartite Alliance government’s failure to redistribute wealth, address poverty and inequality—the ever elusive promised “better life for all”. The masses sacrificed so much in the fight against apartheid to achieve these goals now turned into a pie in the sky.
Marikana miners were an inspiration for the wave of militant wildcat strikes that swept across the platinum, gold, iron and other mines across the North West and Gauteng Province, to Limpopo, the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Their struggle also had reverberations in other sections of the working class, including workers in transport who waged a nation-wide strike, auto workers at Toyota in Durban, and farmworkers in the Western Cape who revolted against their wretched wages and slave-like working conditions.
While the main strike wave subsided toward the end of 2012, there continues to be a high level of strike militancy. Recently, the South African Special Risks Insurance Association—a state-owned insurance fund, formed in 1979 to help the capitalists defray costs from social unrest and strikes in particular—reported an all-time high in strike-related claims by the bosses. The total amount of damages claimed (overwhelmingly for losses incurred during strikes) increased by more than 100% this year, from R207 million in 2012 to R507 million.
Workers in the mines and other sectors have won important gains from these struggles, demonstrating once again that class struggle is what’s needed to improve the conditions of the working class and poor—not appeals to the conscience of the racist capitalist rulers, not schemes for “social partnership” between the exploiters and the exploited, and not the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) or the National Economic Development Labour Council (NEDLAC) and the other institutions of class collaboration. But the bitter reality is also that nothing fundamental has changed in the hellish conditions which led the mineworkers to revolt, and these and many other gains are already under the gun of the capitalist exploiters. For example, many Lonmin workers have reported that they’ve never seen any of the 22% wage increase, and that bonuses promised when they ended the strike were deducted from their wages. Meanwhile, at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mineworkers had to launch a two-week strike in September-October to force the company to back down, for now, on threats to sack more than 3000 workers. In other sectors, there is a similar picture.
The Marikana massacre and continued militant struggles are happening in an international context marked by the most severe world-wide economic downturn since the 1930s, and the capitalists here and everywhere want to make the working class and poor pay for the crisis caused by their decaying, irrational system. This is particularly the case in the platinum industry, where the fall in auto sales in Europe especially has reduced demand for the metal. The platinum companies were making plans well before Marikana to destroy capacity, by sacking workers, and keep prices up. Their profits have in fact surged this year, mostly because of the falling value of the Rand to the US dollar.
The bourgeoisie is beating the war drums and calling for tougher measures (repression) against organised labour in response to the ongoing worker militancy. More and more representatives of imperialist and domestic capital are threatening to sabotage production and demanding that the government do something to quell the post-Marikana wave of rebellious protests. Both the World Bank and IMF have warned recently of increased capital flight and demanded “structural reforms” to increase “labour flexibility”. A managing director at BMW expressed the views of many in the bourgeoisie, when he said, “I believe that Marikana—and what happened around Marikana—has changed everything... Now the approach is: ‘I have a demand and the demand must be fulfilled’” (Business Day, 14 October). After 20 years of neo-apartheid misery, there is growing concern about the ANC/SACP/COSATU nationalist popular front’s continued ability to keep a lid on class struggle.
The Tripartite Alliance government, for its part, has tried to reassure the capitalists by unleashing the police to brutally attack striking workers, service delivery protesters and the poor in general. Setting the scene for more repression against the poor following the Marikana events, in October 2012 the overwhelmingly ANC cabinet complained that “illegal and violent strikes are not helping South Africa’s image internationally”. During the September strike by NUMSA members in the motor sector, police arrested more than 50 workers in Kempton Park on Gauteng’s East Rand for “public violence”. Police in Cato Manor near Durban opened fire with live ammunition on a protest by landless rights activists from Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dwellers movement), killing seventeen-year-old Nqobile Nzuza, who was shot in the back of the head as she tried to flee.
