Published by the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), in: Trotskyist International No. 10 (January-April 1993)
In January F W de Klerk opened the “last apartheid parliament” and negotiations with the ANC on power-sharing entered their decisive phase. Lesley Day assesses the chances of making the settlement stick.
On 2 February 1990 F W de Klerk announced the end of the National Party’s defence of apartheid.
How could the ruling party—the architect of grand apartheid after 1948—turn its back on its own creation? After all, the apartheid system had delivered a high standard of living to the white working class and petit bourgeoisie who formed the basis of National Party rule.
The migrant labour system ensured the super-exploitation of the majority black African population. This system, steered by state intervention and bolstered by the unique contribution of gold to the economy, led to a dramatic expansion and modernisation of the South African economy during the 1950s and 1960s.
A high degree of ownership concentration produced the big conglomerates in mining, finance, agribusiness and manufacturing; such giants as Anglo American, Gencor etc. Gold production assured a favourable balance of trade, high state revenues and astronomical profits for the big companies.
Even during the world recessionary conditions of the 1970s the counter-cyclical effect of gold trading meant that South Africa could ride out the worst relatively unscathed. South Africa’s emergence as a new, if minor, imperialism naturally led to military interventions in the “Front Line States” demonstrating an appetite to exercise economic and political domination over the whole region surrounding it.
So why should De Klerk endanger all this by his February 1990 declaration? Quite simply, apartheid had become acutely dysfunctional for South African capitalism and nearly every section of the bourgeoisie was demanding its abandonment for economic reasons.
In the second half of the 1970s expansion and development faltered.1 One important but in the end secondary factor was the stagnatory effect of the restricted domestic market in a country most of whose population live in desperate poverty. But far more debilitating was the difficulty in overcoming low labour productivity.
Chronically low levels of investment were in part a product of the very low wage levels of black workers that acted as a disincentive to their replacement by modern machinery. Apartheid also presented insurmountable barriers to creating a large stable skilled and semi-skilled labour force from amongst the black masses. In the interests of raising productivity and profit rates apartheid had to go.
There were compelling political reasons for signalling the end of apartheid too. Continued defence of apartheid in the preceding dozen years provoked ever more powerful revolutionary waves of resistance from its principal victims—the urbanised black masses.
The revolutionary period which opened in the early to mid-1980s in South Africa was fuelled by the deepening divisions within the ruling class and the evident disruption of its alliance with the white petit bourgeoisie and working class. But the main motive force was the growing class struggle of the black proletariat and the urban poor, who clearly were completely unwilling to go on living in the old way.
The 1970s and the early 1980s saw the growth of black working class trade unions and the emergence of a newly radicalised generation of black youth. The process of proletarianisation and urbanisation that flowed from the very successes of South African capitalism produced its own gravedigger. Due to the very absence of legality black workers’ trade union organisation was built on exceptionally strong shop stewards’ organisation and highly developed community links. The 1980s saw national and local cross-union federations develop.
Militant township and community organisations were forged in parallel with this in the struggles against the appalling conditions in the expanding shanty towns. This dual threat forced the ruling class into defence of its very existence. The Botha government met the township rebellion with mounting repression. Politicisation snowballed amongst the youth and among trade union activists. Both revolutionary nationalist and socialist ideas grew in influence.
By 1986 South Africa was in revolutionary ferment. However, the magnificent fighters of the mines, the factories and the townships did not posses a revolutionary leadership. The exiled African National Congress (ANC) and inside South Africa the United Democratic Front (UDF), together with the politically weak union leadership, pursued strategies that led to defeat.
These strategies allowed the Botha regime to impose a vicious State of Emergency and temporarily to escape from this profound crisis. The working class retreated—but not in disorder. It retained much of its workplace organisation. Yet it took much longer to rebuild community structures which remained more exposed to police repression and the dirty tricks of ethnic provocation that were to disfigure the late 1980s.
This defeat allowed three vital developments to take place. First, the so-called progressive capitalists, led by Anglo American, were able to carry forward their “normalisation” of industrial relations, secure in the knowledge that state repression had altered the balance of forces in their favour.
Secondly, influential sections of the National Party—in particular the Broederbond—had at last become convinced that they could not restore the old system and that circumstances both demanded and made possible its reform. Important developments in southern Africa had influenced their thinking here as much as domestic events.
After the defeat of the South African Defence Forces (SADF) at Cuito Cuanavale, even the South African high command became convinced that repression and conquest alone were insufficient. They too had to learn to create instruments of imperialist rule out of former leaders of national liberation movements, not simply stooges hated and despised by the masses. The Namibian settlement was thus seen by many of its participants as a “dry run” for South Africa.
Thirdly, US and British imperialism, with the active support of the Kremlin (now in full retreat under Gorbachev), set out to achieve an imperialist settlement across the whole region. Given the weight of the Communist Party inside the ANC this would have far-reaching effects.
The year 1989 was a turning point. In Eastern Europe international Stalinism entered its death agony and inside South Africa there was a renewal of mass struggle. This time the new National Party leader, F W de Klerk, responded with a radically different policy: the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). This opened the present long and troubled period of negotiation.
