Tasks of the South African Revolution
The drama of the South African revolution is unfolding in a decade likely to prove the most explosive in the history of the century.
Despite eight years of upturn in the advanced capitalist countries, despite the turn of the Stalinist bureaucracies back towards capitalism, the boasts of the ideologists of capitalism in a rosy future for their system will turn to their opposite.
In the advanced capitalist countries renewed recession, or even slump, is likely during the 1990s, with growing conflicts among the major powers and ‘blocs’. The crisis of the Stalinist regimes is insoluble, by continued bureaucratic rule or a return to capitalism. Unsolved, it means attacks on the living standards of working people, and increasing national conflict. The “Third World”, wracked with the desperate misery of millions, will go through enormous upheavals and convulsions.
In every sector of the globe, explosive movements of the working class are on the agenda.
Since the Russian revolution, the world balance of forces has altered massively in favour of the working class. The huge growth of the forces of production under capitalism since World War II has concentrated ownership of production in fewer hands and vastly increased the size, organisation and power of the working class.
In the Stalinist world, with the development of the economy even under the bureaucracy, the working class, taken as a whole, is the strongest and among the most educated in the world. In the “Third World” also, unlike 1917, the working class now forms a majority in many countries — including in South Africa.
As Trotsky explained in the 1930s, the prospects for the world socialist revolution will again come to reduce to the question of leadership. The mass organisations of the working class need to be built, rebuilt, and trans-formed: to cast off the shackles of reformist and Stalinist leadership and become imbued with the perspectives and program of Marxism.
In South Africa, capitalism has developed for a hundred years — in mining, agriculture, and modern industry — at the expense of the impoverishment of the masses and the national oppression of the black and African majority. Capitalism has ruled by reinforcing the old settler system of white privilege and racism, and shackling the Africans under the reactionary and divisive institutions of tribal and chiefly rule. Combined and uneven development is present in extreme form.
In contrast to pre-1917 Russia, the bourgeoisie has established its own rule, economically and politically. The economy is dominated by monopoly capital, domestic and foreign. The state is an exclusively capitalist state, having established its rule through conquest and war.
More than in most “Third World” countries the economic bases of tribalism, feudalism and peasant society have been swept away by capitalist development. The overwhelming majority of the people have been trans-formed into a working class, dependent on the earnings of wage-labour for survival.
Using the state to hold down the working class and to develop locally-based industry, SA has grown to a giant in Africa. But it remains a backward power in the world economy, relying on gold, agriculture, other minerals and semi-processed products to earn foreign exchange, and forced to import most of its capital goods (machinery etc.) from the advanced capitalist countries.
The basis of modern development is the ability to compete in the world market with manufactured goods. With a relatively low productivity of labour, with the domestic market limited by the impoverishment of the majority, SA capitalism cannot develop the “economies of scale” to compete on equal terms with the multi-national monopolies in these spheres.
Despite continued growth, the economy, for these reasons, falls further and further behind the advanced capitalist countries. For the past twenty years, growth has not been sufficient to absorb new entrants to the labour market, resulting in an increase in unemployment to an estimated 4-6 million. Since the early 1970s there has been chronic inflation, of between 10 and 20 per cent a year (on official estimates).
More and more, SA capitalism comes into conflict with the demands of the black majority for national liberation and full citizenship in a modern society, and with the rising power of the black working class, determined to achieve democracy and decent conditions of life.
The state has ruled by military-police dictatorship over the blacks, buttressing itself by conceding democratic rights and privileges to the white working class and middle class in return for their support for capitalism.
After 1948, the NP government proved the most effective party-political form for cementing the bulk of the whites together, under the banner of Afrikaner nationalism. This has been a form of Bonapartist rule, serving the interests of monopoly capitalism while excluding the big capitalists and their “English-speaking” middle-class supporters from direct control of government. While complaining about the “excesses” of the apartheid regime, these were fundamentally content so long as it provided conditions for profit and social stability.
The post-war boom — and the defeat inflicted on the mass movement at the end of the 1950s — secured this for a whole period. But in the early 1970s the SA economy began to encounter relative limits to further development on the basis of import-substitution. This coincided with the end of the 1950-74 world capitalist boom and the resurgence of a strengthened movement of the organised black working-class and the working-class youth.
The Durban strikes of 1973; the uprising of the youth in 1976; the rise of the trade unions; the growth of the youth Congresses; the insurrectionary movement of 1984-6 in major cities and small towns; the birth of COSATU and the UDF; regional and national general strikes; the uprising of Zulu youth against Inkatha; the revolt of the masses in the rural areas and the Bantustans — all this has presented an increasingly deadly threat to the South African ruling class.
This revolutionary movement arises under the banner of Congress and the Freedom Charter — with the demands for majority rule, for decent wages, jobs, homes, education, and health for all. South African capitalism is incapable of satisfying these demands.
From beginning to end this is a proletarian movement — of working-class women, men, and youth in the workplaces, the townships, the schools — striving by proletarian means for national liberation and an end to capitalist exploitation. The unity of the African nation itself–the bringing together of Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Tswana etc. — is formed above all in the urban industrial centres, in the struggles against the bosses and the state.
The boldness and the sweep of this movement has inspired working people around the world.
Carried to victory, through the establishment of workers’ democratic rule, it would open the way to prosperity and peace for all working people in South Africa, black and white, liberate the middle-class from the oppression of the monopolies, show a way forward for enslaved workers and peasants throughout Southern Africa and Africa, and be a beacon for the whole world.
Supporters of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress in the trade unions, the youth and community organisations strive shoulder-to-shoulder with all the oppressed to achieve these goals, and call on every struggler to join with us in building a mass ANC for workers’ power to do this.