All this underlines the basic truths that the gains made by the workers and poor will always be partial and reversible as long as the capitalists remain in power, and that the bosses and their state will not bat an eye about resorting to the most vicious repression to maintain the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. To guarantee their ultimate success, the numerous different struggles of the working class and other oppressed layers for their immediate, burning demands must be linked together with a perspective for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist slavery and the establishment of a black-centred workers government to begin the work of socialist construction to meet the needs of the masses.
As a number of bourgeois political commentators have noted, the platinum belt around Rustenburg has become something of a “no go area” for representatives of the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance since Marikana. More generally, the massacre and subsequent strike wave have contributed to the turmoil in the nationalist, class-collaborationist Alliance which has been a central mechanism of bourgeois rule for the last twenty years. The potential political significance of these developments is great, insofar as they mean more favourable conditions for regrouping advanced workers and other opponents of this racist capitalist system into the nucleus of a revolutionary vanguard party based on a genuinely communist programme.
But this is not an automatic outcome, and there is no shortage of political hustlers trying to channel the disaffection with the ANC and Alliance into support for some “new” bourgeois dead-end. This was graphically illustrated by the commemoration events for the one-year anniversary of the Marikana massacre. When the workers and their families gathered at the koppie on 16 August 2013, they were met with speeches and hypocritical condolences from virtually every bourgeois political party currently in opposition—from the bourgeois-populist demagogues of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), to right-wing traditionalists and conservatives like Inkatha and United Democratic Movement (UDM), to unabashed neo-liberals like the Democratic Alliance and Agang. As if this wasn’t already bad enough, the Lonmin bosses themselves were even given a platform to “mourn” the “tragic events”.
It is disgusting that these blood-soaked capitalists were given this opportunity to try to whitewash their crime against the workers, but all too indicative of the travesties which will continue as long as the working class is not organised and conscious of its own, independent class interests. To do this takes a political struggle, and drawing the lessons from Marikana is a critical component of that struggle.
For a Class-Struggle Leadership in the Unions!
The trade union federation COSATU is one of the organisations most severly impacted by the Marikana events, and this has implications for the entire Tripartite Alliance. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), once the most powerful and largest COSATU affiliate, has been massively discredited, with many of its former members in the platinum mines deserting to join the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The NUM leaders became a focus for the hatred of the mineworkers as a result of their years of sell-out deals with the mine bosses and wretched role in calling for police repression (even defending the police after the massacre, in the case of NUM general secretary Frans Baleni). All wings of the COSATU bureaucracy and the SACP reformist tops closed ranks in defence of the NUM tops and the Zuma government following this bloody crime, with Zwelinzima Vavi and Irvin Jim demonstrably coming out in support of a second term for Zuma at the time of the September 2012 COSATU national congress.
The basis for this (short-lived) unity of the different COSATU factions was a common fear that the example set by the Lonmin workers might fuel militancy and upset their cosy relationship with the bosses and their comrades in government. This was expressed by Vavi in a message on Twitter, immediately after the Lonmin workers won a 22% wage increase. He wrote, “Cosatu and NUM will have to act fast or this deal can collapse ... every bargaining system in place ... it can communicates [sic] the message workers can lead themselves and get what they want” (Mail & Guardian online, 19 September 2012).
A year after the Marikana massacre, COSATU is in the midst of the most severe crisis since its formation in 1985. In August, the pro-Zuma faction around COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini suspended Vavi for having sex with a COSATU employee at the federation’s office buildings. Vavi’s supporters—chiefly the leadership of NUMSA promptly responded to this by taking the matter to the capitalist courts, filing a suit at the Johannesburg High Court challenging this suspension (Vavi has joined in the suit). South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) president Thobile Ntola was also suspended by his union for giving Vavi a platform to address union members in Port Elizabeth, and he also took SADTU to court. COSATU’s second deputy president Zingiswa Losi, a supporter of Dlamini, has taken NUMSA to court to challenge her suspension by the latter.
