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By Mametlwe Sebei
A series of resignations from South Africa’s official opposition, Democratic Alliance, starting with Herman Mashaba, a reactionary right-wing populist mayor of Johannesburg, who had styled himself a Donald Trump of South African politics, and culminating into resignations of the national leaders of the party itself, including the party leader Mmusi Maimane and Federal Chair Athol Trollip has plunged the DA in the unprecedented crisis. Since its formation in 2000, out of the merger of the predominantly white, neo-liberal conservative parties, the Democratic Party, Federal alliance and the architects and ruling party of the apartheid regime (the National Party). The Democratic Alliance has been the most successful and, until explosive emergence of the EFF, the fastest growing party in the country. All this crumbled in the 2019 national elections, when the party, for the first time since the first democratic elections in 1994, when its main predecessor DP started its triumphant march to becoming an official opposition, lost votes and seats in parliaments. 2019 elections outcomes precipitated a terminal party crisis unfolding currently.
The rapidity with which the party plunged into this deep crisis is only matched by its meteoric rise from a small, fifth biggest opposition party of 1, 73 % in the 1994 elections to the official opposition party in 1999 elections, where it registered a phenomenal increase in electoral support and seats in the national assembly from 7 to 38 seats. This meteoric rise culminated in the take-over of three additional metro councils of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay during 2016 local government elections which put the party in charge of the four of the biggest six cities in the country including its legislative, administrative and industrial capital cities.
On the basis of this breakthrough, not only the party appeared unstoppable but with skyrocketing polls of 31-35 % in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 elections, many in the DA and outside of it, thought DA was poised for a take-over of power nationally, through coalitions with bourgeois black parties, in spite of its unshakeable image as a party of white minority. Based on this perspectives, DA developed its strategy of coalitions and adjustments of its policy positions to reach out to even broader sections of the black middle class and accommodate its alliance partners.
These perspectives and strategy crumbled in the last elections when it was clearly rejected by DA’s traditional white minority base, many of whom defected to an openly white racist and right-wing Freedom Front, leading to the electoral slump and unravelling of the current crisis.
The damning prognosis of this in the report of the review panel led by the former leader of the party, Tony Leon that called for resignation of the party leader, Mmusi Maimane and chairperson of the party’s federal executive, James Selfie set in motion trail of disastrous events that culminated into a unfolding calamity for the party.
Illusions of stability and cohesion shattered
Following the report of the review panel appointed by Mmusi Maimane to investigate the causes of the loss in the electoral support in the 2019 elections and on its recommendations, James Selfie’s resignations as the chairperson of the party’s federal executive, elections for the replacement threw wide open the factional squabbling which DA had hitherto downplayed. The concerted attempt to cover-up the cracks had allowed the party to present an illusion of the most stable political party in the country. To be sure there were occasional leaks of internal fights and squabbles, which even led resignations of key figures like former party chief whip Lindiwe Mazibuko, but these were isolated instances and the party downplayed with a measure of success.
This appearance of stability and political cohesion, along with a false impression of zero-tolerance for corruption and ‘moral’ purity were major factors amongst others in a sustained growth of the party, especially in the whole period when all major parties were in open turmoil and tainted by scandals of corruption, and internal strife that invariably led to paralysis and splits in the ANC, COPE, and IFP.
All these illusions of internal party stability were crushed by this crisis. Along with the shattering blows to its highly cloistered image of moral purity it suffered from scandalous revelations of corruptions in its administrations in the metros of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Tshwane, this crisis marks a qualitative turning points in the fortunes of the DA and spell the disastrous end of its glorious days. In the best scenario it can retreat into an insignificant party of privileged white minority, and prolonged death agony.
Zille’s ascension to power- turning back the tides of change.
The report of the review panel, which was headed by the former white party leader Tony Leon and ascension to the powerful position of Federal Executive chair of an increasingly controversial former white party leader, Helen Zille has been widely viewed and correctly so, as a clawing back of power by the party’s old ‘white establishment’ and right-wing counter-reform project to return the party to its traditional white conservative base.
The damning statements of Mashaba, Maimane and exodus of black members in Kwazulu-Natal province to ANC, coming barely months following a significant shedding of its long standing black base amongst ‘coloured voters’ to the newly formed GOOD party led by its expelled former mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, marks a crushing blow to the painstaking, decades long efforts to shake-off the image of DA as a racist anti-black white party.
Zille has been causing serious embarrassment to the DA through her racist tweets speaking favourably of the legacy of apartheid regime and colonialism in South Africa and openly defied Maimane’s attempts to reign on her. She has also been using her widely followed twitter account to campaign against Maimane’s ‘One South Africa for all’’ project which had tried to take DA much further into the black communities through support for BEE policies and highlighting racial injustices against black majority in a way that clearly made the ‘Old DA establishment’ uncomfortable.
These positioned her as a voice of the conservative counter-reformist grouping, supported by Institute for Race Relations, which Herman Mashaba has labelled right-wing. Her ascension to power, regardless of her declarations to ‘stay on her lane’, could therefore not be understood otherwise than a triumph of this faction over the Maimane faction and resounding defeat of the black caucus that has been driving for more orientation to the black middle class and support for BEE policies that pitted them against the white DA establishment and supporters.
The scandals of corruption implicating major DA leaders including Maimane himself have also tainted the DA publicly and undermined Maimane leadership severely. The recent revelations of the car donated by Steinhof and the-below-market rental for the luxury house in Cape Town for Maimane and his family, illegal or not, have seriously damaged his name and along with him, DA image.
Torrents of revelations of corruption scandals in DA local government administrations have also tainted the party. Reveleations of corruption and bribery in R12 billion GladAfrica and R1 billion fuel supply tender irregularities in Tshwane Metro, R1 billion Fleet contract tender in Johannesburg metro, which also involve EFF, and misappropriation of funds in Cape Town to mention only few have exposed the party posturings on corruption as a lie.
Growing social polarisation at the root of DA crisis.
Many commentators have correctly pointed to the factional struggle between the reform project centred around the black caucus of the DA and its ‘old white establishment’ as the underlying cause of the crisis. The fall-out between Zille and Maimane over the provocative racist tweets of the Zille and ‘black and white conflict’ in the DA offers, however, no explanation for the depth and timing of the crisis in the DA.
The conflict between the ‘race-blind’ white ‘liberals’ and racist conservatives in Helen Zille camp and pro-BEE and populists of Maimane-Mashaba faction are real and were inevitably bound to lead to the crisis.
This factional conflict and splintering however has far deeper sociological causes than the superficial analyses of bourgeois commentators suggests. Neither the Zille bashing conspiracy theories nor the white washing of Maimane-Mashaba cabal sheds light on the material basis of the DA split in the social polarisation taking place in society and deepening crisis of capitalism.
Workers and Socialist Party and its predecessor, Democratic Socialist Movement, has consistently argued that DA will never grow significantly beyond the high point it reached in the 2014/2016 elections. This prognosis was based on the historical limitations of the DA as a traditionally white party with a history stretching back to colonial and apartheid regimes and brutal anti-working class programme, which could appeal to sections of black middle class appalled by rampant corruption of the ANC and its black elite but can never appeal to the vast majority of the black working class.
DA’s growing black base was based on historical factors which have turned into opposite effects today, the ANC and the economic situation in the country. In a thinly veiled swart-gevaar (Afrikaans for black danger) Fight Back campaign that won over the support base of the right-wing parties like Freedom Front and National Party, the DA secured its position as the only viable party of white minority opposed to the ANC policies in government since 1994. Recognising the electoral limitations of this support base to the political ambitions of the DA, the leadership has been at pain to broaden its electoral base by reaching out to black middle class voters.
Based on the disillusionment of the black middle classes with the ANC government over corruption in particular and media-sponsored image of DA as corrupt free party, this strategy was successful enough to allow the party to sustain its growth beyond limits initially imaginable. Nonetheless, this was mostly aided also by the growing disillusionment and electoral drop-out of the black working class votes for the ANC, which allowed DA to increase its parliamentary representations disproportionately higher than the increase in its electoral support.
The victory of Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC and to the helm of the country brought to an end of a period that was a paradise for the opposition, especially for the DA which increasingly found itself increasingly running short of Zuma-era scandals to capitalise on. Most importantly however, these co-incided with a period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism which undermined the social foundations for the political coalescing of black and middle classes on which DA successes rested.
Beginning with the recovery from the shockwaves of Asian financial crisis in late 1999 and accelerating in 2003, South Africa experienced an exceptional period of sustained and fastest economic growth surpassing previous records, with economic growth reaching over 5 % over a period of four years leading to 2007. Although the growth was mainly in the financial sectors of the economy and had no significant impacts in the conditions of the working class, it did allow for advances of the black middle classes in the corporate and public sectors of the economy.
Growth in public fiscus and private sectors of the economy, along with restructuring and outsourcing of public services, created conditions for the advances of black professional middle classes and small businesses to occupy positions left by old white officials leaving for private sectors and securing business opportunities in outsourced service like cleaning, security and technical consultancies, etc.
These stalled with the Great Recession of 2008 and since then worsened with the deepening crisis, massive retrenchments, rising interest rates and tariffs which are also ruining the middle classes. Plummeting levels of consumption, rising levels of debts and defaults on credits, housing and car repossessions and retrenchments in the banking sectors are just but few indicators of these deepening crisis of the middle classes.
It is also this situation which is at the root of the growing social polarisation which translates into racial and political polarisation within and between classes in society, especially the middle class. How can the DA contain the colonial nostalgia and the ever growing discontentment of Black liberals within the party? It is also the crisis that is tearing the DA apart. Both on the basis of Maimane’s black caucus group and counter-reform programme of Helen Zille DA is doomed. The demand for DA support for Affirmative Action and other BEE policies reflect the growing frustrations of the black middle class support mobilised by DA with the reverses of previous social gains and voluntarily collaboration of the white elite in advancements of their ambitions. DA fudging its policies on these issues no longer suffices.