Trotsky, in 1935, wrote a letter to a group of his supporters in South Africa:
“Three-quarters of the population of South Africa (almost six million of the almost eight million total) is composed of non-Europeans. A victorious revolution is unthinkable without the awakening of the native masses. In its turn, that will give them what they are so lacking today — confidence in their strength, a heightened personal consciousness, a cultural growth.
“Under these conditions, the South African republic will emerge first of all as a ‘black’ republic; this does not exclude, of course, either full equality for the whites or brotherly relations between the two races — depending mainly on the conduct of the whites. But it is entirely obvious that the predominant majority of the population, liberated from slavish dependence, will put a certain imprint on the state.
“Insofar as a victorious revolution will radically change the relation not only between the classes but also between the races and will assure to the blacks that place in the state that corresponds to their numbers, thus far will the social revolution in South Africa also have a national character.
“We have not the slightest reason to close our eyes to this side of the question or to diminish its significance. On the contrary, the proletarian party should in words and deeds openly and boldly take the solution of the national (racial) problem in its hands.
“Nevertheless, the proletarian party can and must solve the national problem by its own methods. The historical weapon of national liberation can be only the class struggle“.
Terminology and details in this passage would require alteration today. But, though Trotsky pointed out that he was not fully familiar with SA conditions, it anticipated the central thrust of the SA revolution — the struggle for national liberation through the rise of the organised and conscious power of the proletariat, aiming to overthrow the present state rooted in white privilege, and establish its own democratic rule. This perspective — the perspective of the permanent revolution — has been shown a thousand times over in the practice of our movement.
The new turn
Beset by economic and social crisis and the revolutionary movement of the masses, the SA ruling class can no longer rule successfully by undiluted white minority dictatorship. It is searching for a new way to rule.
The pathetic “reforms” of the Botha period were “too little, too late”. At the same time, the repressive machinery of the state — for all its fire-power, and its social base among the whites — is proving increasingly inadequate to hold a determined majority in subjection and enslavement. Botha’s repression, the most severe in the history of SA, created setbacks for our movement, but could not defeat the best-organised bastions of working-class resistance in the workplaces and communities.
Instead, from last year, the regime began to face a new upswing of revolution in which, added to campaigns of defiance, strikes, etc., there have been signs of the crumbling of black junior partners in the state: mutinies of kitskops, the defiance of Lieutenant Rockman, revolts of Bantustan armies, the formation of POPCRU, strikes and demonstrations by black police and prison warders.
Continuing on the road of undiluted repression, the ruling class can see, threatens increasingly open civil war.
Under all these pressures — and encouraged by the continued world capitalist upturn and the collapse of Stalinism — the new De Klerk government has decided to chart a fresh course to preserve capitalist rule. Its aim is to trap the leadership of the Congress movement into government to share in the responsibility for holding back the revolutionary movement for majority rule and socialism.
De Klerk and his government promise to negotiate a new constitution ‘without pre-conditions’. They promise it will be based on “one-person-one-vote”. But they are not offering, and cannot offer, real majority rule.
They are insisting that the constitution should have provision for “protection of minorities.” Our movement should support guarantees protecting language and cultural rights of all; protecting all individuals by law against racial, religious or sex discrimination. But the De Klerk government stands, not for this, but for the protection of minority privilege, economically and politically. They demand a constitution that will retain effective veto powers for the whites and capitalists — and that will deny the majority of the people the ability to exercise their power in government according to their numbers.
Protection of minority privilege is also an essential weapon for the ruling class in maintaining the cohesion of the white core of the state machine.
The ruling class is being forced to retreat under the revolutionary pressures of the mass of the black people. But — despite the disaffection of blacks within the state –its central instrument of power remains intact. Despite all the repression, the huge military firepower and technical capacity for destruction resting in white hands has thus far been little used. So long as this is at its disposal, the ruling class has no intention of surrendering control over the economy and society to the will of the majority.
The Stalinist Dialego rejects the standpoint of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC. He rails against our journal, Inqaba ya Basebenzi, because it “continually exhorts the ANC leadership to ‘openly proclaim a programme of proletarian revolution as the only basis on which the demands of the Freedom Charter can be carried through.’ ”
SACP General Secretary Joe Slovo — in a pamphlet titled The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution — makes similar criticisms: “despite the fact that the ANC has an understandable bias towards the working class it does not, and clearly should not, adopt a socialist platform which the so-called Marxist Workers’ Tendency (expelled from the ANC) would like it to do.” (p. 24)
It was not, in fact, the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC, but four supporters of it, who were unconstitutionally suspended (in 1979) and then expelled (in 1985) from the ANC for putting forward these political ideas. But the “anti-Stalinist” Slovo, who claims to stand for democracy within society and political organisations, finds nothing strange in this — and even unilaterally ex-tends the expulsion to every supporter of our tendency! But let us leave that aside.
What program does the SACP claim to advance within the ANC instead?
Against Marxism, Dialego asserts:
“If the democratic revolution is spearheaded by the working class as the leader of a dynamic and united popular movement, then it becomes possible to move in an ‘uninterrupted’ fashion from the struggle for democracy to the construction of socialism. The one revolution passes over into the other, the revolution becomes permanent.
“This explains the fact that South African communists prefer to speak of a ‘national democratic rather than a ‘bourgeois democratic’ revolution, lest the latter is taken to imply a bourgeois revolution led by the bourgeoisie which merely entrenches capitalism. In a South Africa dominated by foreign and domestic monopoly capital (which connive with the colonial autocracy), the destruction of apartheid is only possible through a democratic revolution spearheaded by the working class — a revolution which unleashes a momentum that will compel a democratic South Africa to set its sights on the building of socialism.”