Using the bosses’ courts to settle disputes in the unions and other working class organisations is a betrayal of the most elementary working class principles. But it should not come as a surprise to class conscious workers, considering the long history of betrayals that the COSATU tops—Vavi and the NUMSA tops no less than their opponents—have committed in the service of the class-collaborationist Tripartite Alliance (for more on these betrayals and the turmoil in COSATU, see SSA No. 9, Winter 2013). Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), says: Courts, cops and government out of the workers movement! Labour should clean its own house!
Notwithstanding their long history of betrayals, there are considerable illusions among the working class base of COSATU in Vavi and his allies. One reason for this is that the SACP’s top leaders have, since Zuma became ANC president in 2007, dropped virtually all criticisms of the ANC or the government, and now stand out as the best defenders of the government and its atrocities, most despicably over Marikana. This has rightly discredited them—and the anti-Vavi bureaucrats in COSATU, who are politically closely aligned to the SACP tops—in the eyes of many workers, including members of the SACP who are disgusted by their leaders’ craven subservience.
It is critical for SACP militants and others who genuinely want to fight for communism to understand that the SACP leaders’ current actions, as repulsive as they are, are not “aberrations”. Rather, they are a result of the reformist, class-collaborationist programme which the SACP has upheld for decades—centrally the Stalinist programme of “two-stage revolution” and alliance with the “progressive” bourgeoisie, which goes under the name of “National Democratic Revolution” in South Africa and has led to countless bloody defeats for the working class internationally before the Marikana massacre. The pro-Vavi faction of the COSATU bureaucracy now postures as defenders of worker interests who are trying to keep COSATU from becoming a “labour desk” of the government and the ruling party. But their class-collaborationist politics are fundamentally no different from the SACP’s programme, and will prepare the way for new betrayals and defeats.
Vavi’s supporters hope that a special congress of COSATU, which has been requested by nine COSATU affiliates but is being delayed by COSATU president Dlamini and his allies, will re-instate Vavi and get rid of his opponents in the COSATU leadership. A number of commentators, including some leaders in NUMSA and other COSATU affiliates, have spoken about a potential split of COSATU if the congress is not held. We would oppose such a split, based on unprincipled squabbles between two factions of the bureaucracy which are both pro-capitalist and fundamentally uphold the class-collaborationist policy of popular front alliances with the ANC (or other bourgeois-nationalist forces). A split along these lines would only serve to weaken the workers movement by further dividing the workers in different industries.
A year after the Marikana massacre, AMCU has become the dominant union in most of the major mines in the platinum belt. But the AMCU leadership has proven to be no great alternative for the mineworkers who are sick and tired of playing by the bosses’ rules. AMCU leaders have broken a number of strikes by their members, including at Lonmin, insisting on the need to follow strike procedures set by the bosses. This has led to conflict with the strike committee at Amplats, whom AMCU leaders denounced as “criminals” for expressing the intention to use the strike weapon to oppose retrenchments. In November, AMCU leaders dropped the demand for a R12 500 minimum monthly salary in the platinum industry, causing the bourgeois mouthpiece Business Day (15 November) to gleefully enthuse in an editorial titled, “Amcu becoming ordinary”.
Recently, AMCU leaders scabbed on a national strike over wages and conditions of employment called by the majority union NUM in the gold sector, weakening the collective strength of all workers in the industry. The bosses have since refused to negotiate any separate deal with AMCU, instead telling them they are bound by the same deal as that agreed upon with NUM. All this underlines what we wrote in “Miners Struggle Shakes Neo-Apartheid Capitalist Order” (Workers Vanguard No. 1011, 26 October 2012). Noting that revolutionaries generally favour organising workers of an industry in one union to maximise their strength against the capitalists, that article continued:
“However, we do not condemn all splits within the trade-union movement; these need to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and certainly if the majority of platinum and other miners want to join AMCU they have that right. It is the NUM tops’ class treachery that is fundamentally responsible for undermining workers’ unity in the mining industry. But in any case, new unions are not in and of themselves an answer to the bosses’ attacks. What is necessary is the forging of a class-struggle leadership in the unions, based on complete independence from the bourgeoisie and its state, as a crucial part of building a revolutionary workers party that champions all the exploited and oppressed.”
