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PREPARE FOR THE COMING BATTLES
This year we are celebrating workers day in the shadow of huge changes in the trade union movement. The Cosatu federation that has dominated for 30 years has split with the expulsion of NUMSA and then Vavi. They were booted out by the pro-ANC/anti-working class leadership around Cosatu president Dlamini. The ANC and their puppets in the Cosatu leadership destroyed the trade union federation that the apartheid regime could not!
Usually a split would damage the unity of the working class and therefore its ability to struggle. However in the case of Cosatu, the split was engineered by the pro-ANC faction because they want to turn Cosatu into a ‘toy telephone’ on the labour desk of the ANC government. NUMSA, now supported by FAWU, SACCAWU, DENOSA, SAPSU, CWU, SASAWU and SAFPU, have been freed from the political prison of the Tripartite Alliance as a result of the split. They are now free to re-establish the original traditions that Cosatu was founded on – struggle, solidarity and socialism. At this point in history therefore, this is a progressive split. On workers day all these unions are marching together. This will help build support for their plans for a new trade union federation.
Upon the basis of militant struggle the workers still imprisoned in Cosatu can be won over to a new federation. The new trade union federation must be founded upon the ideas of socialism with a commitment to workers struggle. The corruption created by years of class collaboration must be washed away. The new federation must play a central role in the creation of a mass workers party so the working class can fight for political power. This is the only way to build a socialist society and end the unemployment, poverty and inequalities of capitalist society.
The next battle we face is the public sector wage battle. The ANC is trying to make public sector workers pay for their mismanagement of the economy and the crisis of capitalism. Behind the ANC are the imperialist powers threatening South Africa if they do not cut public spending. But in both local government and provincial and national government there is deadlock. The majority of SAMWU members organised in the Save our SAMWU campaign have resolved that their union cannot be saved from the corrupt pro-ANC leadership and are planning to form a new union. NUMSA and the other unions planning a new federation must give their full support to the public sector wage struggle. A militant solidarity campaign of marches and rallies, mobilising other industries and sectors as well as the communities, will show the public sector workers still under the whip of the ANC within Cosatu who really supports them and where their future lies.
What lessons must we learn?
On this workers day, as we march, sing and toyi-toyi to celebrate our proud working class traditions, we must also prepare ourselves for the struggles ahead – we must learn the lessons of the past to draw the map that lead us to the socialist future.
Capitalism cannot deliver! For the last twenty years the ANC has ruled in the interests of the capitalist class – the bosses in other words! That is why unemployment is over 35% and over 70% amongst the youth. It is why millions still live in poverty without adequate housing, water, sanitation or electricity and why inequality is greater today than under apartheid. There is nowhere in the world where capitalism can deliver for the working class. Africa still suffers poverty, under-development and conflict. Across Europe austerity is pushing down workers’ living standards with war is raging in Ukraine. In the United States millions are unemployed. And the Middle East is burning in civil wars created by imperialism.
We must rely on our own strength as workers! Militant struggle wins victories. Last year the platinum workers and the metalworkers won significant pay rises due to their heroic struggles. The bosses will never volunteer to give us a pay rise or improve our terms and conditions. They will only do this if they see that we are organised and if we are prepared to struggle. But our organisations – trade unions, civics etc. – must be firmly under our democratic control and the leaders must be strictly accountable.
Workers must be class independent AND politically organised! We need our class and political independence! After twenty years the verdict is unchallengeable – the Tripartite Alliance was a disaster for the working class. It destroyed Cosatu and completed the degeneration of the SA Communist Party. Across the world, wherever workers parties have thought they could come to a compromise with the capitalist class and create a ‘nice’ capitalism they have betrayed the working class. We need a party of the working class that refuses all compromises and collaboration with the capitalist class – we need our political independence!
Socialism is the only alternative for the working class! Socialism sums-up the interests of the working class. It is the only programme the working class can fight on if we are not to be conned by the capitalist class into taking only the crumbs of society’s wealth – wealth that the working class creates.
A socialist society is a society that is run in the interests of the working class by the working class. The key demand we must struggle for to create socialism, is the nationalisation of the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, the big factories and big businesses. We must take these out of the hands of the profiteering capitalists. But for nationalisation to be socialist nationalisation, we need democratic working class control of these parts of the economy. If we have that we can draw-up a democratic economic plan to provide everyone with a job at a living wage and adequate and high quality housing, water, sanitation and electricity.
These lessons are written into the foundations of WASP. If you agree with us then join us!
What are the tasks we face?
Organise! This is the main task facing the working class. There are three ‘theatres’ of struggle – the workplaces, the communities and the university campuses. The struggles in each theatre must be united.