Slovo makes similar points:
In South Africa, in contrast to [Russia in] 1905 and 1917, it is our bourgeoisie (and not a feudally-based aristocracy) which wields economic and political power. Our bourgeoisie is the ruling class in every sense of the term. It has achieved and maintained its hegemony precisely through the mechanism of denying ‘bourgeois-democratic rights’ to the majority of the population. [His emphasis] The specific route which capitalism took in South Africa has led to the creation of a virtually inseparable bond between capitalist exploitation and race domination.
With the exception of a very tiny and economically weak black bourgeoisie, our capitalist ruling class in general continues to be opposed to the universal extension of democracy (as normally understood) to the majority. On the main issues our capitalist class as a whole is, and can be expected to remain, on the side of the retention of race hegemony, albeit by mechanisms which involve some form of power-sharing… [His emphasis]
…We therefore believe that it is misleading to use the words `bourgeois-democratic’ to describe the present stage. The words National Democratic are closer to our reality…
…the present phase of our revolution contains elements of both national and social emancipation; it is not the classic bourgeois-democratic revolution nor is it yet the socialist revolution…
…the historically-evolved connection between capitalist exploitation and race domination in South Africa creates a link between national liberation and social emancipation. In our conditions you don’t have to be a doctrinaire Marxist to conclude that a liberation which deals only with a rearrangement of the voting system and leaves undisturbed the race monopoly of 99% of our wealth, is no liberation at all. Any honest black nationalist understands that white political privilege has been the device to create and protect white economic privilege. [His emphasis]
It is therefore impossible to imagine any real form of national liberation which does not, at the same time, involve a fundamental rearrangement of the ownership and distribution of wealth… [His emphasis]
Compared to analogous phases (the Russian 1905 and February 1917 revolutions) certain of the key elements of our democratic revolution are, therefore, much more closely ‘interwoven’ with the longer-term socialist transformation.
The shortest route to socialism in our country is via a democratic state…. which will at once be required to implement economic measures which go far beyond bourgeois-democracy. These economic measures, dictated by the most elementary objectives of our national liberation struggle, will erect a favourable framework for a socialist transformation but will not, in themselves, create, or necessarily lead to, socialism.
A speedy advance towards socialism will depend, primarily, on the place which the working class has won for itself as a leader of society. [His emphasis] (The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution, pp. 15-18)
Here Dialego and Slovo appear to stand for a “democratic revolution spearheaded by the working class”, rather than a proletarian revolution in which the working class itself takes power and establishes workers’ democratic rule. But if Slovo or Dialego take one word in these passages seriously, then on what basis is the SACP now supporting negotiated compromise by the ANC with the De Klerk government and the state? On what basis has General Secretary Joe Slovo actually taken part in these negotiations himself?
To the idea that the working class should spearhead a democratic revolution, but not take power in it, Trotsky long ago replied. Answering the left-wing of the Mensheviks — who claimed to want the Russian workers to fight “at the head of the all-national struggle for the overthrow of the monarchy”, but without taking power, he wrote:
If the words ‘at the head’ do not simply mean that the politically conscious workers must shed their blood more freely than anyone else without understanding exactly what they will achieve by so doing, but that they must assume political leadership in a struggle which will, above all, be the struggle of the proletariat itself, then it is clear that victory in this struggle must transfer power to those who have led it, that is to say, to the social-democratic proletariat. (“The Struggle for Power“, 1915, printed in 1905)
But the real point in the case of Dialego, Slovo and the SACP is even more serious.
Let us just re-emphasise what these gentlemen say. Dialego states: “the destruction of apartheid is only possible through a democratic revolution spearheaded by the working class.” Slovo asserts:
Our bourgeoisie… has achieved and maintained its hegemony… through… denying ‘bourgeois-democratic rights’ to the majority of the population… our capitalist ruling class in general continues to be opposed to the universal extension of democracy (as normally understood) to the majority. On the main issues our capitalist class as a whole is, and can he expected to remain, on the side of the retention of race hegemony, albeit by mechanisms which involve some form of power-sharing…
Quite so. Regarding the new constitution Gavin Relly of Anglo American, for example, has made his position abundantly clear: there is no question of a British-style democratic government “with its ‘winner take all’ constitution”. This “would not work for South Africa.” (Financial Times, 15/2/1990).
Moreover, The Path to Power, the new SACP programme, adopted only last year, has this to say:
“We should be on our guard against the clear objective of our ruling class and their imperialist allies who see negotiation as a way of pre-empting a revolutionary transformation. The imperialists seek their own kind of transformation which goes beyond the reform limits of the present regime but which will, at the same time, frustrate the basic objectives of the struggling masses. And they hope to achieve this by pushing the liberation movement into negotiation before it is strong enough to back its basic demands with sufficient power on the ground.
“Whatever prospects may arise in the future for a negotiated transition, they must not be allowed to infect the purpose and content of our present strategic approaches. We are not engaged in a struggle whose objective is merely to generate sufficient pressure to bring the other side to the negotiating table. If, as a result of a generalised crisis and a heightened revolutionary up-surge, the point should ever be reached when the enemy is pre-pared to talk, the liberation forces will, at that point, have to exercise their judgment, guided by the demands of revolutionary advance. But until then its sights must be clearly set on the perspectives of a seizure of power.” (African Communist, 3rd Quarter 1989, pp. 124-25. Their emphasis)
Have these conditions now been fulfilled?! Does our movement now have “sufficient power on the ground” to enforce our demand for majority rule? Do Dialego and Slovo perhaps believe that de Klerk’s concessions represent a “democratic revolution”?
Indeed, the African Communist, (3rd Quarter 1990, does, incredibly, claim that “dual power has emerged in South Africa. The regime controls the civil service and the security apparatus, but the ANC controls the streets.”
A democratic revolution?
For Dialego, we have seen, February 1917 was a “democratic revolution”. Let us for now accept this.