Revolutionary Workers Party vs Reformist “Labour Party”
A number of recent surveys show that “COSATU members’ support for the Alliance is on the decline” (COSATU’s Contested Legacy by Sakhela Buhlungu and Malehoko Tshoaedi, 2012). A survey of the attitudes of COSATU shop stewards commissioned before the Marikana massacre and conducted by the Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD) and Community Agency for Social Enquiry revealed that the majority of shop stewards did not support Jacob Zuma’s re-election as the president of the ANC in the December 2012 Mangaung conference (Vavi and the rest of the COSATU leadership suppressed the publication of the report until after the conference). According to Prince Mashele, who was chief executive of the FPD when the survey was conducted, the majority of shop stewards “have no confidence in the SACP ... and want Cosatu to form a labour party”. In a 30 August column, Terry Bell noted that “65 per cent of the federation’s shop stewards surveyed said they would vote for such a party if it existed—and was backed by Cosatu. In the absence of such a choice, 90 per cent pledged their votes to the ANC.”
The survey results show a great fluidity of opinion in COSATU, and contradictions between the base and the tops. For instance, only 2% of shop stewards surveyed said they trust the COSATU leadership when there are no strikes, and that number only increased to 13% during strikes. But it also highlights a lot of false consciousness and illusions in bourgeois nationalism which continue despite the anger and discontent with the current ANC leadership. For example, while the majority of shop stewards reportedly disagreed with the COSATU tops’ decision to support Zuma’s second term at the ANC’s Mangaung conference, the only alternative they saw was to support Zuma’s opponent, Kgalema Motlanthe, for president of the ANC. But the working class has no interest in supporting any of the factions of the bourgeois ANC, a party representing the interests of the class enemy. This is why Spartacist/South Africa opposed any support to the Zuma or Motlanthe faction, just as in 2007 we opposed supporting either Zuma or Thabo Mbeki, warning that “an ANC run by Zuma would be just as anti-working class as the current ANC” (Spartacist South Africa No. 5, Spring 2007).
Another big illusion has to do with the desire for (part of) the COSATU bureaucracy to form a reformist labour party. History abounds with examples of reformist parties, based on the working class and closely linked to unions, that have helped prop up and administer capitalist slavery by entering capitalist governments or otherwise betraying the proletariat. The working class in South Africa has already had years of experience with a reformist workers party—the SACP—that has used its authority in the working class to promote class-collaborationist betrayals. Another reformist party will not advance the interests of the working class. What’s needed is a revolutionary workers party of the Bolshevik type—one dedicated to an uncompromising struggle to smash the neo-apartheid capitalist system. The tasks and outlook of a revolutionary Marxist are not limited to the economic struggles of the workers against the employers, but should be, as Lenin put it in his work, What is to be Done? (1902), that of a “tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat”.
This conception is crucial to building a party that can truly represent the independent class interests of the proletariat, which is the only consistently revolutionary class in modern society. Working-class independence means not only organisational independence from bourgeois parties; it requires political opposition to nationalist, populist and other bourgeois forces, and counterposing to them proletarian leadership of the broad masses of the oppressed.
For Working Class Political Independence!
A statement released by the National Executive Committee of NUMSA in September claimed that “at the heart of the crisis in COSATU are two opposing forces: the forces of capitalism and the forces of socialism”. But the NUMSA tops oppose the programme of workers revolution against neo-apartheid capitalism. Rather, their perspective, as it is put in the same statement, is “to mobilise the working class to break the power of white monopoly capitalism through the implementation of the Freedom Charter as historically understood by the working class”. It is a myth that the ANC’s 1955 Freedom Charter programme is socialist or represents the interests of the working class. The Freedom Charter is a populist, bourgeois programme that envisioned establishing a “democratic state”. By “democracy”, the Freedom Charter clearly meant bourgeois democracy, which means above all defence of the “right” of the capitalists to exploit the workers.