On the other hand, these policies spells a disaster for the white middle classes in particular who stand to lose from shrinking job and business opportunities in public and corporate sectors. With DA increasingly unable to speak unequivocally against BEE policies to placate its black supporters and coalitions, the white supporters began to vote with their feet. Regaining this support is main object of counter-reform wing of the DA and right-wing turn of Zille and faction around her. Either way, it seems the DA isfacing an abyss as it can no longer grow and even keep its black middle class base without alienating its white supporters and vice versa.
Maimane and Mashaba don’t represent aspirations of black majority
Allegations of corruption, racism and factional splintering of the DA does not only demonstrate that DA is not an alternative to the corrupt and factionalised ANC. It shows that there cannot be any alternative on the basis of capitalism and any of its parties, particularly in the period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism, which lay bare and aggravates every tendency towards the social and political crises of the system and exposing its contradictions. It was, as Warren Buffet commented, that “only when the tides goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The rising racial tensions and growing revulsion for the corruption of the political establishment reflects the widening social polarisation that is rooted in the alienation of the working and middle classes over their worsening economic conditions.
Both corruption and racism are, however, inherent to capitalism. As a system based on theft and plundering of the working class, public service and environment for profiteering of few, capitalism cannot free itself of corruption. The same with racism. As Malcolm X said “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. For the tiny part of the population to rule over the rest they have to divide them in order to conquer and keep them in subjugation. Racism has been one the most enduring form of prejudice to keep the working class in chains.
Maimane and Herman Mashaba do not represent the aspirations of the black majority, who are poor and working class. The cabal around them has also been responsible for corruption in DA administrations which has stolen the money from public services for the poor. Herman Mashaba has been at war with the poor of Johannesburg through his xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant campaigns which legitimised looting, plundering and killings of many poor African and Asian migrants. Herman Mashaba using the Johannesburg Metro Police Department in an operation of “Clean sweep” that has been running since 2013, confiscating goods of street vendors and shops around around the CBD of people who are trying to make a living. This is a blatant class war from the government, these attacks are barbaric and baseless as we see unemployment rising everyday.
His Free Market Foundation has been actively campaigning with the most reactionary employer associations to dismantle centralised bargaining which has had to devastating impacts on the plastic sector workers where workers’ wages have been slashed by more than 50 percent amongst others. In this anti-working class crusade, they collaborated with the most reactionary white racist groups, Orania Movement. All these happened under Mashaba as Helen Zille pointed out in relation to the FMF conference that Mashaba hosted at Orania, a white-only town which is the bastion of this ultra-reactionary extremists where black people are not allowed to stay.
Only the working class can build a real opposition to the ANC rule.
With the EFF nose in the trough of corrupt DA administrations and battling their own damaging complicity in the VBS banking looting, close links to cigarettes mafia and discredited by overt rapprochement with the Zuma camp, the stinking rot of the whole political establishment has never been clearer. The corruption, paralysis and bankruptcy of the bourgeois opposition parties reveals the impotence of these parties to provide a viable alternative to the corrupt, incompetent and anti-working class ANC.
WASP has consistently argued and campaigned for a new mass political alternative based on the fighting organisations of the workers, youth and communities. A campaigning, mass working class party organised democratically and at this stage, on a federal basis can potentially lay a basis for a broad fighting unity of the working class and the revolutionary left parties based on a mass campaigning around trade union issues, student and community struggles, against xenophobia, climate change, gender oppression and every other injustice.
With a bold socialist programme capable of answering all the pressing problems facing humanity, a fighting workers party can become a pole of attraction for environmental justice activists in extinction rebellion against the growing ecological calamity, the whole generation of young people radicalised by #FeesMustFall, #OutsourcingMustFall and now #TotalShutdown and growing community protests taking an increasingly insurrectionary character in the localised shutdowns for service delivery and jobs.
The trade union movement has a leading role to play in building this alternative. SAFTU-initiated Working Class Summit is a step in the right-direction and need to be developed further along with campaigns for a general strike and #TotalShutDown based on mass occupations of all the major cities across the country for decent wages, jobs, service delivery and to stop climate change and gender based violence. The affairs of humanity, are better managed in the absence of profit motives, only socialism can ensure good quality education, housing, health, infrastructure, etc.
By Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative USA
Foreword by Alex Sivitilli, Workers & Socialist Party
In August of this year I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Vote Sawant campaign run by our US section in Seattle to re-elect Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s district 3 council seat. The visit was brief, but it highlighted the discipline and determination required for a legitimate working-class campaign to succeed.
There were many ways to help despite my limited time in Seattle. I was given plenty of tasks such as preparing packets that aid “canvassing” teams and putting up posters around the neighborhood (a busy job given the daily vandalism that targets Kshama posters). I was able to end the day by joining a team to canvass the neighborhood and knock on doors of potential voters. We spoke with Seattle residents about their views and struggles while informing them about the movement behind Socialist Alternative and Kshama.
Fellow volunteers, mostly Socialist Alternative members, were quick to strike up conversation and create a very welcoming environment. This was especially remarkable given the hectic position of being a week away from the primary election. I went through quick training sessions in how to canvass with scenarios where we took up roles and advised each other on how to better handle certain situations with potential voters. Canvassing itself involved separating into teams and using mobile apps to help organise which voters to meet and speak with.
The daily routine in the office ran efficiently like clockwork, but it was also able to adapt to developing conditions. This was made possible due to a dedicated layer of assigned roles and tasks, analysis of evolving material conditions on the ground, and effective use of limited resources (the campaign accepts no corporate money and primarily runs on volunteers and donations from working people).
In addition to taking inspiration from the efforts and success of the hard-fought victory of our US comrades, we also take note of what strategies and methods we can adapt to our work here in South Africa. A revolutionary working-class party must be actively involved in community and workplace struggles. As WASP we are funded by our members and working class supporters and refuse any funding from the bosses. We must push the enforcement of the Political Party Funding Act in South Africa so that the parties in power reveal the corporate donors they serve.
Despite visiting from a world away, it was possible to step into action with comrades I had just met, and we operated as if we had worked and fought shoulder-to-shoulder for years. It is critical that we as the Committee for a Workers’ International continue to aid our socialist brothers and sisters abroad with solidarity in forms of finance, motivation, and labour. Where possible, we must also escalate our campaigns to worldwide movements that can unite the working class across borders. I’m proud to be part of this revolutionary international, in struggle, not just in name.
Kshama Sawant Re-Elected Despite Corporate PACs Spending $4 Million to Buy City Council
Jeff Bezos’s bid to buy Seattle City Council has backfired. Despite big business dropping unprecedented cash behind Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, Seattle voters rejected this attempt to flip the council to the right in all but two of the seven council races. In Seattle’s most-watched, most expensive, and most polarized council in decades, Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant appears to have won a narrow victory.
After election night returns showed Sawant behind by 8 points, with 46% to Egan Orion’s 54%, the corporate media and big business sounded triumphalist. But 60% of late arriving ballots counted in the following days swung toward Kshama. By Friday evening’s count Sawant had crested 3.6% past Orion with a lead of 1,515 votes, with that number likely to rise a bit further in the days ahead.
Washington State’s mail-in ballot system allows voters to mail in their ballots up to three weeks before election day. Early voters tend to be older and wealthier, with later voters being disproportionately younger, working class, and renters – those more likely to vote socialist. This year the late ballot bump for Sawant was bigger than ever, a reflection of the huge 58% turnout in District 3. Even our critics in the local media were forced to credit Socialist Alternative’s record-breaking get-out-the-vote operation.
The high turnout also reflected the wave of outrage that swept Seattle in the final three weeks of the election following Amazon’s $1 million “money bomb” dropped on Seattle on October 14. This brought Amazon’s total contribution to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce PAC to $1.5 million, and corporate PAC spending as a whole to over $4.1 million – approaching five times the previous record!
National political figures weighed in against Amazon, followed by a wave of national media attention. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board complained that “Bernie Sanders tweeted this week that Amazon’s spending in Seattle was ‘a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.’ Elizabeth Warren decried Amazon for ‘trying to tilt the Seattle City Council elections in their favor,’ adding that ‘I have a plan to get big money out of politics.’”
A referendum on corporate power
Warning that Bezos’s $1.5 million gamble to defeat Sawant and other progressives may have backfired, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said: “The election was playing out as a referendum on the performance of the City Council.” An Elway/Crosscut poll showed 67% of likely voters supporting “someone who wants to change” the Council’s direction. Westneat continued: “Now [the election] could well be a referendum on Amazon and corporate power” (10/23/19).
Of course, the Seattle Times is at the forefront of a relentless corporate propaganda offensive to blame Sawant and other so-called “left ideologues” for the failed “performance of the City Council” in addressing Seattle’s homelessness and affordability crisis, the top concern for voters. The paper endorsed Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, portraying them as “change” candidates.
In reality, Seattle’s housing crisis is part of the global failure of capitalism, which treats housing as a commodity to enrich billionaire speculators, rather than as a basic human right. Working people are right to be angry at the inaction of city, state, and federal authorities to address the crisis. But blame for this falls squarely on a political establishment that is complicit with corporate power, not on activists and political leaders like Kshama Sawant calling for universal rent control and taxing big business to massively expand quality public housing.
Amazon executives’ chosen opponent for Kshama was Egan Orion, a fully corporate candidate who posed as a “progressive” to win votes. Orion put posters up all over town saying he accepted no corporate PAC money despite the fact that he applied for corporate PAC money, interviewed with the PAC, and thanked them when he got their endorsement. He sent out mailers with lies about Kshama to every household.