Unite the workplaces – NUMSA and its allies must continue with their plans for a new trade union federation. Learning the lessons of the past it must be built on the solid foundations of a socialist programme and worker-control. The new federation must work to win over the remaining members of Cosatu with a clear programme of struggle, fighting against retrenchments, labour brokers, e-tolls etc. and fighting for wage increases, a national living minimum wage and job creation. It must also reach out to Nactu and other unions and take-up the task of organising the unemployed.
Unite the communities – we need a new country-wide socialist civic federation that can unite all the independent civics, community forums and crisis committees that have been created to replace the degenerated ANC-led SANCO and the corrupt and useless local councillors. Such a civic federation could unite and coordinate service delivery protests making them more effective. Upon the basis of a socialist programme it can show how the issues of service delivery, housing and unemployment can be addressed.
Unite the struggles of the youth – WASP supports the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) which has set itself the task of building a revolutionary youth movement to fight against financial and academic exclusions and build links with the unemployed youth in the townships.
Build a mass workers party – the three theatres, where the day-to-day struggles of the working class, the poor and the youth take place, must be united by a mass workers party with a socialist programme. Only a party can fight for political power for the working class. We must support NUMSA’s steps in the direction of workers party and encourage all trade unions, community structures and genuine youth movements to do the same.
Why we must prepare
Capitalism is in crisis in South Africa and across the world. Reflecting that, the ANC finds itself in deeper and deeper crisis. In the 2014 elections only 36% of their votes came from the cities and urban areas. Their efforts to dominate the working class by capturing Cosatu have backfired and they lost control of the situation. A period of deepening economic and political crisis is on the horizon. Unless a re-organised working class takes up the struggle for socialism other reactionary forces will step in to the vacuum. The ongoing xenophobic violence is an example of the choices we face – either the struggle for socialism or a descent into barbarism. But the working class of South Africa is strong. We can become stronger if we struggle to reorganise ourselves as we have explained in this pamphlet. The struggle for socialism is the only option if the working class is to enjoy a future of high living standards and full employment.
Join WASP and help us build support for our ideas.
Download this statement as a pamphlet here.
WASP Secretariat Statement
-Build a country-wide socialist civic movement
-Fight for jobs, houses and services for all
-Support the Johannesburg anti-xenophobia march (1pm, Thursday 23 April
Assemble at Pieter Roos Park, Empire Road, Parktown.)
Working class and poor communities are angry. They are angry because after twenty years of ANC rule the majority of us still live in poverty. Mass unemployment means many of us cannot get jobs to put bread on the table. Unfortunately, a minority of South Africans think that ‘foreigners’ are to blame and have taken part in xenophobic attacks.
But xenophobic attacks are not the answer to our suffering. Poverty and unemployment are caused by capitalism not by working class and poor foreign residents. It is the capitalist system that stops the South African working class having a share in the wealth of the country. Just the two richest capitalists own as much wealth as the poorest 26 million – they are the ones stealing our opportunities!
The ANC government supports capitalist policies. The ANC government have said that no one under the age of 40 can have an RDP house. The ANC government lower taxes on big business and do not regulate small and informal businesses. The ANC government has still not introduced a minimum wage. The ANC government lets big business make retrenchments. The ANC government control the borders in the interests of the super-rich. The ANC government and its capitalist friends undermine peace, prosperity and democratic rights in the DRC, Somalia and elsewhere on the continent forcing people to leave their homes. Then the ANC government tells South Africans that foreigners ‘take our jobs’! Don’t be fooled by them!
Poor and working class foreign residents are not here because South Africa is a paradise. They are here because they are running from war and economic ruin in their home countries. Like everyone in our communities they are just trying to survive.
But the ANC government has abandoned our communities. Their councillors are often corrupt and useless and they do not help us. The ANC-led civic movement is corrupt and no longer gives us leadership. Housing allocation is unfair and corrupt. The struggle to find jobs is a chaotic free-for-all where brothers and sisters fight each other for a day’s work. Greedy bosses set us against each other so they can pay the lowest wages. But it does not have to be like this!
We must organise
The apartheid regime was overthrown by organising mass struggle upon the principles of non-racialism and non-tribalism with the support of people from across the world. The unity of working class and poor communities must be rebuilt. We must replace the chaos of the ANC government’s capitalist policies with socialist policies. We must begin to plan the economic life of our communities to raise living standards for all. To do that we must build working class solidarity and cooperation between all members of the community whether they are South African residents, foreign residents, ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’. It is not the police or the army, but only organised communities that can stand-up against xenophobia and stop the violence, killing and divisions. This is the answer to xenophobia. This is the answer to poverty and unemployment. We must organise our communities and that means we must unite!