The NUMSA tops’ promotion of the Freedom Charter is a statement of intent to continue the subordination of independent working class interests to one or another bourgeois nationalist/populist formation. While they have been making noise lately about possibly refusing to endorse the ANC in next year’s elections and withholding about R2 million of the workers’ money which was to be used behind their backs for electoral support of this sworn enemy of workers, there have also been rumours of talks by Irvin Jim, as well as AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa, with Julius Malema’s recently launched Economic Freedom Fighters. Malema and the EFF also uphold the Freedom Charter, and they are justified in doing so because it represents the bourgeois populist programme that EFF embodies.
As opposed to the SACP and COSATU leaders—who have cultivated the myth of “socialist aspects” of the Freedom Charter to deceive their working-class base—the ANC leaders have always been very honest about the capitalist class nature of their party’s programme, mainly in order to re-assure the imperialist masters. And they have 20 years of vicious capitalist rule based on attacks against the working class and the poor to back it up. In his 1956 article “In Our Lifetime”, the ANC’s supreme political authority Nelson Mandela explained the Freedom Charter’s goals as follows: “Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blue-print for a socialist state .... Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land, the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes” (our emphasis).
As for the issue of nationalisation, Mandela made it crystal clear in the same article that any nationalisations envisioned in the Charter would be in the service of fostering a layer of black capitalist exploiters: “It is true that in demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the gold mines and the land the Charter strikes a fatal blow at the fmancial and gold-mining monopolies and farming interests that have for centuries plundered the country... The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.”
The reality of neo-apartheid rule has been a layer of politically-connected blacks enriching themselves in partnership with the same Randlords and monopoly capitalists who dominated under apartheid. Against the bourgeois populists’ demagogy, and against reformist illusions that the transition to socialism can be effected by a bourgeois government carrying out nationalisations, we point to the need for proletarian leadership and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class through socialist revolution as the only road to overcoming the brutally racist exploitation and imperialist domination that have marked the mining industry and the whole of South African capitalism. In the struggle toward this aim it can at times be appropriate, as Trotsky pointed out in the Transitional Programme (1938), to raise demands for “the expropriation of several key branches of industry vital for national existence or of the most parasitic group of the bourgeoisie”. In contrast to the reformist and populist slogans of “nationalisation”, we are for expropriation without compensation, we warn the masses against reliance on the capitalist state and the bourgeoisie’s lackeys, call on them to rely only upon their own revolutionary strength, and link the demands for expropriation to the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class.
Just as Mandela and other ANC leaders frequently did during apartheid, Malema and the EFF try to win sympathy among the workers and poor by dressing up their thoroughly bourgeois programme with phrases about “the people”. Such populist demagogy is meant to deceive the oppressed by concealing the fundamental division of society into hostile classes, with irreconcilably opposed material interests. As comrade Lenin explained, “People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises” (“Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”, 1913).
Malema’s EFF: Disgruntled Former ANC Populist Faction
While the EFF certainly wants to profit from the anger of black workers (particularly in Marikana, where the party held its public launch on October 13), it is alien, and fundamentally hostile, to the workers movement both in terms of its programme and its social composition. The EFF and Malema are capable of using vague references to “Marxism-Leninism” and even held “communism schools” in September. At the same time, they have called for a referendum on reinstating the death penalty, support the cops, and openly embrace tribal chiefs, kings and businessmen (one of their founding members, the notorious sleaze-ball and “sushi king” Kenny Kunene, allegedly left the party only because he was worried that he was becoming the “cash cow”).