What made February 1917 a revolution, bringing about a situation of dual power, was that the armed state power of the Tsarist regime disintegrated. Power passed into the hands of workers and soldiers in the streets.
The whole truth is that the fabric of the regime had completely decayed; there was not a live thread left”, wrote Trotsky in his brilliant description of the February days. There was “an irresistible crystallisation of the masses around new axes. These innumerable crowds have not yet clearly defined what they want, but they are saturated with an acid hatred of what they do not want. Behind them is an irreparable avalanche. There is no way back. Even if there were someone to scatter them, they would be gathering again in an hour, and the second flood would be more furious and bloodier than the first.
After the February days the atmosphere of Petrograd becomes so red-hot that every hostile military detachment arriving in that mighty forge, or even coming near to it, scorched by its breath, is transformed, loses confidence, becomes paralysed, and throws itself upon the mercy of the victor without a struggle… There was not to be found anywhere in the country any groups of the population, any parties, institutions or military units which were ready to put up a fight for the old regime. (History of the Russian Revolution , pp. 148, 150-1, 158)
There was not to be found anywhere in the country any groups of the population, any parties, institutions or military units… ready to put up a fight for the old regime.
— those were the realities in February 1917 in Russia.
The Russian army, mainly oppressed peasants, disintegrated under the pressure of fighting in the First World War and the movement of the working class. Under Bolshevik leadership then, a workers’ state could have been established immediately. However, with the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries still commanding majority support among the masses, the tottering state machine was propped up for months — until the majority swung to the Bolsheviks to lead workers’ insurrection.
The situation in SA today is entirely different. For all the revolutionary heroism and sacrifices of the mass movement, the white-based state machine of the ruling class is mighty and intact and is the fundamental obstacle in the way of majority rule and socialism. No “democratic revolution” has taken place — nor can it, until the working class itself develops the power and the program, at the head of all the oppressed, to take on this machine, paralyse and disintegrate it politically, and smash it.
The Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC does not oppose negotiations with the regime in principle. After decades of bloody struggle, and huge sacrifices, many black workers and youth are no doubt hoping there is a peaceful way to freedom. There must be many whites too who imagine that Nelson Mandela, with his enormous authority, can produce miracles.
But negotiations are a trap for our movement unless they are on the basis of demands which can ensure immediate transfer of power to the majority. These include:
* A Constitutional Assembly, with delegates all freely elected on the basis of one-person-one-vote from every part of SA (including the so-called “independent home-lands”) to draw up a new constitution;
* The equal right of all people irrespective of race to bear arms for their own defence. The right of local people to form militias for defence purposes in all residential areas, and of the trade unions to form workers’ defence guards in all industrial areas and on buses and trains.
But what is the position of the ANC and SACP leader-ship on these points?
The 1989 COSATU Congress in July, and the Conference for a Democratic Future in December, resolved that only a democratically-elected Constituent Assembly had the right and duty to define a new constitution and the form and social content of a new and just society.
In a message to the December conference, Comrade Tambo stated: “Let us demand and act to achieve a Constituent Assembly, sovereign and representative of all the people of our country on the basis of one-person-one-vote; a democratic assembly which will decide what kind of South Africa the people of our country want.”
Yet Comrade Mandela has now declared that the ANC will not insist on a Constitutional Assembly to decide the new constitution. What does the SACP leader-ship say to this?
Where is the ANC and SACP leadership putting for-ward the demand for the right of all people to bear arms for their defence, and for militias and defence guards in the communities, industrial areas, and on transport? Instead comrade Mandela told the heroic youth fighting the Inkatha gangsters in Natal to throw their arms into the sea. Instead the leaders of MK are negotiating with representatives of the SADF for the merging of the guerilla units into the present repressive state machine.
Comrade Mandela, in a document presented to the government, emphasised he understands the insistence of whites on “structural guarantees” in the constitution. This is a fatal compromise of democracy and national liberation.
What the government intends was recently explained by Gerrit Viljoen, minister for constitutional change. Be-cause of the “expectation of the blacks”, “a mere majority system would not work”, he told a British journalist:
“Not that they would off-hand reject one-man-one-vote as a component of a new order. A two-House Parliament, one House elected on a single roll, and the other House elected specifically to protect minority rights, especially on vital issues — such a combi-nation was on the table.” (Independent, 13/3/90)
It is, in other words, a constitution like that proposed by the KwaZulu/Natal Indaba. It would thus mean:
“that bills require the agreement of the executive, both Chambers and the relevant standing committee before they can become law… it is impossible for a majority party, irrespective of its size, to obtain approval for proposed laws without gaining the support of members of other political parties.” (Peter Mansfield, “Checks and Balances”, Leadership, 1987)
Such a government would not be democratic. It would be a new form of Bonapartism.
Entering into such a government, the ANC would be forced into a form of coalition with the NP and other bourgeois parties. It would lack the power to implement legislation needed by the majority to end poverty and social inequality and redistribute wealth. It would he paralysed from undertaking decisive measures to implement the Freedom Charter.
Yet informed journalists are already speculating that the ANC leadership are prepared to accept this:
“A temptation exists to say a deal has already been done… as officials have privately indicated this week, already at this early stage the two sides are quietly examining the possibility of hitting upon a two-chamber system of government, one elected by simple majority, one perhaps on a regional basis in such a way that the factor of race would he accommodated.” (Independent on Sunday, 6/5/1990)
Dialego and Slovo claim to stand for “democratic revolution”. More than that. Dialego claims to stand for “a revolution which unleashes a momentum that will compel a democratic South Africa to set its sights on the building of socialism.” Slovo claims to stand for:
“a fundamental rearrangement of the ownership and distribution of wealth…. The shortest route to socialism in our country is via a democratic state… which will at once be required to implement economic measures which go far beyond bourgeois-democracy… [and] will erect a favourable framework for a socialist transformation”.