In many communities new civics, crisis committees and community forums have been created. We must work to create them where they do not exist. These structures must link-up to form a new country-wide socialist civic movement. A country-wide civic movement could lead national campaigns for house building and job creation. A country-wide civic movement could coordinate service delivery protests turning them into a mighty national movement to fight for the development of our communities.
Below is a socialist programme that can lead our communities away from the dead-end of xenophobic violence and towards job creation, service delivery and house building. We call on all communities and community structures that support this programme to implement it and join with us in building a country-wide socialist civic.
Organise our communities
- Build democratic, accountable mass community organisations in every community. These organisations must involve ALL residents whether South African or foreign. If foreign residents are to integrate then South Africans must build trust by involving them in the running of the community. Foreign residents must support the struggles of the communities they live in.
- No to corruption. For complete transparency in all aspects of the work of community organisations. Leaders to be accountable and recallable.
- Link-up all community organisations in a country-wide socialist civic.
Create jobs, share out the work fairly
- Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for a fully-enforced national minimum wage, mass job creation programmes so that everyone who wants a job can have one and labour exchanges that can match job vacancies with workers. Campaign and fight for an unemployment social grant.
- Stop greedy bosses using foreign workers to undercut wages! Community organisations and local businesses must agree community-wide minimum wages enforced by community organisations.
- Community organisations must draw up registers of the unemployed, South African and foreign, and their skills. Local businesses, including foreign businesses, must employ a quota of workers from these registers, the number depending on the circumstances of the business. These registers to be regularly inspected by representatives of the community to protect against corruption.
- Community organisations to organise rotas for casual workers, South African and foreign, to ensure all have a fair chance to earn a regular wage.
- Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for state supported cooperatives (corporasie) of small farmers and small businesses; a public wholesale goods network to provide cheap bulk supplies; provision of affordable credit to existing small businesses and those wishing to open a small business; price controls and guaranteed markets.
- Equal access to existing business networks, including local South African access to foreign business networks in the townships.
- Country-wide socialist civic to campaign and fight for a mass house building programme to provide everyone with a decent home with adequate and cheap electricity, water and sanitation; build tar roads to replace every dirt track.
- Housing waiting lists to be under the democratic control of community organisations. Kick out corrupt councillors and gangster building developers! Fair and objective criteria to be used to prioritise housing allocation, including current housing situation, number of dependents and length of time on waiting list. No discrimination on grounds of being foreign; need must determine allocation. Housing waiting lists to be regularly inspected by representatives of the community to protect against corruption.
Crime & Xenophobia
- Organise to stop xenophobic violence. Organise community-watch programmes under the democratic control of community organisations with the mass participation of the community to protect foreign residents and businesses against xenophobic violence.
- No to crime and drugs. Campaign and fight for high quality, free, drug rehabilitation programmes for addicts. Organise community-watch programmes under the democratic control of community organisations with the mass participation of the community. Report all drug dealers and other criminals, South African and foreign, to the police and campaign for their removal from the community.
The struggle is political
We can begin to organise our communities on this socialist programme now. We can begin taking steps to organise a country-wide socialist civic now. We can begin preparing coordinated country-wide mass protests to demand a national minimum wage, job creation and house building now.
We must also support the creation of a mass workers party with a socialist programme to fight for political power so that we can create a socialist society where the needs of all will be met.
In the 2016 local elections community organisations must stand candidates against the ANC and the other parties that support capitalism. We must take full control of all decision making in our communities.
Borders and immigration
There is no way to stop immigration. South Africa has a huge land border. If people are desperate they will find a way to come here. The Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe is not even a barrier. Over 650 desperate people drowned trying to cross it last week.
We must not support the idea of the ANC government increasing police and army numbers to ‘secure’ the border. This is not possible anyway. The extra police and army will also be used to protect capitalism from our struggles. This happened at Marikana when mineworkers striking for better wages were gunned down. And the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe has already threatened to send the army into the townships in response to xenophobic violence instead of promising to deal with the underlying issues of jobs and poverty.
The ANC government’s immigration policy is designed to help the capitalist class. They allow foreign workers into the country so they can be exploited by capitalists to make bigger profits. Then the ANC government encourages xenophobia amongst South Africans to stop united struggle with our exploited foreign brothers and sisters.
We must campaign for trade unions to organise foreign workers to stop the race to the bottom in wages. We must demand a worker and community commission to overhaul Home Affairs’ immigration system. We must protect the right to asylum and organise foreigners in our communities. If foreigners chose to return to their home countries one day, they must be armed with a socialist programme and our solidarity and support to fight to end the wars, economic ruin and brutal dictatorships that forced them to leave their homes in the first place. We must fight to create socialism across the continent and the world.