Orion’s supporters tore down over 1,000 Kshama Sawant yard signs throughout the district, and in the final two weeks, they vandalized over 200 signs with spray-painted profanities. Crucial to overcoming the lies and attacks against our campaign was building widespread public awareness about this attempt to buy the election through thousands of conversations on the doors and at street corners by our members and volunteers.
Debate on Seattle’s Left
Once again, Seattle has shown that socialists and working people can take on the most powerful corporate titans and win. This victory should give confidence to movements everywhere, from the recent wave of mass anti-austerity and democracy protests spreading across the globe, to the youth climate strikes, labor battles, as well as other socialist election campaigns including Bernie Sanders’ inspiring fight for the presidency.
Yet it would be a major mistake to imagine that similar victories can be won through struggle and determination alone. The role of Marxist perspectives, program, and organization was essential in Seattle and will be vital to defeating the concentrated power of the capitalist class everywhere.
At the start of the election campaign, a de-facto alliance between big business, key labor leaders, and most liberal political figures had coalesced to try and defeat Sawant and block the election of Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott in District 4. This anti-Sawant alliance came to life in the aftermath of the “Tax Amazon” campaign in 2018, which went down in defeat following aggressive bullying by Amazon, including threats to move jobs out of Seattle.
The broad coalition built around the Tax Amazon campaign, in which Sawant’s office and Socialist Alternative played a central role, initially won unanimous passage of the tax on the top 3% of Seattle corporations to pay for affordable housing and homeless services. However, facing intense pressure from big business and a well-funded repeal campaign, this coalition was shattered and city council repealed the tax in a 7-2 vote just one month later.
From left-liberal and pro-business voices alike, blame for the defeat was put on the “divisive” approach of Sawant and Socialist Alternative. Despite support from a number of unions, leaders of the Ironworkers and other trades angrily denounced the campaign as a “tax on jobs,” fearful that Amazon would follow through on their threats to cut back new construction in retaliation.
In the August 6 primary, with no endorsements from her fellow city councilmembers or other prominent Democratic Party politicians, with labor publicly divided, Sawant received just 37% in the primary election. “No incumbent in recent memory has survived a primary showing that low,” wrote Westneat in the Seattle Times (8/7/19). “[T]he days on the council for the crusader for rent control and taxes on big business could be numbered.”
The fight for unity against Amazon
If Sawant and Socialist Alternative had adopted the approach of most liberal and labor leaders to try and avoid a direct confrontation with Amazon, it’s likely Jeff Bezos’ bullying strategy and attempt to buy the city council would have succeeded. There was nothing automatic about the widespread working-class distrust toward corporate power getting organized into a coherent fightback.
In fact, most elections across the U.S. don’t feature bold working-class challenges, given the corporate domination of the two-party system. Even in Seattle, where the local Democratic Party organizations have shifted leftward under the impact of Sanders and other left challengers, this hasn’t resulted in strong working class fighters running for city council in most races.
Socialist Alternative based our electoral strategy on confidence that, if offered a fighting lead, working class and young people in Seattle were capable of defeating Amazon and big business. Crucial to this strategy was the potential for working-class pressure from below to push progressive and labor leaders off the sidelines and into a united fight with us against Seattle’s corporate establishment. Socialist Alternative members provided the Marxist backbone of this strategy. Their energy, self-sacrifice, and political skills successfully built perhaps the most powerful grassroots election campaign in Seattle history.
Over 1,000 volunteers and SA members have helped us knock on over 225,000 doors and make 200,000 phone calls. 7,900 working people donated to the campaign, and with a median donation of $20 we raised $570,000, smashing all previous records for both the number of donors and total amount raised. We’ll be publishing a fuller report of this historic effort soon.
The dynamic unleashed after the primary election confirmed our strategy. Candidates backed by Amazon and big business moved on to the general election in all seven council races, facing off against more progressive candidates. With the looming threat of the Chamber of Commerce engineering a wholesale takeover of City Hall, our call for maximum unity against big business rapidly gained traction among grassroots activists, exerting pressure on bigger political players.
More endorsements for Sawant, as well as Shaun Scott, began rolling in from progressive leaders and groups who had sat on the sidelines in the primary. The scandalous effort of conservative labor leaders to win Egan Orion the Labor Council’s endorsement was defeated when over 300 union members signed an open letter in protest. By the final weeks, 21 unions had endorsed Sawant – a substantial majority of the union locals who endorsed in the District 3 race. A joint event promoting a Green New Deal for Seattle was organized with Sawant, Morales, and Scott speaking, an important display of programmatic left unity that was absent in the primary.
In a major defeat for the business-backed Democratic establishment who have long-dominated city politics, local Democratic Party groups endorsed both Shaun Scott and Kshama Sawant in September (they had already endorsed Morales in the primary). Sawant is the first independent socialist ever endorsed by Seattle’s Democrats, and this endorsement was made despite her very public calls for left Democrats, labor, and social movements to join together to build a new party for working people. This victory, the product of an energetic grassroots effort, was linked to passing resolutions condemning corporate PAC spending through four Democratic Party organizations.
All this laid the basis for our re-election campaign to become the central driving force behind a unified response when Amazon dropped their $1 million money bomb on October 14th. Alongside the Democratic Party groups, we organized a press conference two days later outside of Amazon headquarters, followed by rally called by Amazon workers a week later.
This broke the dam. A wave of national media coverage followed. In a high profile reversal, even Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda – the liberal city councilmembers who had publicly called for Sawant’s defeat in the primary – felt compelled to speak at the rally against Amazon and announce their endorsement of both Sawant and Scott. A wave of other progressive Democratic Party leaders followed suit.
The naked attempt by Jeff Bezos to buy Seattle City council backfired, but only because it met a well-prepared united front strategy to mobilize working class anger into a unifying force, pushing even reluctant labor and liberal leaders into alliance with socialists to fight big business. The role of Socialist Alternative, with our clear analysis, strategy, and a politically self-confident membership, was absolutely vital to moving these wider forces into united action.
As the wave of socialist election campaigns across the country continues to expand, the rich lessons of how we defeated Jeff Bezos in his hometown can help serious socialist organizers develop winning strategies for working class struggle everywhere.
Harland and Wolff shipyard occupation: A shining example of a trade union strategy to defeat job losses
Workers’ occupation of the Harland and Wolff Shipyard has won a major victory and secured the future of the shipyard, as well as jobs workers were defending under the threat of shipyard closure. The Socialist Party, a sister organisation of the Workers and Socialist Party and CWI affiliate in Ireland, played an important role in supporting the occupation including an appeal for international working class solidarity with the occupation.
Workers and Socialist Party supported mobilisations for solidarity from the workers movement here in South Africa. We are proud and grateful for support received from many ordinary workers and the most militant federation in the country, SAFTU which stood in solidarity and support of the workers occupation.
We are now calling on the workers in this country to follow-up on this marvelous campaign and militant struggle. In a country where unemployment is now above 38% and many more are joining the ranks of the 10, 2 million unemployed workers; as factories and mines are closing and every major industry is in crisis, the Harland and Wolff Shipyard Workers occupation provide us with a fighting alternative to these job losses and factory closures. We are calling on SAFTU to draw on these important lessons. We call on all SAFTU affiliates and working class people to occupy and takeover closing workplaces to preserve jobs, skills and industries against the vandalism of the capitalist class and corporations.
We post here the statement from the Socialist Party which offers essential reflections on this important addition to the political arsenal of the working class in its fight against job losses, factory closures and collapsing economy.
Harland & Wolff Occupation: Historic struggle in Northern Ireland saves jobs
For nine weeks, workers at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, where the Titanic was once built occupied the site after the company went into administration, placing skilled jobs at risk. The workers at the shipyard – members of Unite and GMB trade unions – demanded that the government nationalise the yard to safeguard its future. Workers, young people and trade unionists have shown solidarity with this important struggle in order to defend this iconic landmark, to save and create jobs for generations to come. The stand made by these workers has saved the shipyard, with a new buyer taking over the plant at the time of publishing.
The Socialist Party – CWI in Ireland spoke with one of the central leaders of the occupation, Unite’s Regional Coordinator and Socialist Party member Susan Fitzgerald. This is a slightly edited version of that interview.
The workers’ occupation at Harland & Wolff shipyard was truly historic. Can you explain how the dispute erupted?
In the weeks before the dispute erupted, as the company had been declared insolvent, the court appointed administrators had focused exclusively on one potential buyer. This buyer had promised to take on the assets and the workforce of Harland & Wolff but then, at the eleventh hour, reduced their bid significantly and, most importantly, refused to guarantee jobs. At this point, management had no solution. It was left to the unions to pull together a plan which, aside from going to the workforce, initially focused on discussing with government, politicians and the administrator regarding what could be done to save the shipyard.
While these talks were going on, we had regular canteen meetings with all the workers and, as well as updating them on what was happening, we argued that it was clear that they would need to take action to put their stamp on events. We referenced and drew out the lessons of the workers’ occupations at the Ford/Visteon plant in Belfast and Waterford Crystal in the Republic of Ireland ten years ago. We also talked about other occupations, including ones led by socialists like Jimmy Reid, who organised the historic “work-in” in the 1970s against attempts to lay off shipyard workers on the Clyde in Scotland.
Importantly, we talked about what was necessary to save the yard – re-nationalisation. The workers were well aware that the shipyard had been nationalised from 1977 to 1989. The case for nationalisation wasn’t made in some “ideological” way but flowed from the reality that there was no easy private-sector solution. Yet, the shipyard was a resource that could be used to invest in green energy, an area of work that it had been engaged in for the previous 10-15 years.
While talks were ongoing, behind the scenes, plans were being drawn up to occupy the yard should this be required. A workplace “Cobra Committee” was established, along the lines of the British Government’s emergency response committee. By 29th July, it was clear that there were no last-minute rescue plans. It was necessary for the workers to declare that they were taking over the shipyard.