On another occasion, Slovo spoke of “a real democratic society” where “the question of an advance to socialism will be settled in debate rather than in the streets.” (London Observer, 1/3/1987) Even on the present negotiations, Slovo said in April: “We cannot go to the negotiating table ready to abandon majority rule, we cannot go there ready to forget that over 90 per cent of all productive property is owned by the white group. If we went to the table forgetting that, we would not be negotiating, we would be discussing terms for our surrender.” (Independent, 30/4/1990. Our emphasis)
Yet the SACP has no opposition to the undemocratic deal now being struck between the ANC leaders and the government. As Slovo said at a recent press conference: there are “no basic differences between the two organisations.” (Independent, 20/6/90)
Slovo has now addressed an “open letter to business” in which he claims that the profit motive is “the most important engine of growth”, but begs the monopolies to permit some state intervention to redistribute wealth to the masses. (Business Day, 3/7/90)
But the profit system is the cause of the impoverishment of the masses in SA. And the experience of the working class around the world is that the monopolies will not allow any government to impede their drive for profits while their state remains intact. The monopolies may offer some limited concessions to try to hold back the tide of revolution. But SA capitalism can afford in this respect no more than mere spoonfuls of water, when oceans of fresh water are required to fulfil our needs.
To provide decent wages, jobs, homes, education and health for all, the big monopolies, banks, mines and farms must be taken out of the hands of their capitalist owners, nationalised, and brought under the democratic control and management of the working class. To achieve this, the working class needs state power in its own hands.
Slovo, we saw in Chapter 5, has “forgotten” the fundamental lessons of Marxism on the state — that, to achieve socialism, the working class cannot merely take hold of the existing state and use it for its own purposes — even under the most democratic of bourgeois constitutions.
Now the SACP stands for the position that it can `advance the struggle for socialism’ by accepting an anti-democratic Bonapartist constitution which protects the interests of all the privileged in SA society!
The claim of Dialego, Slovo and the SACP to reject the ideas of Marxism in favour of a “democratic revolution” that precedes a “socialist revolution” is in reality all words, to try to confuse and disarm those revolutionaries who still accept the authority of the SACP.
The phrases about “revolution” are a cover for their real policies of compromise with capitalism and undemocratic compromise with the state. The idea of “stages” is intended to hide from the working class the need for it to take state power to achieve majority rule.
Behind them lies the Moscow bureaucracy, which, facing increasing crisis at home, is more desperate to reach compromises with imperialism — at the expense even of the democratic demands of the black majority in SA.
We now have the incredible position, reported by bourgeois journalists, that the NP Government looks more positively at the Soviet bureaucracy than at US imperialism! As the UK Independent states (31/5/1990):
‘Our feeling,’ a senior National Party MP said, ‘is ‘Stuff America!’ If we didn’t have to deal with them ever again we wouldn’t give two hoots.” The same MP, who asked — for obvious reasons — to remain anonymous, said that the Russians had a much finer understanding of South African politics and, besides, were ‘serious people’ who spoke with a coherent, consistent voice…. Another sign of the changing times [it continued] is South Africa’s evolving relationship with the Soviet Union, which barely a year ago Pretoria accused of leading a so-called ‘total onslaught’ — with the ANC as its chief revolutionary vehicle –against South Africa.
Quiet official contacts between the Soviet Union and South Africa — as well as more open academic exchanges — have been increasing over the last year. Mark Phillips, a researcher at Johannesburg’s Centre for Policy Studies, recently visited Moscow where he spoke to leading Soviet policy-makers on Southern Africa. Mr Phillips, an ANC sympathiser, discovered to his sur-prise a remarkable understanding of Mr de Klerk’s insistence on the need for special ‘group [meaning white] rights’ to be guaranteed in the constitution for a post-apartheid South Africa — a notion which, officially, is anathema to the ANC and Washington.
‘Some South Africans may one day be surprised to discover that the Soviet Union, the South African government’s traditional enemy, could in fact be more sympathetic to constitution-ally entrenched group rights than their traditional ally, the United States of America’ “, it reports Mark Phillips as saying.
Imperialism fears majority rule and workers’ revolution in SA. But it is quite content for the Soviet bureaucracy to do the ‘dirty work’ of trying to restrain the demands of the masses in SA, and of encouraging undemocratic compromises by the ANC and CP leadership.
Inqaba ya Basebenzi in 1987 drew attention to the proposals of a leading Soviet policy maker, Dr Gleb Starushenko, that the ANC should accept a constitution with “comprehensive guarantees for the white population”, including veto powers for whites. These views, we pointed out, were “unfortunately, not those of an eccentric Soviet academic. They are consistent with the whole foreign policy of the Soviet leadership. (No. 23, April 1987) This standpoint is now again confirmed.
Slovo has claimed Starushenko was giving his “personal opinion”, and that:
it is certainly not an acceptable starting point for a negotiating agenda for our liberation movement. Apart from other considerations, the racists’ own insistence on ‘group rights’ is undoubtedly linked to the preservation of control over the means of production. If this control is maintained, through the granting of minority veto powers, the most fundamental features of race domination would be perpetuated… (The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution, pp. 34-35)
But, in one form or another, the ruling class intends to retain measures for the protection of minority privilege in the new constitution. The Moscow bureaucracy is encouraging this. The ANC leadership is expressing its willingness to accept it. The SACP leaders have “no disagreement” with the ANC. Such are the consequences of being tied to the apron-strings of the anti-revolutionary Moscow bureaucracy.
Dialego, we have seen, denounces Inqaba ya Basebenzi because it “continually exhorts the ANC leadership to `openly proclaim a programme of proletarian revolution as the only basis on which the demands of the Freedom Charter can be carried through’ “.