We have no trust in the ANC government or the capitalist class! We must fight for a workers government so that the working class can take control of the borders and immigration. This will allow for a humane working class immigration policy. A workers government with socialist policies could plan the integration of foreigners into our communities and remove the competition for jobs, housing and services that leads to tensions and xenophobia when the capitalist class are in charge.
Struggle for a workers government. Struggle for socialism.
Contact us if you or your community organisations wants to support the building of a new country-wide socialist civic. Call 081 393 1914.
Download this statement as a pamphlet here.
Workplace and community action to stop both murder, looting and government fuelling of xenophobia!
The Workers and Socialist Party condemns the xenophobic attacks that are centred in and around Durban and now spreading also to Johannesburg. We call on community organisations and trade unions across South Africa to take a stand to put an end to the attacks by organising assemblies against xenophobia in their locations and workplaces. This is particularly important in the affected areas such as Isipingo, uMlazi and KwaMashu. If ever there was a time for the United Front initiated by NUMSA to make its mark, this is it! WASP calls for the organising of marches to say a loud no to the xenophobic and racist murder and looting as well as to the ANC-government’s legitimisation of such attacks through its xenophobic policies that treat foreign-born workers and poor as criminals.
According to media reports, this latest wave of xenophobic violence began with an attack on foreign-born residents in Isipingo, south of Durban, apparently provoked by a shop firing its workers and replacing them with new staff of foreign origin. If true, this is a tragic image of the role that xenophobia and racism play in holding up class society. The boss who was taking advantage of the vulnerable position of immigrants to super-exploit them and press down on wages, working conditions and the confidence to take up struggle of all workers, South African and foreign-born, is free to continue doing so. Instead of taking up the fight with the boss against unfair dismissal and for equal pay for equal work, South Africans turned on Africans with their origins outside the border. In the three weeks that have followed, thousands of residents, most with their roots in Zimbabwe and the DRC, have fled their homes. Spaza shops have been looted and burnt and people have lost their livelihoods. At least five people have been killed in the violence.
The working class has no home country
The struggle against xenophobia and racism is a key pillar of WASP’s commitment to socialism. Workers and poor people from across southern Africa and the world have far more in common with each other than with their respective fellow citizen oppressors in big business and government. The claims that ‘foreigners’ take ‘our’ jobs, ‘outcompete’ locals in eking out a living out of spaza shops, ‘sell drugs’, are ‘just too many’ and so on and on, should be treated with contempt by everyone who supports the struggle for jobs, housing, electricity, water, sanitation and education for all. South Africa has massive wealth that could easily provide everyone in need with work, a living wage, quality education, develop working class areas with decent housing, modern services, recreational facilities and programmes to combat drug abuse as well as a safe place away from war and persecution – if it was in the hands of the working class. So does the DRC, Zimbabwe and other countries from which workers and poor people have been forced to flee to escape persecution, mass unemployment or war (often, as in the case of the DRC, war over precisely the precious resources which capitalists, not least South Africa-based ones are scrambling for). Big business, the capitalist system and its political defenders in government should be the target of working class anger, not foreign-born class brothers and -sisters.
The xenophobic myths that are used (even when pre-faced with “I don’t support the violence and looting, but…”) to justify murder and terror are underpinned by a narrow-minded racism which will tomorrow strike back at its supporters of today. This is racism, not just xenophobia, as the targets are black Africans and Asians with the notable exemption of whites. An interesting and little-known fact on the xenophobic pogroms of 2008 is that 21 of the 62 people killed actually were South Africans. Within this irrational frame of reasoning, the logical next step from killing those deemed one shade too black will be attacks on people or of the ‘wrong’ tribal origin. If xenophobic and racist divisions are allowed to grow further, the scene is set for Pedi-speaking workers and communities to be pitted against Shangaan and Venda counterparts in Limpopo, for Tswana-speaking residents of Rustenburg to chase away the Pondo- and Sotho-speaking mineworkers and their families to mention just a couple of examples. Every day sees dangerous glimpses of the potential for such conflicts to flare up.
ANC politicians and Zulu king fuel xenophobia
The ANC government has been forced to name this wave of violence as xenophobic and to condemn it. While this is one step forward from the stubborn denialism (the claims that all there has been to the attacks in recent months is ‘opportunist criminality’) and the open incitement to xenophobia from for example Ministers Nomvula Mokonyane and Lindiwe Zulu, it is being undone by two steps backward as every condemnation and caution issued by government is immediately followed by assurances that ‘illegal’ foreigners and unlicensed businesses will be dealt with. By continuing to cast suspicions on immigrants and refugees, the ANC-government is fuelling their effective criminalisation and is legitimising the brutal attacks it claims to oppose.