That nationalisation was possible was demonstrated by events at Ferguson Marine in Glasgow, where in August the Scottish government announced it would nationalise that shipyard. This strengthened the case for nationalisation – if they could do it Scotland, why couldn’t they do it here?
So the main banner that hung from the famous Samson crane was “Save Our Shipyard: Re-Nationalise Now!”
There was massive support for the stand taken by the shipyard workers. Can you talk about the solidarity that was shown?
After that banner went up and the occupation began, huge solidarity appeared from every type of worker you can think of. The Bombardier workers, who are based next door to the shipyard, were among the first to turn out. As soon as the occupation began, they got a banner made saying “Bombardier workers stand in solidarity with Harland & Wolff workers.” In a scene reminiscent of the past, when they marched together for better pay, Bombardier workers made their way up the airport road and were greeted with loud cheers and clapping. It was genuinely emotional.
Many agency workers who, in the recent past, worked in the shipyard showed up and stood at the occupation daily to offer their support, seeing the struggle for what it was: a fight for decent jobs. When the Ferguson Marine shipyard was nationalised, the workers there said Harland & Wolff was next and produced a banner in solidarity, sending a senior union convenor over to Belfast to bring greetings.
Even before the occupation had begun, when civil servants were on strike, they took pictures holding placards in solidarity with the shipyard. We had people from across Northern Ireland showing up: footballers, musicians, comedians, writers, pipe bands – you name it. When the Irish Congress of Trade Unions organised a rally, each union left behind their flag as a message that this was a fight for the whole movement and to show unity.
Solidarity also came in from workers in the South of Ireland, who came to visit the occupation. Construction and energy workers from the Unite trade union visited, bringing thousands of euros with them for the hardship fund. The Unite construction branch t-shirts were seen everywhere at the yard. Waterford Crystal workers travelled up to speak and to share their occupation experience, and again came with a fantastic donation.
As much as the workers got solidarity, they were prepared to give it back. On the week of Belfast Pride, the workers put up two pride flags which are still flying to this day, hoisted at the gate. During various Pride demonstrations, “Save Our Shipyard” flags and t-shirts were carried along in support of the shipyard workers. Many people also took the placards of the Socialist Party, which said “Pride Means Solidarity: Support the Shipyard Workers.” On the day of the Earth Strike, workers postered the site with signs supporting the strike, wore Earth Strike t-shirts and helped carry union banners on the march.
Similarly, when Boris Johnson came to Stormont, where the currently suspended Northern Irish government meets, the shipyard workers were the first people out protesting. Obviously, they were joined by others on the day, protesting for different causes, including Irish language activists. At a certain point, the shipyard workers discussed with the Irish language group and asked them how to say “Save our shipyard” in Irish. We then proceeded to chant this together. This was done as a gesture by the shipyard workers, led by Unite representative Joe Passmore, to reach out and show respect to all communities in Northern Ireland and is illustrative of the potential that exists when workers struggle together to actually deal with the issues deemed to be contentious on the basis of mutual respect and solidarity.
On that point, the media and others have injected the history of sectarianism into the dispute. How did you respond to this?
Workers were very angry when the BBC showed old footage of a Catholic worker from 40 years ago being interviewed about sectarian intimidation in the workplace; not because anyone should engage in a whitewash of the past, but because it was a lazy and crude depiction of the shipyard, particularly as it exists today. It was particularly seen as crude in the context of a united struggle to defend jobs.
It was also a one-sided presentation of what happened in the shipyards. I challenged the BBC business editor to cover the story of the senior shop steward Sandy Scott who, fifty years ago last month, when the Troubles began, organised a mass meeting of the workforce because Catholic workers had not come to work for fear of sectarian attack. At the meeting, shipyard workers unanimously passed a motion organising a token strike against sectarianism and the shop stewards then visited the homes of Catholic shipyard workers, successfully appealing to them to return. At the same time, Ian Paisley was only able to mobilise 180 out of a workforce of 8,000 to support his rallies. There was much discussion at the yard as to why we never hear these stories. So far, it doesn’t look like the BBC have taken up our suggestion, but we made contact with Sandy Scott to tell him about the occupation and to praise his role.
As you have already said, the workers demanded nationalisation of the shipyard. As a socialist, what do you mean by nationalisation?
The demand that the government should nationalise the shipyard makes perfect “common sense”, particularly in the context of the need to deal with the environmental crisis and to create green jobs.
No one has a better understanding of what is needed to run the shipyard, or expertise in terms of what is needed, than the workers. No one has more invested in a real sense in the shipyard than the workers themselves and no one has demonstrated a greater willingness to fight for the shipyard than the workers themselves. So, in my view, it makes perfect sense that not only should the shipyard be taken into public ownership but that it would be handed over to the real experts to run – the workers. In other words, that there should be workers’ control and management of the shipyard. This would mean the workers could take decisions, not simply on the basis of the profit motive, but on the basis of what is socially useful and in the interests of our environment – like green energy.
The new buyer coming in represents an important victory, in that it secures the shipyards and skilled jobs for now. It was only possible because of the struggle waged, which ensured that workers were temporarily laid-off as opposed to being made redundant, and ensured the issue of the shipyard was kept on the agenda. Nonetheless, nationalisation would have been and remains the best way to secure the shipyard for the long-term and to ensure the workers’ skills are put to the best use for society as a whole. It speaks volumes about the politics of the main local parties and the Tory government in London that this was never seriously considered.
I was far from the only socialist at the yard and one of the things you saw really graphically was the ability of workers to rapidly learn far-reaching lessons from the struggle that they were involved in. At the same time, you had a workforce with lots of different political and religious views, including with strong convictions. Yet workers showed an ability to discuss these issues in a respectful manner, albeit with the usual workplace ribbing.
One view that became clearer, though, is that neither Unionist nor nationalist politicians represent the interests of working-class people. I think it was understood that, when you are in a battle like this, the only people you can really rely on are other workers and your own organisations. As a socialist, I think there is a bigger need than ever for the trade union movement to put its own agenda on the table and look at how they can challenge the main parties in a manner that can unite working-class people.
Obviously, we are seeing important movements of young people developing, including school strikes against climate change. How is this workers’ struggle relevant to those movements?
Nobody understands as well as Harland & Wolff workers the role that the shipyard can play in terms of creating green energy. For the last 10 to 15 years, these workers have been involved in making prototypes and building the physical infrastructure that is necessary for off-shore wind turbines. As a union, we have been constantly arguing for years for Harland & Wolff to become a specialist in green energy. Before the recent crisis, the reps and I took it upon ourselves to research and identify possible work in this sector. We used the Socialist Party position in the Dáil to get questions asked about upcoming projects that could bring work. We pushed via Unite’s presence in Westminster. But, in hindsight, it’s clear the management had no real interest in this and had given up.
Environmentalists will know InfaStrata, the company that has taken over the shipyard, for its role in exploratory drilling for oil at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus and the current controversial gas storage project at Islandmagee. Socialist Party members and many trade union activists have been involved in campaigns against these projects. There’s no doubt that many of the workers would want their skills used to help deal with the environmental catastrophe and the union will keep campaigning for green jobs along with a just transition. The central problem, however, is that you cannot control what you don’t own. Left in private hands, the shipyard will be used for whatever is most profitable whether that is renewable energy or fossil fuels. The only way to ensure the shipyard is used in an environmentally sustainable way is on the basis of public ownership and democratic workers’ control.
The workers, of course, also know that many of the young people visiting them at the site have been young socialists and environmental activists. All the workers saw the struggle they were involved in as not just being about defending their jobs, but in holding the line in terms of a struggle for a decent future for young people. Saving the shipyard gives the opportunity to pass on the skills that exist in the shipyard to a younger generation by bringing on apprentices, something that is key if we are to use the shipyard for green jobs.
Are we beginning to see an upturn in workers’ struggles in Northern Ireland? We have had strike action by civil servants, as well as other workers – from postal workers to nurses – balloting for action. We have also seen a new threat to 1,200 manufacturing jobs at Wrightbus. What lessons do you think there are for workers generally from this dispute?
Before this dispute, the shipyard and the idea of shipbuilding in Belfast was written off as a relic of the past. It was the workers themselves who had confidence that there was a future for the industry and could see how their skills could be put to use.
The occupation showed the capacity of workers to organise and rise to the challenge. Every day of the occupation, I witnessed ingenuity and huge ability to deal with problems, big or small. These workers have developed into class warriors to meet the needs of the struggle – organising finance, managing rotas, developing structures and, most importantly, a plan to win. They have shown they can articulately argue their case, both in the media and meetings, while taking care of each other over those long weeks. It’s endlessly impressive to me to see the sharpness of thought in meetings and in private, matched with a razor-like ability to see behind business bullshit.
The other lesson we touched on earlier is that when a group of workers take a stand, they will be met with solidarity from thousands of workers from all backgrounds. We were particularly taken aback by the solidarity from trade unionists and workers in South Africa who found out about the dispute via the Socialist Party’s sister organisation, the Workers and Socialist Party. The idea that these hard-pressed workers were inspired and took action in solidarity with workers in Belfast was simply incredible and a point of conversation repeatedly.
Wrightbus, another Northern Irish company which announced the redundancy of its workforce in October, is another graphic illustration of the complete disregard the capitalist system has for workers, its willingness to throw skilled workers who have given years of their life to an enterprise on the scrapheap. The lesson from Harland & Wolff is that struggle and class solidarity is key to defending jobs. As we speak, the workers at the yard are hiring buses to join Wrightbus workers in Ballymena in a rally to save their jobs.