His quotation is taken from Inqaba’s publication, South Africa’s Impending Socialist Revolution, (1982), in which we looked forward to the time “when Comrade Mandela is eventually freed from the clutches of the enemy and is able to take his place in the active leadership of the ANC.”
We continued: “It will be vital for him as it is vital for all the ANC leaders, to openly proclaim a programme of proletarian revolution as the only basis on which the demands in the Freedom Charter can be carried through.” These remain the tasks for our Congress movement. With his huge authority, were comrade Mandela to make this call, millions would respond, and our movement could be taking big steps towards power. The SACP, too, could push in such a direction. But this is not what is taking place.
“In South Africa today” — we continued — “such is the intensity of the class struggle, and such the impasse of the ruling capitalist system, that all those who shrink from a struggle for its total overthrow are obliged also to water down their democratic demands.”
Only too tragically, this proves to be the case.
In his cheap attack on “Trotskyism”, Dialego attempts a joke!
“Like Trotsky before them, the ‘workerists’ in South Africa get the relationship between socialism and democracy precisely wrong. Only fairy tale revolutionaries believe that workers can first achieve socialism and then set about establishing the conditions which would make this revolution possible. It is rather like arriving at your destination and then looking around for the trans-port to get you there. It can’t be done!”
Powerful wit indeed… were it directed accurately at its target! Let us leave aside the question of so-called “workerism”, which we have answered in previous material (see Inqaba, No. 27, November 1988).
Socialism, of course, cannot be “achieved” in isolation in SA, or any single country. The claim that we stand for “leaping into socialism” is a complete red herring. Yet Dialego, who believes Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship was “socialist” — lectures Marxists for wanting socialism before democracy!
The Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC stands, not for “achieving socialism” before “democratic revolution” — but for proletarian revolution as the means of achieving majority rule and opening the way to socialism.
But what do Slovo and Dialego stand for? They believe that the leadership of our movement can, without even a democratic revolution, sit down with the SA capitalists and the custodians of its vicious state machine, and secure from them not merely majority rule, but conditions in which socialism can be achieved by debate!
The working class can construct socialism… without ever defeating the existing state or establishing its own rule! It can arrive at its “destination” without ever clearing away the most fundamental obstacle in its path!
Whose “theory” is guilty of “jumping stages”, comrades? Who are the “fairy tale revolutionaries”?
Elsewhere in his diatribe against Trotsky, Dialego claims:
Trotsky’s all-or-nothing approach to world revolution… stemmed from his failure to get to grips with the national question…. This problem becomes particularly acute in countries (like South Africa) where the democratic revolution itself has not yet taken place so that workers do not even enjoy a common citizen-ship with their exploiters. In theory Trotskyists should stand aloof from the struggle from national liberation since the logic of their position asserts that unless the revolution is socialist in character and world-wide in its scope, betrayal and defeat is the inevitable consequence.
Trotsky, like any genuine Marxist, placed the struggle for national liberation foremost on the banner of the SA revolution.
But, while they slander Trotsky in this way, Dialego and the SACP support a deal with the De Klerk government that leaves the fate of the oppressed and exploited black majority at the disposal of the armed might of the SADF, the SAP and their auxiliaries — of the torturers and murderers of the people. Who is guilty of “standing aloof from the struggle for national liberation”?
The ANC, maintains Slovo, “should not adopt a socialist platform which the so-called Marxist Workers’ Tendency… would like it to do. If it adopted such a plat-form it would destroy its character as the prime representative of all the classes among the oppressed black majority.” (p. 24)
By adopting a “socialist platform” of course, the ANC would not renounce the struggle for national liberation. Nor, by standing for proletarian revolution, would the ANC renounce the interests of other oppressed classes.
The mass of the “middle strata” in black society have an interest in throwing off not only national oppression, but economic oppression by the monopolies — in supporting the overthrow of the existing state and capitalism and the establishment of a democratic workers’ state in which the commanding heights of production are con-trolled and managed by the working class.
In such a state there will he ample room for redistribution of land to those who want and need it, and room also, for a whole period, for expanded possibilities for small business-people to contribute to the circulation and the distribution of goods.
But Slovo takes his argument further.
By rejecting class alliances and going it alone“, claims Slovo, “the working class would in fact be surrendering the leadership in the national struggle to the upper and middle strata. This would become the shortest route towards a sell-out reformist solution and a purely capitalist post-apartheid South Africa under the hegemony of a bourgeois-dominated black national movement. Along this path, ‘class purity’ will surely lead to class suicide and ‘socialist’-sounding slogans will actually hold back the achievement of socialism.
The black middle and upper strata constitute a relatively significant political force, particularly in community struggles. Whether we like it or not they will participate and, often, take a leading part in such struggles. (p. 8. His emphasis)
A socialist program in the SA revolution, let us re-peat, is not a program for “going it alone” by the working class, but for the working class to lead all the oppressed in a revolution to establish majority rule and end capitalism.
The working class cannot establish and lead such an alliance by hiding its aims. On the contrary, it is the boldness and consistency of the program of the working class that provides a pole of attraction for the middle layers, who otherwise vacillate under the pressures of the conflict between the main classes.
But Slovo wants the working class to hide its aims –because the black middle class is a “significant political force”! In reality, for all the efforts of the big capitalists to build up “black middle and upper strata” as a buttress of their rule against the working class, they remain few in number, and insignificant as a real force.
The African Bank, established in 1975, was to be a flagship for the development of African business. But its first chief black executive, Moses Maubane, left in dis-grace in 1986, when the bank was rocked by a foreign exchange scandal. Now the bank has been taken over by a white managing director, Jack Theron!