Their calls for “nationalisation of mines without compensation” have now been watered down to a “60-40” joint ownership by the state and private corporations, which would just mean a bourgeois government under the EFF skimming off some of the profits the predominantly white capitalists squeeze out of the superexploitation of mainly black labour. Malema’s “nationalisation” rhetoric has always been extremely hypocritical and hollow—he himself made his millions through privatisations as a tenderpreneur mainly in Limpopo Province. Malema has never claimed to be a socialist or Marxist, and his EFF has nothing to do with the workers movement.
Malema and the EFF have been able to tap into the widespread anger at the continued degradation of the black majority under neo-apartheid rule. Given how little has changed in the brutal oppression of blacks on the one hand, and white privilege on the other, Malema is able to skillfully wield anti-white demagogy as a package for his bourgeois nationalist programme which is hostile to the working class and poor.
At their launch in Marikana on October 13, the EFF vowed to form unions after the elections, with Malema threatening, “If a union is [currently] dominating the workplace, forget it. ... If you don’t want us to fight you, you must quickly approach us to see how best we can work [together]” (Sowetan, 14 October). Similar to the ANC NEC’s recent announcement to approach COSATU affiliates without their Alliance leaders, this is about the desire to have unions which are more directly politically subordinated to bourgeois nationalism—to be used both as voting cattle in elections and even more importantly as a bargaining chip with the capitalist rulers to convince them to hand over the reins of political power to the EFF (Malema and Co. have frequently intoned that they see themselves as a “government in waiting”).
The main social base of the EFF comes from the chronically unemployed and marginalised youth in the mainly black townships. Historically, bourgeois populists who come to power have tried to mobilise such layers as a battering ram against the trade unions and industrial working class, using nationalist demagogy to present striking workers as the cause of capitalist economic chaos, and relatively higher paid industrial workers as responsible for everything from youth unemployment to capital flight. The ANC has certainly done this (the so-called “youth wage subsidy”, intended to create a two-tier wage system and undermine union contracts, is a prime example), and you can bet that the EFF and their “Commander-in-Chief” Malema would be quick to do it, too, at the first sign of labour militancy or economic crisis faced by his government.
In response to this, it is of course a basic necessity to defend the unions against such lies and against the bourgeois state. Actively employed workers are the ones shouldering the most burden of supporting their unemployed immediate and extended family members. But trade-union politics alone cannot provide a long-term solution to defending the gains made by unionised workers, nor can they address the problems of mass youth unemployment and misery suffered by the masses in the townships and rural areas who are marginalised from the economy. What’s needed is a fight for jobs and training for all who want to work, through a massively shortened work-week without loss of pay and a sliding scale of wages increased and adjusted to the rapidly rising cost of living. Linked to such demands are the struggle to smash the parasitic labour brokers and other systems of contract labour and precarious work through class struggle, as opposed to the dead-end of reliance on the capitalist state. This means mobilising the power of the well-organised, strategic sections of the industrial proletariat to demand permanent employment for all temporary workers, and to organise the unorganised, including the most vulnerable layers, especially women workers and immigrants.
Such demands point to the need for a struggle against mass unemployment which comes at the expense of the filthy rich capitalist exploiters. There is an urgent need for such a perspective—based on a polarisation along class lines—to combat the poisonous divisions among the working class and oppressed that are consciously fostered and exploited by the capitalists. A Leninist vanguard party would actively combat these divisions by fighting in defence of all layers of the oppressed. For multi-ethnic, integrated trade-union-based defence of immigrants against attacks, and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. It would fight for the rights of women, against discrimination and special oppression—for equal pay for equal work; for access to free, safe abortion on demand; for an end to oppressive patriarchal practices such as polygamy and ukuthwala (marriage by capture); etc.
Better “service delivery” and the like are promised in the election programmes of countless bourgeois parties, including the EFF. But really making serious improvements on the lives of the destitute black masses requires a full-scale assault on private ownership of the means of production, which only a black-centred workers government is capable of doing. For example, to really address the housing question what is needed is to expropriate all urban land while launching a massive programme of racially and ethnically integrated residential construction, including renovation and maintenance of the flats and other buildings which have been left to rot in the cities.