As the militant trade union leader Bob Crow used to say, “If you fight you might win, if you don’t, you’ve already lost.” There are no guarantees of victory but the struggle of these workers has been central to securing their jobs and a future for the yard. The last thing I would say is that the struggle of these workers shows that a socialist alternative to the failures of capitalism is possible and the key agent to deliver that is the working class.
By Newton Masuku, Carmia Schoeman and Phemelo Motseokae
Today WASP comrades joined the nation-wide climate change marches and intervened to show that we need to fight for a socialist future or we have no future at all.
Under Capitalism, everything is driven by the profit motive. This economic system must expand its reach to survive and so it views the environment as just another market to be exploited and plundered for profits. Greenhouse emissions are gases released from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal, that heat up the planet. A recent report by the UN climate scientists pointed out that if these greenhouse emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by further 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040. The report warned that if the world economy isn‘t dramatically restructured around green energy within 12 years, then the earth will be uninhabitable in many areas. This of course will spell disaster not only for humanity, but other life forms as well.
At the root of the looming environmental catastrophe is the capitalist system. According to the Carbon Majors Report, only 100 companies have contributed to a massive 71% of the greenhouse emissions since 1988.Among the biggest culprits are companies like Shell, BP and BHP Billiton. Currently, South Africa‘s energy production is heavily dependent on coal. Coal power stations contribute massively to global climate change, and in South Africa, these power stations are responsible for more than half the country’s carbon emissions. Eskom itself, for instance, estimates that air pollution from the 13 power plants across the country is causing more than 300 premature deaths per year. Sasol is another culprit. According to a report by Oxfarm, Sasol is the single largest emitter of Co2 at its Secunda plant, which converts coal to diesel and other fuels. To avoid climate disaster, it‘s essential to break with a system based on the profit motive, which preaches exploitation of humans and the planet without end. Even considering the intentions of well-meaning individuals who do their part to reduce their impact on the planet, it is impossible to substantially reduce emissions within the framework of capitalism.
The technology for greener energy production exists. We can no longer depend on deceptive capitalist politicians that declare climate change an emergency but take no meaningful steps to end it. The climate crisis necessarily entails the end of capitalism and we need to build a movement for socialist change now. Instead of shielding big businesses and having politicians assist them to evade environmental safety regulations, there would be massive public investment in sustainable energy including research into and the implementation of a free, green and efficient public transport system. We must fight for a system change, where we, the working class, can democratically control the economy and secure a future for the majority, and not profits for a small minority. We must fight for socialism!
There is no Planet B!
7 Demands to Stop Climate Disaster:
- No time to lose: We need a drastic turn and the end of burning fossil fuel for energy and plastic production in the next few years. We need food that neither ruins the planet nor our health. This demands urgent and qualitative changes in energy, industrial, food and agricultural production, in transportation and in housing.
- Needs not profits: Individual solutions are not sufficient for a global problem. The majority of the people on the planet just have no choice. Even if we’d all behave extremely eco-friendly, it would in no way suffice to solve the problem. We need a massive public investment plan: in renewable energy, in high quality, efficient and free public transport, in eco-friendly construction and housing for all, in recycling and repairing facilities. All this is more than affordable – if the wealth we produce is not appropriated by a small elite.
- Stop the 100 main polluters: Over 70% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions in the past three decades have been produced by 100 companies. But big business ignores appeals or legislation and the established parties and politicians are on their payroll. We can only control what we own. Therefore, the first step is to take the big energy industries as well as major banks and industries, building, transport and agro-business from the hands of the capitalists into public ownership.
- Society in our service: With those resources, a science free from the profit driven limitations of capitalism is possible. Instead of investing billions in subsidies for fuel corporations, we can develop ecological technologies and materials. We stand for everyone’s right to a good jobs and a life free of poverty, oppression, devastation and destruction. The big companies and their colossal power must be democratically controlled and managed by the working class and the society as a whole. This will guarantee that no jobs are lost but converted in socially useful ones with no loss of pay.
- Planning not Chaos: Programs for a “Green New Deal” or a “Green Industrial Revolution” point in the necessary direction. But we need to go further, across the limitations of the capitalist system. Instead of the capitalist anarchy of production for profits, we have to plan how to sustainably use the resources of the planet to meet the needs of the majority.
- Strike together: It is ordinary people who suffer most from climate change. And it is those working class people who have the power to change history. We need to continue the youth climate strike; broaden it by reaching out to working class people and trade unions and unite in a mighty strike: a shutdown of the capitalist economy. This also shows the potential to take economic power into our hands.
- Change the world: Human beings are part of the ecosystem – capitalism is not. Fight capitalism to replace it with a society based on needs, not profits – a democratic socialist society! Make a real difference by joining a fighting, internationalist, socialist alternative.
By Leonard Chiwoniso Mhute – CWI Zimbabwe
Yesterday, supporters and African leaders attended the funeral of Zimbabwe’s long standing dictator Robert Mugabe who has died at the age of 95. He leaves behind his family and cronies filthy rich and a trail of miseries under the brutal authoritarian Zanu-PF regime for the masses of Zimbabwe. His legacy, while perceived as controversial by some, is widely regarded as that of ruin, as he leaves behind his ZANU-PF regime still in power despite its rejection by the masses of Zimbabwe. This legacy was further evidenced by the images of a half-empty stadium at the leader’s funeral.
While in power for 37 years Mugabe never broke with the framework of capitalism and even introduced neoliberal economic policies. Despite having introduced some popular radical reforms to education and healthcare immediately after independence in 1980, these reforms could not be upheld without confronting the power of capitalism and imperialism.
Mugabe’s regime rapidly became a brutal dictatorship, using the command structure of ZANU-PF. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe gradually adopted a cocktail of neoliberal economic policies known as ESAP which would obliterate almost overnight the gains of the country’s independence from British colonial rule.
Mugabe would spend the rest of his tenure quelling worker’s protests and strikes as well as any rebellion against the devastating effects of his policies on the lives of workers and poor. Mugabe once widely touted as a fighter for liberation after independence would become a ruthless dictator of the masses of Zimbabwe. But even before Mugabe set Zimbabwe on the course to neoliberal ruin a decade after independence, the masses in Matebeleland already knew Mugabe as a mass murderer when he unleashed any army unit to massacre 20 000 people in the early 1980s.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe with more than an iron fist. Around him, he built a cult of personality which would sustain his reign beyond the physical disability imposed by his old age.
It was the student movement and organised labour that led opposition to Mugabe’s rule from the 1990s onwards. A series of strikes against austerity cuts to basic services arising from ESAP became the order of the day in the 1990s. Mugabe of course would resort to force instead of responding to the demands and questions raised by these strikes. The use of detention, torture, kidnapping, murder and rape would become a trade mark of Mugabe’s response to mass resistance and general strikes.
When Zimbabwe’s economy inevitably collapsed in the late 1990s, the resistance to his reign had begun to take new forms, as its imperialist military ventures in the DRC and demands for colonial reparations plagued the near bankrupt state.
The demand for land by the rural poor in Zimbabwe also began to take root after the failure of the state’s redistributive policies, to nationalise the land after independence. Mugabe’s treacherous opportunism came full circle as he quickly adopted populist measures to quell the demand for land but even these proved ineffective as evidenced by the disastrous land reform program which left out thousands of farm workers and deindustrialized much of the entire country.
Mugabe remains widely praised for the land reform program and it is seen as a hallmark of his reign but this ignores the fact that it was in reality merely a knee jerk reaction to the demands against his regime’s total failure to fairly redistribute the land after independence. Mugabe and his cronies would also take full advantage of this chaotic programme to amass swathes of productive land amongst themselves.
Mugabe and his cronies also looted and plundered Zimbabwe’s state owned entities and decimated Zimbabwe’s working class through rampant mismanagement of the economy. Mugabe and his regime’s scapegoat has always been that the imperialist imposition of economic sanctions by the west but the fact remains that the looting and plunder began with the inception of neoliberal and pro-capitalist policies by the very same regime. While those “reforms” were given the stamp of approval by the international monetary fund and imperialism, with the “war veteran” land invasions Mugabe crossed a line – the capitalist sanctity of private property.
While western sanctions in response to the land reform programme accelerated the economic decline, Zimbabwe’s fate had already been sealed by the regime’s unadulterated pursuit of capitalist development which had led the economy into a dead end, with destructive manoeuvring the only option for his regime.
Mugabe’s regime had already taken a monstrous turn into the abyss. Mugabe’ s propaganda took advantage of the misguided call for external economic sanction by the opposition the MDC. Mugabe was to be depicted as a defender of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty .
As Zimbabwe’s crises deepened Mugabe increasingly played the role of power broker between the contending factions within his ZANU-PF party and regime.
Mugabe’s monopoly of power was sometimes challenged successfully, in particular by the MDC under Morgan Tsvangirai which handed him electoral defeats. Of course Mugabe would use the full might of the state’s machinery to steal elections and cling to power.
In the end it was a military coup in november 2017 which cut short his ambitions of ruling for life. The military acted in order to save the regime from a growing mass uprising.a
Mugabe’s legacy like large grey clouds looms large over Zimbabwe, its trail of destruction evident for all to see. Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa has often been described as worse than Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s crisis has intensified since ousting his former mentor.
Each day Mnangagwa appears seemingly hopeless and clueless on resolving the crises born of Mugabe’s regime 3 decades ago. Mugabe’s successors have proven to be attentive students during his reign. They have continued on the path of repression left by Mugabe almost without interruption. The neoliberal policies of the Mugabe era have only been given another name but have not changed materially. The regime’s ‘’Zimbabwe is open for business”-mantra cunningly resembles ESAP with austerity being the order of the day. The opposition MDC offers no real alternative, only aiming for a coalition with the present regime.