The “black taxi service” is hailed by the big capitalists as an example of rising black entrepreneurship. But in recent months black taxi drivers have been out demonstrating against their indebtedness to the monopolies!
The “black middle and upper strata” may sit on committees of the Congress organisations in the townships. But, as any active black youth could tell comrade Slovo, it is workers and working-class youth who play the “leading part” in struggles in the communities, as well as in the workplaces and the schools.
Were there any fundamental conflict of interest be-tween the “black middle strata” and the overwhelmingly working-class black majority, it would be defeatism for the working class to renounce its aims. But there is not.
But such an alliance of the working class with the oppressed, on the basis of its own programme, is an entirely different matter from an “alliance” with any section of the capitalist class or its political representatives. For all the sweet talk of the ‘progressive’ capitalists — the Ogilvie Thompson’s etc. — their material self-interest in ownership of the means of production makes them implacably hostile to the demands of the majority.
The same holds for those “liberal” politicians who claim to represent the interests of the “white middle class”, but in reality defend the interests of the big capitalists and the state. These have nothing to contribute to a struggle for majority rule, but only serve to hold it back.
In reality it is these, and not the mass of the middle class, whom Slovo — in true Menshevik fashion — does not wish our movement to “offend” by adopting a “socialist platform.”
Equally, our movement has nothing to gain and every-thing to lose by trying to “ally” with agents of capitalism and its state among the blacks: Buthelezi, the Inkatha warlords, the Bantustan leaders, etc. There is no place in a democratic movement for those who promote pre-feudal, anti-democratic institutions of chieftainship and tribalism that serve to divide the black masses.
Slovo claims that, by adopting a socialist program, our movement would open itself to the danger of “a sell-out reformist solution and a purely capitalist post-apartheid South Africa under the hegemony of a bourgeois-dominated black national movement”!!
But what is the reality? It is that, because our movement is not being built on a socialist program, the leader-ship of the ANC and SACP are entering into an undemocratic compromise with the capitalist state. The new constitution of this so-called “post-apartheid South Africa” will not establish the “hegemony”, i.e. domination of government and the state, by the “black national movement”, the ANC. On the contrary, this constitution is intended to try to paralyse the political movement of the majority from implementing its demands.
Trotsky and his followers” — claims Dialego — “argue that a democratic revolution can only benefit the capitalists.
But this is merely a half-truth. Marxists have never denied that as a result of the democratic revolution, some capitalists (usually the smaller Ones with national roots) benefit. Lenin acknowledged this in Russia, and Nelson Mandela has made the same point about the Freedom Charter (as the critics of the liberation movement are never tired of pointing out). The fact that the oppressed sections of the bourgeoisie will benefit should hardly surprise us — after all, as Lenin stressed, ‘the democratic revolution is bourgeois in nature. It is not a proletarian revolution: it is a revolution of ‘the whole people’.
Were a democratic revolution possible in SA without ending capitalism, it would, in fact, benefit not only the capitalists but the working class. But that idea is utopian. To achieve majority rule, the working class needs to over-throw the capitalist state and establish its own rule.
Dialego here again bases himself on Lenin’s perspectives in Two Tactics (1905), which, as we showed in Chapter 1, he modified in the course of the Russian revolution.
But, even in 1905, Lenin’s main concern was not, as Dialego implies, to reassure “small capitalists”, etc. that they would benefit from the revolution, but — as we have shown — to devise tactics for the working class and the peasantry to ensure that the capitalist class would benefit the least in what he then saw as a democratic revolution!
Later, in 1921, Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy, which not only permitted the rise of small rural capitalists but made provision for local and even foreign capitalist enterprises, under the regulation of the state: what Lenin termed the “state capitalist sector”. This was a tactical retreat from “War Communism”, to promote industrial development and preserve the support of the peasantry for the revolution while it remained isolated. But the precondition for such a tactic was that the working class held state power in the Soviet Union.
“Nelson Mandela made the same point about the Freedom Charter” — about benefits to ‘smaller capitalists with national roots’ — says Dialego.
In 1956, Nelson Mandela wrote an article on the Freedom Charter. He said:
“the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people. The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mines and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.” (“In Our Lifetime”, Liberation, June 1956)
Comrade Mandela then imagined that the African people could achieve their liberation as a “bourgeois nation” — through the replacement, if you like, of white capitalism by black capitalism. But this is utopian. The “African nation” in SA has arisen too late in world his-tory to take this path. Such capitalist development as has been possible in SA has been undertaken — in its own distorted way and by its own ruthless means — under the domination of the white minority, and, in particular, of Afrikaner nationalism.
The monopolies — Anglo American, Barlow Rand, etc. — are defended by the state. Their owners will never con-sent to their “smashing up” and “redivision” while this power (its police, army, courts, jails and administration) remain intact.
But capitalism has created an overwhelmingly proletarian African people, producers of the wealth which is stolen by the owners of the monopolies. “Turning the wealth over to the people” means bringing these monopolies under the democratic control and management of the working class. For this, it will be necessary to break the power of the present state machine, and replace it by the power of the armed people.
With this achieved, the idea of “breaking up” the monopolies and turning them over to an aspirant black capitalist class would be ridiculous.
Perspectives and tasks
Many workers and youth look to the relaunched SACP as the guardian within the Congress movement of the interests of the working class. The reality is the opposite. The SACP recipe of “revolution in phases” –whether the “first phase” is labelled “bourgeois-democratic”, “national democratic”, or anything else — turns out to be a recipe for no revolution at all. To accept these ideas would be to accept submission.
To implement the program of the Freedom Charter, as the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC has consistently maintained, the working class needs to build the ANC under its control, at the head of all the oppressed, on a program for proletarian revolution.