In the rural areas, the solution of the land question requires expropriation of the highly mechanised and capital-intensive commercial farms, which are still overwhelmingly in the hands of the whites. Only under an expanding collectivised economy, based on a perspective of proletarian revolution in the advanced industrial countries and an international planned economy, could the necessary resources and technology be provided to liberate farmworkers from backbreaking labour while creating industrial jobs, housing and infrastructure needed to address the hellish conditions in the former apartheid bantustans. Such a perspective links the industrial proletariat of the urban centres to the agricultural proletariat in the rural areas. Given the concentration of the coloured working class among the farms in the Western Cape, this is also important for countering the racist rulers’ divide-and-rule tactics for playing off the black African majority against oppressed non-white minorities.
Of course the capitalists will squeal like stuck pigs that all of these demands are “unrealisable” and would “ruin” the economy. What they mean is that they will cut into their profits, and that is true. As Trotsky emphasised in the Transitional Programme (1938):
“If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”
WASP’s Bourgeois Parliamentary Fetishism
This perspective is in stark contrast to that of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). The DSM gained some prominence in the course of the mineworkers’ strikes, and in March launched the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) claiming to have support among the mineworkers and other sections of the working class. The DSM and WASP often use “militant”-sounding rhetoric about class struggle and the like, but this is just a thin cover for a deeply reformist, class-collaborationist programme. They and their international affiliates in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), led by Peter Taaffe in Britain, have long held the grotesque position that cops are “workers in uniform”. They have learned nothing from the Marikana massacre and countless bloody lessons before that. At the launch of the WASP in March, they even welcomed a “union” of private security guards as a supporter of the new organisation.
Though the Taaffeites today promote the WASP as an important step forward for working class independence from the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance, for many years the DSM’s predecessor organisation was buried inside the ANC and they actively opposed the call for an independent party of the working class. In fact, the press packet for the launch of the WASP even proudly boasts of the DSM’s general secretary Weizmann Hamilton’s role in running the ANC’s 1994 election campaign in Eldorado Park, bragging that this was the last time the ANC managed to win a majority in that mainly coloured township.
Has the DSM finally learned their lesson about support for bourgeois parties with the formation of WASP today? Hardly. The political basis on which WASP is being founded is very much in the spirit of “back to the Freedom Charter”, which they complain the ANC “betrayed” with the 1996 adoption of GEAR. All that has changed is that the ANC is less popular today.
So it was not surprising to learn that WASP was keen on snuggling up to the “Command Central” of Malema’s EFF. Now WASP has published a letter, sent to EFF by Weizmann Hamilton on behalf of the WASP interim secretariat. Just the name of the letter says it all: “An Opportunity for Principled Fighting Unity: WASP and the EFF”! In the letter, Hamilton gushes about “the historic duty of the EFF and WASP to entrench and extend our gains by building the maximum possible unity between our two organisations” and proposes an electoral bloc between EFF and WASP for the 2014 elections. Evidently, the “Commander-in-Chief” had bigger fish to fry, as according to WASP the EFF leadership demanded that collaboration was only possible if WASP “essentially dissolved” into the EFF.
Against Parliamentary Illusions
The current political framework of South African bourgeois and reformist organisations is defined by the scavenging for votes in the coming 2014 national elections. Disillusionment with the ANC/SACP/COSATU popular front is viewed as providing opportunities for other parties to take advantage of the working class as voting cows to get new faces into the bourgeois parliament. As revolutionary Marxists, Spartacist/South Africa understands that the struggle for the liberation of the working class from capitalist wage slavery will take place outside of parliament and against parliament in the factories, streets, towns and townships, etc. Engels called capitalist democracy a paradise for the rich, but a snare and deceit for the oppressed masses. As V. I. Lenin wrote: “To decide once every few years which member of the ruling class is to repress and oppress the people through parliament—such is the real essence of bourgeois Parliamentarism.”