It is up to the workers, poor and youth to solve the crisis. There is an urgent need for mass organising to overthrow the regime and the capitalist system
– to struggle for a socialist Zimbabwe, socialist Africa and a socialist World.
South Africa is once again ravaged by horrific xenophobic attacks on migrants from across Africa – ten have been killed in mob violence in the past week. At the same time, the rape and murder of Uyinene Mretywana has been a call to struggle against gender-based violence (GBV) – the violence inflicted on women, LGBTQI+ communities, and children. The list of victims from hate crimes grows every day. Communities are looking for answers while the government dines with the rich at the World Economic Forum and tweets: women should “speak out and not allow themselves to become victims by keeping quiet”.
Was the government not listening the past few years as a mighty movement led by women rages against GBV? We have been in the streets and in the courts demanding to be heard! Across the world, women have been protesting under the banners of #MeToo, #NotOneMore, #TheTotalShutdown. Rape Crisis, Sweat, Powa, and others campaign tirelessly against GBV. Ramaphosa has called conventions on GBV. Yet we are told that the silence of women is allowing their victimization. This victim blaming is a key part of the problem and is echoed in the government response to the xenophobic killing and looting: Bheki Cele said police “will not apologise” for the xenophobic raids on small businesses.
Government also says prevention is key to turning this tide of GBV. It promises harsher sentences, which will not end the systemic violence. They also plan a 10% cut across the board in public sector salaries, on top of other budget cuts. Their capitalist policies undermine women and fuel violence and oppression.
Eradication, not prevention!
Eradication of GBV would include a huge expansion of public services, creation of decent jobs, housing. Without an income, access to essential services, a home to feel safe in, how do women even begin to “speak out”? And when society keeps confirming the myth that women are second class humans through second class pay, unpaid labour, commodification and control of our bodies and sexuality – is it any wonder that many men buy into their entitlement to our bodies and our very lives?
When government treats migrants as criminals by refusing asylum to refugees, through police harassment and apartheid-style passport controls; when it blocks migrants from accessing housing, jobs, services; when “leaders” from Mashaba (DA) to Ramaphosa (ANC) and king Zwelithini point out “foreigners” as the cause of unemployment and poverty; when the bosses exploit all this by offering low-paying insecure jobs, and corrupt officials by selling “free” services and housing – is it not clear that the ruling elites are consciously fueling the divisions that have resulted in open street violence?
We should all be angry
Many are angry – about the war on women, the massive unemployment, lack of housing, dysfunctional schools, under-resourced healthcare, the hunger and desperation, drug epidemics, ongoing racism, and corrupt officials destroying our planet and gambling with our future. We should all be angry that South Africa is the most unequal society on Earth, that we’re not yet free from this failing capitalist system. We need a general strike, against the roots of these failures – not violence against African brothers and sisters who have been forced to run from war and hunger through the failures of the very same global system. No SA-born worker will win from killing or chasing away migrant workers. Every worker, resident, street trader and student needs to unite and fight for living wages, jobs, housing and education for all. To replace this system with a society where the wealth is owned by all of us, democratically controlled and used to meet the needs of the majority.
Violence is a symptom, Capitalism is the problem
Today’s violence is a direct consequence of a decaying capitalist system. It promotes a system of dominance between sections of the working class, masking the centuries of violence perpetrated by those in power. It is the legacy of colonialisation, imperialism, neo-colonialism. Still today the divisive fabric upholds the extraction of profit for the 1% through the exploitation of the labour power of the 99%. The apartheid state attempted to divide the working class by tribe, homeland and tradition. Today, the capitalist politicians try to survive the crisis of their system through dividing us. They stoke the flames of xenophobia and sexism, leading many of us to live in fear. We must refuse to be divided and conquered. We must fight together to stop the rapes and murder, to end sexism, racism and capitalism.
The bosses will not save us
This government will not deliver. Jobs exist: houses, schools, clinics, roads, transport need to be built; food needs to be produced. However, the resources for these human necessities are locked up with the big banks and private business. Nobody has to be unemployed or hungry here. We have to fight to take control of the economy. Not of the spazas or RDP houses, but the mines, the banks, the big farms and corporations. Nationalised under the democratic control of workers and communities, these resources would make a true expanded public works programme possible, with living wages and without tenderpreneurs. It’s time for all working class women and men to unite around a programme which takes on the root of the crisis. We must fight to make sure this moment in the global movement against women’s oppression and gender-based violence, strikes at the foundations of the system which perpetuates it.
It is up to us to forge the fighting unity of the working class in a party of mass struggle – uniting the struggles of workplaces, communities and the youth on a socialist programme. A socialist SA, a socialist Africa and a socialist world must be our aim. Only that will allow us to do away with all oppression and violence.
On our way there, through mass struggle we can push back both xenophobia and GBV, by making clear that unity and solidarity are our only strength in really changing this sick society and by forcing concessions from the 1%.
WASP fights for:
- Mass protests to unite workers, communities and students in the struggles against hate crimes like xenophobia and GBV.
- Expand public services to ensure free and safe shelter and health care for people fleeing abuse, invest in specialised health care for survivors of GBV and for perpetrators.
- Zero-tolerance against gender based violence, sexual harassment and xenophobic violence – create street committees/community watch committees to call out, condemn and stop it.
- Training on GBV for all law enforcement and court officials, invest in special courts and cleanse SAPS of perpetrators of secondary victimisation.
- Equal pay for equal work, stop the 10% wage cut and the race to the bottom – unions must organise women and migrant workers, act against bosses who abuse vulnerable migrant workers. For a real expanded public works programme, and a R12 500 minimum wage.
- Stop the police harassment of street traders and immigrants, amnesty for “illegals”.
- Implement the right to asylum, overhaul the Home Affairs immigration systems under democatic control of workers and communities including refugees and migrants, root out corrupt officials.
- Free, high quality education for all from pre-school to tertiary. Paid parental leave and free quality childcare for everyone.
- Nationalise the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control and management by workers and communities – use the resources to end unemployment, homelessness, poverty, sexism, racism and xenophobia.
- A socialist world without division by gender, nationality, “race” or tribe, war, persecution or poverty.
On 7 September 2019 members of an international faction that emerged at the 2018 International Executive Committee (the highest leadership structure of the international party) announced their split from WASP after having resolved to effectively leave the Committee for a Workers International in weeks prior. The faction’s failure to win over the majority of sections resulted in the formation of a new party before the debate was even exhausted. As WASP, we fight for principled unity of the working class but the methods of the minority faction contradict these aims and thus the aims of a revolutionary Marxist party.
In the upcoming days, an account will be produced detailing the events that have led up to the split. Alongside the majority of CWI members who have chosen not to leave the organisation, we have adopted the declaration below. It explains the trajectory of the debates at the international and we fully support its conclusions.
CWI Majority Declaration
Between August 12 and 16, the majority of the International Executive Committee (IEC), elected at the last World Congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in 2016, met to discuss the split of the CWI, initiated by the international minority faction (IDWCTCWI) in the period after the November 2018 IEC. It discussed the tasks that stem from the split for the majority and how to continue, politically and organizationally, to build the forces of Marxism. We aim to build a mass revolutionary international party, which is the absolutely required for the working class to successfully rid society of the capitalist system and building a new, socialist society.
Between July 22 and July 25, a small minority of the IEC held an international meeting in London at which it decided to “reconstitute the CWI”, keeping the name, the website and the resources of the international organization. In other words, the minority “expelled” the majority! This is an unprecedented development in any political formation that claims to abide by basic democratic procedures, never mind a revolutionary socialist formation that is supposed to accept democratic centralism as one of its founding premises.
The international faction, arrogantly calling itself “In Defence of a Working Class and Trotskyist CWI” (IDWCTCWI) had, before splitting, support of the majority of leaderships in only 9 sections/groups of the CWI (England & Wales, Scotland, Germany, France, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Chile). However, the majority of the membership of the sections in Germany and South Africa support the IEC Majority. Thus, the international minority has the support of the majority of the members in only 7 sections of the entire CWI. The IEC Majority has the full or majority support of sections or groups of the CWI in the following 25 countries: US, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Brazil, Austria, Israel-Palestine, Russia, Australia, Cyprus, Norway, Turkey, Poland, Czechland, Rumania, Italy, Canada, Quebec, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Tunisia, Sudan. Also, the IEC Majority has the support of the majority of the membership in Germany and South Africa, has significant support in Britain and, also, a presence in Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Finland. In some sections, e.g. Nigeria, the picture is yet undefined. The total number of countries in which the CWI Majority is present is around 35. The only country in which the international faction has sizeable forces is Britain.
The faction was launched by the majority of the International Secretarial itself (with two alternate IS members in opposition) and this is unprecedented in the context of a democratic centralist organization. The faction was formed by the majority of the IS against the majority of the IEC, which elects the IS and to which the IS is accountable. This, in itself, is an indication of their intention to cause a split in the International from the very beginning – from the moment they met strong opposition in the IEC.
The fact that the outcome of the faction fight has been the devastation of support for the IS-faction in the ranks of the CWI is a clear indication that they had no real contact or understanding of the organization that they were supposed to provide leadership to on a day to day basis. This goes hand in hand with their insufficient understanding of developments and processes in the objective situation and the realities of present-day class struggle and consciousness, which lie at the root of the split of the CWI.
The other side of the fact that the majority of both the IEC and the CWI opposed the IS majority (which represented the historical leadership of the organization) and is advancing forward, is that this is indicative of the high political level of the vast majority of the cadre and membership of the international organization.