Beyond talk, the government’s actions and policies speak volumes. The right to asylum for those who flee war, political or religious oppression, has effectively been abolished in South Africa, with a backlog of hundreds of thousands of applications and refugees suffering massive abuse at the hands of government officials. For African immigrants, and anyone too dark-skinned in the ‘wrong’ area, constant ID-/ passport controls, arrests and police brutality are normal. Foreign-born shop owners have learned from experience that they can only expect extortion, intimidation and xenophobia from the police, and some have concluded that their only chance at protection is to arm themselves. Last year’s tightening of the Immigration Act and regulations are almost impossible to comply with. It is no coincidence that the sharpening of the law was accompanied with aggressive talk, preparing the ground for example for the ending of the special permits for the 250 000 Zimbabweans who live and work in South Africa by the end of 2017. Now, the ANC is preparing to use the xenophobic violence to reinforce its right-wing and xenophobic shifting of government policy, as seen in the calls by ANC general secretary for the establishment of refugee camps on the border. The message that is sent out by government is that ‘foreigner’ equals ‘suspect criminal’ and ‘legitimate target’.
The government has in this way put together the firewood for a big conflagration. All that was needed was for someone to drop a match. This was done by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini when he said in a speech that foreigners should be chased out of the country “like you shake lice off a blanket”. He is being defended by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko as simply restating government policy – because he was talking about ‘illegal’ foreigners, mind you! WASP condemns this official xenophobia as strongly as we do the burning and looting.
Divide and rule
For the capitalist bosses, racism and xenophobia are also useful as justification for sub-existence wages and sub-human working and living conditions for black, and in particular foreign-born, workers. This can be seen very clearly in the mining industry. The capitalists also do their best to make use of racial and ethnic differences to divide and rule the working class. The maintenance of the migrant labour system long after the end of apartheid is one of the signs of this. So for the working class, unity across ethnic lines is a must.
The organised workers, with the old National Union of Mineworkers and Cosatu in the lead, established a proud tradition of unity in struggle. It is no coincidence that xenophobia is breaking out this year in the wake of the effective collapse of Cosatu. It is only the organised working class that has the power to take all of society forward based on collective organising and class-unity in struggle for a socialist society. With the paralysis and breakdown of Cosatu over the past three years in particular, in place of the forces holding workers and communities together based on joint class interests a space has been opened for those, like the king, who try to rely on inflaming divisions to reinforce their privileged positions.
The situation screams out for the organised workers and communities in struggle to give a new lead. WASP is working to get the United Front, initiated by NUMSA, trade unions and community organisations to organise marches and solidarity action such as workplace and community meetings to shout out the class alternative to xenophobia and to stop the violence from spreading to new areas.
Ruling party and the state part of the problem, not the solution
We cannot rely on the police, government or ruling party leaders to put an end to the xenophobic violence. The brutal police attack on the march against xenophobia which was held in Durban on April 8 is a clear indication of this. Although the march had a permit police would not allow it to go ahead. The demonstrators were assaulted with water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and even planks. A xenophobic mob made up of amongst others taxi rank workers and drug addicts, according to the report by Abahlali baseMjondolo, had been mobilised to attack the march, apparently in an organised manner with people being bussed in from as far as Port Shepstone.
We can clearly have no confidence in government-orchestrated manifestations against xenophobia, the deployment of more police or of the army. The immediate answer is to work hard to mobilise the rank-and-file of trade unions and communities for a resounding mass action rejection of xenophobia. Going forward, it is critical that such mobilisations contribute to the rebuilding of a worker-controlled and class-independent labour movement, the unification of community struggles in a country-wide, socialist civic organisation and the bringing together of all working class struggles under a clear anti-xenophobic, anti-racist and socialist banner in a new working class political party.
While at one level embarrassing for the ruling class and government, xenophobia is above all a convenient distraction from the reality that all working class and poor people are ’illegals’ in their world where capital equals citizenship, especially at a time like this when the economy is deeply mired in crisis for which the same elites want the workers and poor to pay. The answer to the hunger and desperation of working class communities is not xenophobia but to reach out to immigrant and refugee communities that feel isolated from the broader working class and to unite communities and workplaces in struggle that can direct the anger towards the only legitimate target: the capitalist system. As seen in the last few weeks the future holds either socialism or barbarism. It is only a socialist programme, which is by definition internationalist and anti-racist, that can provide the basis for unity.
by Shaun Arendse
On 2 April, the Somali based al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab carried out a horrific massacre of 148 university students in Garissa, Kenya. The 15 hours of carnage saw Muslim students separated from Christian, with the latter lined-up and executed. Later, parents trying to identify their murdered children found it almost impossible to recognise them due to the facial disfigurements caused by close-range head-shots.