The history of apartheid and white minority rule means that parliamentary illusions are particularly strong among the masses, and it is necessary to patiently combat these illusions and expose the fraud of bourgeois democracy to the masses. Communist deputies can, as oppositionists, serve in bourgeois parliaments and other legislative bodies as revolutionary tribunes of the working class to expose the deceitful nature of these institutions from within. When we do participate, the parliamentary deputies are answerable to the leadership of the vanguard party outside of parliament.
We do not run for executive offices in the capitalist state like president, mayor or provincial premier as a matter of principle. Assuming executive office requires taking responsibility for the machinery of the capitalist state which consists of the bodies of armed men—the military, police, courts and prisons—which function to protect the capitalist class and its capitalist system of production. Organisations like WASP selectively borrow aspects of the superior working class democracy like recallability and pay at normal workmen’s wages to paint bourgeois democracy, which comrade Marx referred to as a “pig-sty”, with bright colours. What they conveniently forget is that to implement workers democracy, workers have to first “smash”, “break” the bourgeois state. Suffrage under workers rule will be class suffrage for the toilers—i.e., workers democracy.
The attitude towards the bourgeois state is a crucial dividing line between reform and revolution. Can the working class use bourgeois democracy to achieve a peaceful transition to socialism, or does it need to smash the old state machinery and replace it with a new one to suppress the resistance of the exploiters and impose its own class rule—the dictatorship of the proletariat? Revisionists and reformist organisations like WASP, Democratic Left Front, the dissident COSATU bureaucrats, etc., completely define their political activity within the framework of bourgeois rule. Especially since the capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union—a world historic defeat for the international working class—they completely embrace bourgeois democracy and in the process accept the bourgeois lie that communism is dead. In his 1924 work, Lessons of October, Trotsky characterised this policy as “the actual training of the masses to be imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state”.
For Permanent Revolution: Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party!
Against the populist and reformist dead-ends offered by the likes of Malema, Vavi, Jim and WASP, we put forward the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution to address the burning problems faced by the masses in South Africa and beyond. Based on the understanding that the bourgeois nationalist forces of the 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 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...”
In South Africa today, we have the continued national oppression and degradation of the black majority under a neoapartheid system which is still economically dominated by the white minority. This is why we raise, as a concretisation of Trotsky’s permanent revolution to this specific context, the slogan of a black-centred workers government. This would include full democratic rights and an important role for the coloured and Indian toilers, as well as for those whites who would accept a government based centrally on the black working people. The programmatic core of Trotsky’s permanent revolution is the struggle for the political independence of the working class—meaning complete organisational independence from, and political opposition to, bourgeois parties and the capitalist state—and for the working class to place itself at the head of the struggles of the toiling masses.
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. This is clear if one considers the resources which will be needed to tackle some of the key burning issues like industrial development needed to modernise the rural areas, provide high-quality mass public transportation, etc. Moreover, the national borders in Southern Africa—as in most of the neo-colonial world—are completely artificial, drawn up to suit the interests of the white colonisers. So equitably and democratically addressing the national rights of all the peoples in the region requires a socialist federation of Southern Africa.
To lift the region out of imperialist-imposed poverty will rely crucially on an international planned economy, requiring the overthrow of capitalism in the imperialist centres. This is another reason why revolutionary Marxists, while upholding the rights of all nations to self-determination and vigorously opposing imperialist domination, are irreconcilably opposed to all variants of nationalism. With Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, we say “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.”
The instrument required to realise these goals is a revolutionary vanguard party which is steeled in the class struggle and armed with a Leninist-Trotskyist programme for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Spartacist/South Africa is working toward building the nucleus of such a party by regrouping advanced workers, declassed intellectuals and other subjectively revolutionary elements on the basis of a genuinely communist, revolutionary internationalist programme. Join us!