Political roots of the crisis
The crisis started with the hostile approach by the IS majority to differences with the leadership of the Irish section. This was a serious violation of our principles. However, the roots of the crisis are, as always, much deeper and political. Fundamentally, the crisis reflects the contradictions in the objective situation and the political limitations of the IS majority (and the leadership of the England and Wales section) and its inability to understand these processes in depth. Two of the political issues which dominated the debate were the movements around women’s liberation and the environment. The emphasis given by the sections supporting the Majority to these and similar kinds of movements were used by the minority faction to accuse the Majority of abandoning the working class and therefore Trotskyism, capitulating to petit bourgeois pressures and opportunism. Nothing is further from the truth. In reality the old leadership of the CWI had a low theoretical understanding of women’s’ oppression – and the same holds true for the issue of the environment.
One of the central characteristics of the present period is that the working class and the toiling masses face the onslaught of the capitalist class on a global scale but have not been able to put a brake on the attacks and go on the counteroffensive. Despite mass and determined resistance by the working class in many countries (eg Southern Europe and particularly Greece in the first half of the 2010s); mass social movements (like the Occupy movement globally, the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong, women’s movements, youth mobilizations against climate change, etc); revolutions (eg in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 and again in the first half of 2019 in Sudan and Algeria as well as the recent social explosion in Hong Kong); and the partial development of class, anticapitalist and to a certain extend socialist consciousness in parts of the world (eg in the US where the majority of the youth support socialism against capitalism in all the polls in the last few years) there is a feeling of retreat and defeat in large sections of the mass of the population in countries around the globe.
This is reflected on the political level with the retreat of the appeal of many parties of the Left (old and new) and the increase of support for the far right and right wing populism, as was seen in the Euro-elections in May of this year and the rise of Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Modi, etc in the past few years.
The capitulation of SYRIZA in Greece reflects the limits of the mild reformism of the New Left Formations (NLF) in the present epoch. In turn, this retreat effected other NLF and on big sections of the toiling masses. Most of the NLF that came into being in the previous period have either capitulated or are in crisis and retreat. Some have disappeared altogether or play an insignificant role – e.g. the Italian Rifondazione, the SSP in Scotland, the NPA in France, etc. Similar contradictions hold for new left “phenomena” like Corbyn in Britain. Developments in the US, around Sanders and the DSA are on a different trajectory, in the present conjuncture, essentially because they have not yet been tested. The general picture is that for millions of working-class people and youth globally there is no Left political alternative to turn to.
The crisis of the capitalist system also drastically reduces the room for maneuver available to the leaders of the Trade Unions who refuse to challenge capitalism. Therefore, generally they sabotage and betray the working class and its struggles. This factor, which of course is not new (as Trotsky describes in many articles, and in particular his “Trade Unions in the epoch of imperialist decay” of 1940), pushes large sections of the working class to take initiatives ”from below” i.e. outside the control and against the will of the traditional leaderships. Having said this, there are of course important differences from country to country, in the role of TU leaders, the way the TUs are organized and structured, and the consciousness of the working class towards them, which should be taken into consideration. It goes without saying that understanding the role of the TU leaderships in no way means or implies that we should ignore or abandon work in the TUs. But it does mean that the way we approach the work, and the slogans and demands we use, must take this factor into consideration, as has been shown in the material produced by the IEC majority and the sections supporting it in the previous period.
The development, form and character of the movements against women’s oppression and against climate change, particularly by the youth, in the recent years, which became central in the debate with the minority, reflect the abovementioned processes. They reflect a process of radicalization on a massive scale, particularly of the new generation, which largely takes place outside the traditional and mass organizations.
These movements are an extremely important and fertile ground for the forces of revolutionary socialism to intervene and build. This intervention goes hand in hand with learning to “listen” to the needs and to understand the level of consciousness of those people that are on the move. The transitional program that is necessary to build a bridge between our socialist program and the greater audiences in the working class is always, as Trotsky emphatically stressed, a dialogue with the masses.
The orientation of the Irish and other sections to the women’s and environmental movements was used by the minority to accuse the Majority of abandoning the Trade Unions and through them the working class as a whole in order to turn to petit bourgeois layers! This allegation was entirely unfounded. It also led the level of the political debate to an all-time low. The minority entered on an “irrational” course, selecting this word here and that phrase there, to create artificial differences and blow them out of all proportion. It resorted to personal attacks on individual comrades, poisoning the political atmosphere. As a result of all these and despite the initial high respect that the IS majority enjoyed, it ended up convincing only a small minority of the sections of the International.
Without underestimating the importance of the differences that exist, the fact remains that a split in the CWI was neither necessary nor unavoidable. What led to the split was the refusal of the IS to seriously take into consideration the criticisms made by the majority of the IEC and make the necessary corrections; their belief that only they could understand and analyze correctly the period and the tasks; and that only they represented present day Marxism. The objective factor that contributed to this idea was that the leading comrades in the IS had played a historical role in helping the CWI develop from a small force in the 1960s and ‘70s to the largest Trotskyist international in the 2010s. They however failed to understand that strong sections and strong political leaderships had developed in a number of countries, who could and did make significant new contributions to the development of the International both on a theoretical political and a tactical-organizational level. Their inflexibility was most clearly expressed in their attitude to the women’s movements in the last few years and most glaringly in their opposition to the work of the Irish section through “Rosa”.
The problems due to the IS’s weaknesses and limitations have existed over the previous period. However, it seemed that these failings could be overcome through the collective effort of the International leadership, i.e. with the contribution of the leaders from the national sections in the IEC, which had developed into a body with “independent” thinking and critical perceptions. Seeing that the CWI was able to develop and grow, despite the relative limitations of the IS, no members of the IEC had raised the issue of changes in the IS membership. What nobody expected is that the IS majority would not stop at anything – not even at destroying the work of decades – rather than accept they made a serious mistake when they found themselves in a minority in the IEC.
The IDWCTCWI faction elevated every real or imaginary difference into a difference of “crucial” and “fundamental” character, accusing the Majority of having abandoned revolutionary socialism and Trotskyism. Their main allegation against the Majority was that it had capitulated to opportunism and petit bourgeois ideas and pressures. It remains a “mystery” which they never tried to explain, of course, how did opportunism suddenly capture the vast majority of the CWI without the members of the IS, responsible for following the work of these same sections, having realized anything in all the past years!
The unmistakable truth is that the IS majority and its supporters in the leadership of the minority faction entered on a course of bureaucratic degeneration. They not only provocatively ignored the statutes of the CWI and the IEC, elected by the World Congress, they also trampled over every sense of party democracy. They refused to provide a statement on the finances or to allow a financial inspection, officially demanded by many sections and required by the statues of the CWI. They did not have the honesty to accept their minority position and leave the CWI once they decided on the split. Instead they chose to hijack the name, the website, the funds and the reserves of the International (investing in new premises worth more than £1 million in England). They ended up “expelling” the majority, ridiculously justifying this by their pretention to be the only true representatives of Marxism in our days! This attitude, these methods and practices by the Minority will inevitably lead them against a brick wall in the future.
Tasks of the CWI Majority
The global capitalist system is in the grip of one of the deepest economic crises in its history. The crisis which was set off by the housing crisis in the US in 2007 and developed into an international banking and sovereign debt crisis was the worse since the 1929 Wall Street crash. Despite the heavy intervention through the mass injection of cash by the ruling classes globally to contain the crisis, none of the fundamental problems of the capitalist economy have been solved. The contradictions remain and they are extremely intense. The global economy is on the verge of another very serious downturn after the last one of 2008-9. At the same time the tools in the hands of the ruling class to tackle the effects of the new downturn are much more limited than in 2007-8, with sovereign debt at historically high levels, high budget deficits in many “developed” countries, powerful economies like that of Italy on the verge of the cliff, and interest rates at extremely low levels, often around zero and even negative in some cases (eg Europe and Japan). The blind alley in which the capitalist system finds itself globally, is also manifested in the rise of nationalist protectionist governments and sharp inter-imperialist conflicts particularly the trade war between the US and China.
Marxism is the only analytical tool that can explain the crisis and the contradictions of the system, that can provide a way forward and help prepare for the future. The working class is the only force that can change society, not through the road of “parliamentary cretinism”, to site Marx’s expression, but by means of a social revolution to capture power and build a socialist society on a continental and global basis. The victory of the social revolution, under the leadership of the working class, can only be successful if it is led by a mass revolutionary party, on the lines and method of the Bolsheviks who led the Russian revolution in October 1917.
Despite limitations and weaknesses of the CWI over the past years and decades, the methods used by the CWI to build the forces of Marxism are fundamentally correct and this has been proven over time. Starting from a small force in the 1960s it was able to develop, over a period of about half a century, into the biggest revolutionary international. The split initiated by the Minority is a serious setback. But the fact that the big majority of the CWI brushed aside its historical leadership, once that leadership showed that it had lost its ability to provide able leadership, proves that the struggle to build the forces of revolution can continue successfully.
The forces of the Majority of have fought consistently against the split of the CWI but the split is today a fact, after the decisions of the IDWCTCWI July conference. The Majority therefore has the duty to constitute itself as a separate international force, and proceed to the World Congress, which was decided unanimously at the November 2018 IEC (only to be ignored by the Minority). We will provisionally organize the renewed international organization with the name “CWI – Majority”. The issue of the name will be discussed extensively in the period leading to the congress and final decisions will be taken at the congress itself.
The best traditions of the CWI will be saved, they will not disappear together with the blindfolded Minority. These traditions will be preserved by the Majority which will continue to base itself on the Marxist analysis of our epoch and on the ideas and methods of Lenin and Trotsky. The Majority will maintain and deepen its organic relationship to the working class, not as an outside force orientating to it but as an integral part of it. It will struggle to build the TU movement and to transform the TUs into democratic and fighting organizations and will assist attempts to build new mass left formations, armed with a socialist program. At the same time, it will orientate to new movements and phenomena, closely follow developments in mass consciousness, and aim to link them to the working class and the struggle for the socialist revolution.