Al-Shabaab is a barbaric reactionary organisation. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the global terrorist network Al-Qaeda, and now the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Middle East, al-Shabaab is a creation of US imperialism. To defeat its rivals and cut across the development of mass working class struggle, US imperialism has leant on the most reactionary forces the world over for decades. It has nurtured and encouraged monsters that have now broken loose, not only terrorising the working class and poor but threatening the strategic interests of US imperialism itself.
Al-Shabaab dresses-up its right-wing anti-working class and anti-poor class agenda in a deformed perversion of the Islamic religion. The ‘caliphate internationalism’ of al-Shabaab has nothing in common with the socialist internationalism of the working class. Socialist internationalism looks forward to a future of high living standards for all, workers’ democracy, peace and freedom; the al-Shabaab looks backwards to the stifling feudal empires of centuries ago based on economic underdevelopment, poverty, ignorance and the absence of even basic democratic rights. Instead of peace and working class cooperation across borders, al-Shabaab’s vision is of a perpetual religious ‘clash of civilizations’.
The opposition of al-Shabaab to the West and the US in particular, has nothing in common with the relatively progressive anti-imperialist and anti-colonial national liberation struggles of the past. These were based on the mass mobilization of the working class, the poor and the peasantry; al-Shabaab has stepped into a vacuum created after decades of conflict has weakened, disorganised and atomized the working class. They lean upon the most reactionary pre-capitalist forms of clan and religion.
Al-Shabaab’s opposition to the imperialist policies of the US capitalist class is based on their own anti-democratic and anti-working class interests. To the extent that US imperialism supports corrupt capitalist regimes, warlords and other hired thugs, it prevents al-Shabaab from suppressing and dominating the masses of the region under their own religious dictatorship. Socialists do not support either imperialism or the reactionary forces of al-Shabaab.
Growing regional destabilization
The Garissa attack is the most extreme in a steady escalation of attacks in East Africa. In 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, 76 people were blown-up by al-Shabaab whilst watching the World Cup. In September 2013, 67 were murdered in the Westgate shopping centre massacre in Nairobi, Kenya. Between 2013 and now, over 400 Kenyans have been murdered by al-Shabaab in a series of smaller-scale terrorist attacks.
Nor is Garissa the first time that al-Shabaab has tried to sow religious divisions. In 2007 their supporters blew-up a Christian church in Ethiopia; in the Westgate attack non-Muslims were picked-out for murder as they were in Garissa. But in Somalia itself, al-Shabaab persecutes Muslims who do not subscribe to their own brutal interpretation of Islam.
The Garissa massacre also revives memories of the April 2014 abduction of 276 school girls in Nigeria by the Islamist group Boko Haram, al-Shabaab’s ideological twin. A clear pattern has emerged, not just of targeting innocent civilians who adhere to the ‘wrong’ religion or the ‘wrong’ lifestyles, but preying on our children to instil absolute terror.
Roots of atrocity in social conditions
Al-Shabaab emerged in Somalia in the 2000s. Only later did it begin to spread its reactionary ideology of ‘global jihad’ and its counter-revolutionary methods of indiscriminate terror into neighbouring countries. Imperialist divide and rule polices and the intrigues of local elites going back over decades, severe economic under-development and near un-ending conflict across the region gave birth to al-Shabaab. Like Boko Haram in Nigeria, they personify the negative side of the choice facing Africa between socialism and barbarism.
The legacy of colonial borders in the Horn of Africa is an important factor in the conflicts between the elites of the region. When the European colonial powers withdrew from the region they supported the imposition of borders that saw the Somali-ethnic group divided between Somalia, North East Kenya and the Southern Ethiopian region of Ogaden. In the 1950s, the world powers forced the ‘federation’ of Ethiopia and Eritrea setting the scene for brutal conflicts over decades as the Eritreans were brutally repressed by the elite in Addis Ababa. Somalia itself was cobbled together out of the colonies of British Somaliland and the Italian colony Somalia Italiana. Somaliland was brutally repressed by the US backed Mogadishu regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Somaliland has since declared independence but is yet to be recognised by any other states.