The new constitution — whatever its precise form –will be a recipe for legislative and executive paralysis. Neither advancing the interests of the majority nor protecting minorities, providing neither social justice nor peace, it will guarantee increasing extra-parliamentary conflict along race and class lines.
Under the huge opposing pressures of the different races and classes it will sooner or later break down, with government assuming an even more dictatorial Bonapartist character, perhaps in the hands of the military them-selves. These are the dangers that open up if the leader-ship of Congress pursues its present course.
The mass of the oppressed cannot and will not give up the struggle for decent wages, jobs, homes, education and health for all. The intolerable conditions imposed on them do not allow that. Equally, the ruling class will not abandon the use of their bloodthirsty armed forces, security guards, and vigilantes in trying to hold down and crush our movement.
Unless political power is taken decisively by the op-pressed majority out of the hands of the ruling minority, black working people will continue to he cheated even of the most basic real reforms.
Eventually the new constitution will become as irrelevant to processes in society as that of Lebanon.
The danger for our movement is that compromises with the regime can foster splits and divisions in Congress — weakening the unity which the black working class has struggled to build over the last two decades.
The rank and file need to build and transform the ANC and all the Congress organisations into instruments of workers’ power, to compel a change from the present course. Under the banner of the ANC we need to build a mass workers’ army, politically and physically armed to defend itself against the bosses, their state and their vigilante agents, and to defeat their challenge.
Unlike in Russia in February 1917, the South African state will not collapse “spontaneously”.
In SA the core of the state machine are privileged whites taught for generations by their racist leaders to fear and hate the black masses. They will not desert capitalism and its state spontaneously to come over to the side of a democratic and socialist revolution.
Facing growing economic crisis, and under the huge pressures of the black working class, white society is already in the early stages of decay. This will intensify as working and lower middle-class whites lose confidence in the ability of the ruling class to find a way out of its predicament.
But, left to their own devices, the majority of whites will turn to ultra-right reaction, inside and outside the state. In the future, despairing at the paralysis of government, fearful of loss of privilege, seeing no alternative, the ranks of the whites can be drawn not merely to the KP demagogues, but to the open armed reaction of the now-isolated AWB and other neo-Fascist organisations.
White domination can never again be re-established in the old way. The rising numbers of the blacks, the power of the black working class in production, the refusal of the majority to be ground down again into passive slavery, precludes this. But the ultra-right reaction can cause huge havoc.
If our movement is not mobilised and taken forward to a successful workers’ revolution, the alternative will not be stable bourgeois democracy, nor constitutional Bonapartism, but all-out racial civil war, setting not only white against black, but black against black, with the slaughter of millions.
The leader of the racist Blanke Veiligheid vigilante group in Welkom, Hennie Muller, declares he wants to meet Chief Buthelezi. “We can join forces with him” he says. “We have the same intentions — to restore law and order.” (Sunday Star, 1/4/1990) That the white fascists and the Inkatha warlords could really unite their forces is a pipe-dream. But this statement shows that the forces for chaos and anarchy among the whites recognise their counterparts among the blacks.
In the hands of state-backed vigilante organisations like these, the future of SA would be a nightmare. To cut across this, and to defeat the state, our movement needs to have clear policies not only to raise the organised power of the working class to its full height at the head of all the oppressed, but to split the whites along class lines.
This is not an abstract question of class unity. It is first and foremost for practical reasons — that the state can-not be defeated unless its core of white support is stripped away and neutralised or won to the side of our revolution. And there can be no real national liberation unless the state is defeated.
Clinging to white privilege and capitalism can guarantee neither continued prosperity nor peace for the whites. Our movement must prove in action its power and its de-termination to create a new society, a workers’ democracy, without privilege for anyone — which, by breaking the chains of capitalism, can vastly expand the wealth at the disposal of society to serve the needs of all working people, black and white.
Armed with the ideas of Marxism — the legacy handed down by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky — the working class in SA can be victorious. It is with state power in its hands, and only then, that the working class will be able to ensure (in Slovo’s words) “a fundamental rearrangement of the ownership and distribution of wealth” in society, and (in Dialego’s words) to “move in a ‘uninterrupted’ fashion from the struggle for democracy to the construction of socialism.”
A workers’ revolution in SA would rouse all Africa –bringing Bonapartist dictatorships down like a pack of cards under the hammer-blows of the movement of the oppressed masses.
A workers’ revolution in SA would be an inspiration to working people everywhere on the planet. Under the often confusing surface of events, a race is on — between the political revolution in the East, and the social revolution in any major capitalist country. It will be decided by where the forces of Marxism first rise to the head of the movement of the working class.
But just one workers’ revolution, in any of these countries, can re-ignite the world socialist revolution.
In a speech to an audience of Social Democratic Youth in Copenhagen in 1932, which he titled “In Defence of October“, Trotsky summarised the experience of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, and the balance-sheet of developments in the Soviet Union. In his conclusion he declared:
Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfil its essential function: the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached.
In the decades since the Second World War, which Trotsky did not live to see, capitalism has developed the productive forces massively. Yet, even at its peaks, it has proved unable to “raise the level” of power and wealth of the majority of those who live under its sway. In the period ahead, new stagnation threatens. The democratic and social gains of the working class in even the most advanced countries will come increasingly under attack.
Trotsky continued with remarks whose relevance will again echo in the stormy decades which lie ahead.
Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity — all humanity — of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses — first of all man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical toil. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and obscure forces which work behind his back. He will build the economy freely, according to plan, with compass in hand.
This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and will of collective humanity. In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind…
The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rises up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves from the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and — every man and woman, not only a selected few — become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.
How much more true is all this today!
A few months before his assassination, Trotsky wrote: “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.”
It is within the power of the generations now living on this planet to achieve all this. Let our continued struggle for these goals be our tribute to Trotsky’s memory!