For the Majority, theory and perspectives are crucial and will be developed in depth and be used as a guide to action, i.e. as a guide among other things to orient to new movements, currents and phenomena, in order to build the forces of revolution.
The transitional program and transitional method will remain indispensable tools in this struggle.
Democratic centralism is a fundamental principle in building our forces both on a national and an international level. Open, free, democratic discussion, with the freedom to question the correctness of the party’s program, tactics and actions and the leadership, is the completely necessary other side of centralism – the need to act in unity to achieve our aim. The Majority stands firm on the conviction that there are no “messiahs” and that correct ideas and method are always the result of collective effort. The international center can be effective as an international leadership only through a collective and comradely effort between the elected bodies of the international organization (the IS and the IEC) and between them and the leaderships of the national sections. The leadership should always be accountable and criticism should be made easy and free on all levels. The Majority will discuss, in the immediate period ahead, initiatives aiming to create an atmosphere of greater openness and freedom of criticism in the international organization. It will also discuss practical measures to enable greater control and check of the elected leadership and measures to enhance the accountability of the elected leading bodies.
But, of course, even the best democratic structures, traditions and statutes cannot prevent the organization entering crisis under specific circumstances. Internal differences and debates are inevitable in the period we live through – actually, in any period. An international organization that has a fully democratic and open approach concerning these debates, without ceasing to be an organization for action in the class struggle, is best equipped to make advances and fulfil its role in the next period. But what the crisis of the CWI confirms once again, is that once a section of the leadership loses its ability to further develop, provide able leadership, listen to criticism and accept different ideas with an open mind, then it can degenerate with extremely fast speed. The membership of the International must be aware that no leadership is immune to these dangers. No statutes or agreed procedures can, in themselves, protect an organization against these dangers, however necessary they are. The existence of a high political level in the membership of the organization is the only possible real defense, the absolutely indispensable tool, not to entirely avoid a crisis, but to minimize its repercussions.
In a certain sense, one of the most important outcomes of the faction fight has been that the big majority of the CWI has stood up to the historical leadership, opposed its wrong ideas and methods, and forced it into the position of a small minority. This reflects the high political level and the strong democratic traditions conquered by the membership and cadre of the CWI. The forces of the Majority have also proven in the past period their ability to innovate, to be flexible, to take bold initiatives, to make sacrifices, to conquer new grounds and to build. The CWI Majority will build in the working-class masses but it will also restore the traditions of the CWI of building in the youth. Based on these strengths, the CWI Majority is here to stay, to look to the future with confidence and optimism, and make decisive steps in the direction of a revolutionary alternative on a global scale.
By Leonard Chiwoniso Mhute and Sodindwa Malandelilanga – CWI Zimbabwe
On 16 August, the regime in Zimbabwe brutally attacked street demonstrations against the country’s seemingly endless economic and political crisis. The ruling elite fears a protest revolt such as in Sudan, having clearly seen the strength of the masses in action in the three day general strike in January.
After the toppling of long-time dictator Robert Mugabe through a military coup in November 2017, there was some anticipation that the ZANU-PF regime, now under Emmerson Mnangagwa, would adopt a different path and turn away from the repression and barbarism which characterised Mugabe’s rule. The coup was an elite response to the groundbreaking protest movements which began in 2016 and the masses largely welcomed Mugabe’s demise but had few illusions as to whether that signalled the collapse of his regime.
In 2019 Mugabe’s regime remains in power, with one of his lieutenants having succeeded him and having successfully managed to glue together a coalition of factions within the regime itself. Since his installation, Mugabe’s former right hand man Mnangagwa has intensified the already dire crisis. A third of the 16 million population is now estimated to be starving, according to the UN. The crises has been worsened by years of drought and the Cyclone Idai which ravaged parts of the country early in the year, for which the regime has been ill-fated to prepare and provide relief.
The regime has introduced what it calls the Transitional Stabilisation Programme, an austerity riddled policy, as its main economic blueprint. It has imposed a two percent tax on electronic transactions that previously cushioned the shortages of hard cash money for the masses. The regime has recently touted this tax of having resulted in a budget surplus of US$500 million. In January this year Mnangagwa announced a fuel price hike of 150 percent. This has deepened the shortages of food and basic living necessities such as water and electricity for the masses. In June. the rate of inflation took an exponential turn, rising from 98 percent to a staggering 176 percent.
These reactionary measures have only served to intensify the starvation and abject poverty of the masses. All of this is not new, as the regime has always sought to make the working class and impoverished masses pay for its own induced crises. Since the early 1990s neoliberal austerity measures that in practice exempt political cronies and bureaucrats have become permanent features. In the midst of shortages of basic needs such as food, fuel and basic medication in public hospitals and clinics, ZANU-PF elites are seen lavishly spending millions of dollars on luxury goods such as exotic supercars. Recently it was exposed that officials and cronies had embezzled a total of US$16 million from the NSSA, the country’s central pension agency.
As the crisis deepens, Zimbabwe has seen frequent and spontaneous episodes of mass rebellion from the Tajamuka/Sesijikile protests in 2016 to the more recent insurrection against electoral fraud which was brutally thwarted by the regime in August 2018.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions responded to the fuel price increase in January with a three-day general strike that shook the regime and demonstrated the yearning of the masses to move beyond spontaneity into more organised and concerted forms of resistance. The effectiveness of the ZCTU general strike was remarkable by a trade union federation that operates against the backdrop of a staggering 90 percent rate of unemployment and two decades of deindustrialisation.
The success can in large part be attributed to the struggles of public sector workers which comprise of school teachers and healthcare workers. Teachers and nurses receive slave wages equivalent to US$80 a month or US$2.50 a day. The total withdrawal of labour over the course of three days in January unmasked the redundancy of the regime. The general strike had a far reaching impact, to the extent that riot police could not report to work (either out of solidarity or because the sheer impossibility of quelling the incredible rebellion that simultaneously hit the townships in both Harare and Bulawayo). The turnout by unemployed youth, students and working class and poor communities was massive – an insurrection sparked and made possible by the ZCTU general strike.
What followed the strike was the expected brutality typical of the regime. After the three day strike had ended the regime unleashed soldiers into the townships to beat, torture, maim, kill, rape and commit all types of atrocities.
The leaders of ZCTU, its president and general secretary, continue to be in and out of jail over the January strike, and continuously face death threats. Since this flexing of muscles by the masses in January, the regime has continued to abduct, torture, assault and detain activists who are vocal against the regime, from trade union leaders to those in civil society. Opposition party MDC members have also not been spared by the regime’s barrage.
For the masses, the turn to increasingly violent methods by the regime serve as a barometer of the increasing precariousness of the regime’s grasp on power.
We agree with Alex Magaisa of the Big Saturday Read Blog where he observes that the regime is currently at a ‘cul–de-sac,’ unable to negotiate its way out from bankruptcy and insurmountable debt, unable to convince even some of its traditional backers in both Beijing and Pretoria to provide debt relief.
The regime has incorporated the structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund such as reducing the public service wage bill, which was swiftly carried and resulted in the retrenchment and unemployment of thousands of public workers as well as the erosion of working conditions. In the face of protests, teacher strikes, the general strike and the possible all-out rebellion these could spark, however, the fearful regime has backtracked and on three occasions raised the wages to allow for some (wholly inadequate) compensation for rampant inflation. Part of the austerity policies is the reimposition, in June, of the Zimbabwe dollar that was abandoned in 2009.
The regional ruling classes solidarity with the regime in Harare has remained unshaken however, with Mnangagwa having been recently appointed the Chairperson of the SADC Troika on Politics, Peace and Security (Southern African Development Community has 15 member countries). The EU, despite its repeated condemnation of the human rights abuses, has remained open to ‘re-engagement’ with the regime.
While the MDC willingly participated in the fraudulent elections hosted by the regime in July 2018, outside of the elections it has for long called for dialogue with the regime as a way out of the crisis. After the crisis deepened in 2009 the MDC entered into a coalition government which in so many ways rescued the regime from being cast into the dustbin of history.
The call for the present mass protests by the MDC should be seen as being part of realising its programme which is to force the regime into a negotiated settlement. The MDC seeks to reform a capitalist crisis by negotiating with its creators and getting into the same government with it. Their programme consists of phrases such as “good governance”, but lack any real alternative, ultimately only expressing hope for foreign loans.
The increasing frequency of public demonstrations against the ZANU-PF regime indicates that the fear tactics used by the government while still effective enough to discourage most, are not as effective as before.
The period since 2017 underlines that a change in the country’s president was not in and of itself sufficient for the country’s condition to improve. Removing ZANU-PF from power is critical. However, removing ZANU-PF from power will be a futile endeavour if there is no clear programme. There is still a large vacuum that the MDC, ZCTU and the social protest group Tajamuka are not able to fill.
The demonstrations on 16 August were prevented from going ahead as planned and the MDC was forced to call off the demonstrations after a failed court appeal. Nevertheless, some protestors took to the streets. The violent reaction from the police is a clear example of the state’s armed thugs in action! Zimbabwe exemplifies the role of the state in maintaining the power of the elite and protecting their interests.
The task to overthrow ZANU-PF as well as the capitalist system in Zimbabwe remains. A concerted effort to unite the employed sections of the population, the urban as well as the rural populations must be made. Nearly forty years of “freedom” in Zimbabwe shows that true freedom must mean socialism and it is a socialist programme – a programme for the organised workers, youth and poor communities taking over all key economic resources such as the mines, the big farms, factories and banks and running them democratically for the needs of the majority, not the looting of an elite – that can unite the brewing struggles and at last lead them to victory. Removing ZANU-PF and placing another party in power would not be worthwhile if capitalism, with its inherent exploitation and plunder of human and natural resources, remains. In such a case, we would find ourselves having to demonstrate against that regime in the near future.