The Horn of Africa is a strategic area for world imperialism. It is close to the oil producing countries of the Middle East and it is estimated that 30% of world oil passes through the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coastline. Since 2001, the US has maintained the vast Camp Lemonnier military base in Djibouti (bordering Somalia). Since 2008, Camp Lemonnier has been under the US’s new African Command (AFRICOM) which was established to coordinate US imperialist intervention on the continent as Africa’s strategic importance increased. Increasingly, the US is also promoting the role of the African Union (AU) as its local military proxy after the United Nations (UN) has become deservedly discredited on the continent as a proxy for imperialism. The US and the European Union funds around two thirds of the AU’s budget.
Cold War rivalry & US Imperialism’s devastation of Somalia
From the 1970s the Horn of Africa became a battlefield in the Cold War between the USSR and US imperialism. These rival world powers manoeuvred between the repressive regimes of Ethiopia and Somalia to advance their own strategic interests in the region. For its part, US imperialism militarily propped-up the Somali dictatorship of Siad Barre throughout the 1980s. They supported his regime, not only in conflicts against the USSR-backed Ethiopian regime, but in the brutal civil war he waged against his own people.
Despite US support, the hated Barre regime collapsed by 1991 paving the way for the rule of the Somali warlords. With the collapse of the USSR in the same year marking the end of the Cold War, US imperialism’s main reason for involvement in the region also disappeared. They withdrew in early 1994. US imperialism’s Somali legacy was an economically devastated and severely underdeveloped country divided between rival warlords. These were the fertile social-conditions for the rise of al-Shabaab.
The rise of al-Shabaab in Somalia
The ‘rule’ of the warlords was brutal and arbitrary for ordinary Somalis. Their gangster methods hollowed out even the narrow base of support amongst their own (rarely) paid militias and by the 2000s they were in decline. In Mogadishu, local clan-based ‘Islamic’ Courts emerged around religious elites to try and bring some security and stability to daily life.
The Courts were encouraged and supported by the Somali business elite who were returning from self-imposed exile in number from the late 1990s to profiteer from the lucrative contracts available from different NGO food and aid programmes.
Initially the business elite organised their own militias. The local Coca-Cola franchise had 200 men under arms and the telecommunications company over 1,000. The worst profiteer, controlling large NGO contracts related to food transport and distribution, Aboukor Umar Adane, had over 2,000 men under arms. It goes without saying, that not only were these militias tasked with protecting the private business interests of the elite from bandits and warlords, but they could easily be used against the factory workers, engineers, truck drivers and port workers to stop attempts at working class organisation.
This alliance of religious and business elites was able to take effective control of Mogadishu by 2006 when the different locally-based Courts united as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). Al-Shabaab emerged as the ICU’s militia. The Courts had a degree of popular support. Compared to the criminality of the warlords, life was more secure and stable under the ICU. Crime virtually disappeared in Mogadishu and whilst the ICU imposed their own taxation on the local population it was not on the same suffocating scale of the random extortion practised by the warlords.
US imperialism returns to the region
After Al-Qaeda’s 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on America, US imperialism renewed its interest in the region which was an early theatre of operations for Al-Qaeda. In 1998, Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam killing 224; in 2002 suicide bombers attacked a hotel in Mombasa, killing 13 mostly Kenyan hotel workers, whilst trying to target Israeli guests. Between 2002 and 2006 the US waged a so-called ‘Shadow War’ of airstrikes to destroy Al-Qaeda in East Africa with the defeated Al-Qaeda remnants swelling the ranks of al-Shabaab.
Parallel to the ‘Shadow War’, US imperialism increased its efforts to install a pro-capitalist pro-Western regime in Mogadishu, sponsoring the creation of a Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Nairobi. The TFG rested on clan divisions as well as the discredited warlords. In December 2006 Ethiopia invaded Somalia with the support of US airstrikes to install the TFG and drive the ICU and al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu. For the next two years civil war raged with the TFG in Mogadishu under the protection of the Ethiopian military and US imperialism. But by mid-2009 al-Shabaab had successfully fought back and controlled territory the size of Denmark with a population of over 5 million. The war-weary Ethiopian army withdrew.
Kenyan elite playing more assertive regional role
In October 2011, as fighting continued, the Kenyan government took the fateful decision to invade Somalia. Their pretext was to prevent kidnappings. The AU, with the support of US imperialism, has since ‘legitimised’ the Kenyan invasion and occupation, which continues to this day, under the name of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). For two decades the Kenyan ruling class has not directly involved themselves in the conflicts on their Northern and Eastern borders. However, the Kenyan elite have had their confidence boosted by economic growth and Kenya’s achievement of the imperialist World Bank’s coveted ‘middle income status’. With confidence comes assertiveness.
The Kenyan elite has calculated that carving out a new buffer ‘state’ on their Eastern border, from the Somali state of Jubaland would serve their security interests. With the tacit backing of US imperialism they feel strong enough to test the water. There are countless reports of occupying Kenyan forces backing various anti-Mogadishu clans amongst whom they promote the idea of independence or at least ‘autonomy’ from Mogadishu. Any Somali elites willing to go along with such a plan would be guaranteed the largesse of the Kenyan capitalist class in return for their services. Such a policy can only aggravate the conflict within Somalia and the suffering of the Somali people.
As Westgate, Garissa and the dozens of other attacks in recent years have demonstrated, there are deadly consequences to the Kenyan people for the support given to US imperialism by the pro-capitalist regimes of Kibaki, Odinga and now Kenyatta. The continuing occupation of Jubaland by the Kenyan army is al-Shabaab’s pretext for the brutal atrocities they have committed, and will commit in the future, against the Kenyan people.
The working class is suffering economically too through job losses and pay cuts in the tourism industry, a major employer, as a result of the Kenyan elite’s foreign policy. Already this year, 23 hotels have closed and the Heritage group of hotels has imposed a 20-30% pay cut for its staff. However, there are no signs that the Kenyatta regime is prepared to withdraw from Somalia. Indeed, the Kenyan air force has already launched airstrikes in retaliation for the Garissa massacre.
The capitalist Kenyatta regime
Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, belongs to one of the richest families in Africa with assets valued at over $500 million. His interest in power is to further enrich himself, his family and his political cronies. He cares nothing for the working class and poor. Since al-Shabaab began terrorist attacks in Kenya, Kenyatta has overseen a crackdown on Kenyan ethnic-Somalis as well as on Muslims in general. Arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment based on religion and ethnicity are now commonplace.
Kenyatta already has a brutal record of stoking ethnic conflict. He only recently evaded charges of ‘crimes against humanity’ for his alleged engineering of ethnic violence to bolster himself and his political allies in the disputed 2007 general election. This ethnic violence led to the deaths of over 1,300.
Kenyatta is reported to have fast-tracked the recruitment of 10,000 new police as part of his response to al-Shabaab’s attacks. These will be used against religious and ethnic minorities if they are under Kenyatta’s control. The working class and poor of Kenya must not walk into the sectarian trap being laid by Kenyatta to bolster his own support. Students protesting this week in Nairobi demanding increased security for university campuses must not inadvertently lend their support to strengthening the repressive apparatus of this pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist president. Such forces will eventually be used against the student movement and the workers movement.
In recent weeks, under the guise of an anti-corruption drive, five ministers and 17 other senior officials have been forced to resign. Unusually, the presidency has dealt with these cases rather than the director of public prosecutions. This is because this so-called anti-corruption drive is in reality an attempt to further secure Kenyatta’s position. Nearly all those targeted are Kenyatta’s political rivals. Kenyatta and his government cannot be trusted by the working class, the poor and the youth.
Build the forces of socialism in Africa
The Committee for a Workers International is building its forces across the African continent. The working class, the poor, the students and the youth must unite in the struggle for a socialist Africa and a socialist world. We oppose imperialism on the continent, the pro-capitalist corrupt regimes of Kenya and elsewhere, and the manifestations of barbarism like al-Shabaab. We call for the building of mass parties of the working class and poor. We appeal to those in Kenya, Somalia and across the region and the continent to join with us and assist us to assemble a revolutionary cadre standing upon the ideas of socialism.
What we stand for:
- Imperialism out of Africa! Close down US, French and other military bases on the continent. Oppose the military deployments of the African Union, the UN and all other proxies for imperialism.
- No to rule by predatory elites, whether al-Shabaab, warlords or imperialist imposed regimes. For governments of the working class, poor and peasantry.
- Disband the US-sponsored predatory police force and army in Somalia. For democratic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-clan, mass defence organisations to defend communities against the terrorism of al-Shabaab and the brutality of occupying powers.
- For minority rights and the right to self-determination for all oppressed national groups.
- For the democratic freedoms of speech, assembly and organisation, not as a Trojan horse for imperialism but to allow the working class, the poor and the youth to politically organise and fight for higher living standards.
- Struggle for massive economic development and job creation across the continent upon the basis of nationalisation of industry, mineral wealth and other natural resources under workers control and land reform under the control of rural communities.
- All food and development aid to be under the control of democratically elected committees of workers and communities.
- Organise united struggle against job cuts and pay cuts in the Kenyan tourism industry; nationalise job cutting big businesses under workers control.
- Build mass working class and poor people’s parties with socialist programmes across Africa, uniting in common struggle. Build the revolutionary forces of the CWI.
- For a socialist Africa and a socialist world.