While 1991 saw the repeal of most of the central pillars of apartheid—the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act—the key issues of one person, one vote and a majority government remain unresolved.
The ruling class is unwilling to gamble on the transfer of a real share of political power to the ANC without demanding guarantees which so far the ANC leadership has found it difficult to give. The ANC leadership is clearly willing to complete its betrayal by agreeing to a power sharing formula. But such a political settlement must still overcome a multitude of both reactionary and progressive obstacles.
Job reservation, a large state sector, high education and welfare spending, farm subsidies—these were the very bedrock of the racially defined privileges of the white working class and petit bourgeoisie.
Such privileges, the price of electoral support for National Party rule, expanded as a proportion of GNP and came to be part of the fetters preventing South African imperialism from escaping its mortal crisis. This means that the ruling class has to get rid of most of these privileges without sawing off the branch on which it is sitting.
There are now an estimated 200,000 white unemployed2 a small fraction of the probable total of five million without work but enough to create a pool of “poor whites”, a phenomenon virtually unknown in the heyday of apartheid.
By early 1992 the combination of loss of privileges and the effects of the recession was producing a serious white backlash expressed in the rise of right wing parties—both the extreme right Conservative Party and the open fascists of the AWB.
This was reflected in the National Party’s loss of the Potchefstroom bye-election. De Klerk was forced to act and did so in classically bonapartist fashion by calling a referendum in March 1992 to seek a mandate for the reform process. This he won resoundingly and unsurprisingly, given the overwhelming support of the state and independent media and the financial backing of the all powerful Anglo-American.
His victory weakened the right wing parties but the majority of the white plebeian classes can have little confidence in their future. Current education reform gives a glimpse of future developments. In 1991 every white child received a R4,103 state subsidy, every black child R778 at primary age and R1,560 at secondary school.3 The level of spending on white children cannot be maintained if a substantial new layer of black children is to be educated, trained and integrated.
The government’s current preferred method of achieving desegregation while keeping costs down is to force white schools to convert to being partially dependent on parental contributions.
The effect of this will be that such schools will be formally “de-racialised” and transformed instead into centres of class privilege. Of course, only a small minority of better off black families will be able to afford the fees but some white families will sink into being dependent on the poorer quality schools.
Far greater resources would have to be put into education and training to meet the need for skilled labour. It was still the case in the 1980s that 73% of artisans and 67% of apprentices were white.4 To overcome this within a capitalist framework inevitably means taking resources from elsewhere and this means attacking privileges which are no longer functional for the ruling class.
In the public sector—for so long an Afrikaner bastion—all the talk is of rationalisation, of cutting back on jobs. Any calls for public works projects draw the frowns of bourgeois economists and the international financial institutions. Then there is the problem of racial pay differentials.
In the public sector as a whole in 1991, average black wages were R1,349 per month while average white wages were R3,346 per month5. An insignificant number of black workers are employed in higher grades.
Thus the architects of a post-apartheid capitalist South Africa face the choice of protecting racist privilege or fuelling white opposition. Already SACP executive member, Joe Slovo, has sided with the protectors of privilege by proposing a clause in the constitution giving guarantees to the white bureaucracy as well as a “sunset clause” for compulsory power sharing.
His message is that neither the white ruling class, nor its formerly pampered social base needs to fight a desperate rearguard action. The leadership of the ANC is doing the work for them.
The ANC’s betrayal of the black working class and rural poor is neither sudden nor unexpected, but it is nonetheless profound.
In a series of policy shifts and manoeuvres the ANC has divested itself of the trappings of revolutionary nationalism—the armed struggle, the talk of the seizure of power—and transformed itself into a suitable partner for a bourgeois government in post-apartheid South Africa.
This process was already underway by the time of Mandela’s release. Mandela had begun exploratory talks for a deal while still in jail. The ANC had issued “Constitutional Guidelines” to clarify its immediate aims. In the subsequent three years, the leadership has won more room to manoeuvre for itself.
It has brought most organisations in the mass movement under its hegemony, either through making them adjuncts of Congress as with the women’s organisation or, as in the case of the major unions, through the “COSATU-ANC-SACP Alliance”. Most importantly, it has won its supporters to the perspective of a negotiated settlement.6
They have been able to declare a cease-fire and later to sign a peace accord which left communities undefended. They have joined the official constitutional planning talks, CODESA, and offered further concessions to the National Party on voting in a constituent assembly, on possible regional arrangements and on undertakings regarding future government policy.
In particular, existing private property rights will be safe with the ANC. In fact, the ANC is constructing its own “Lancaster House” settlement that will not require outside imposition nor even the clauses in the Zimbabwe settlement which provided for a ten year white veto in the legislative assembly.
None of this is to deny that the ANC leadership still has to take some account of the mass movement. It sends proposals out to its branches for “consultation” even if the inner working committee retains its grip on policy making. It is also capable of returning to mass action as it did after the breakdown of CODESA in 1992.
But as in the past it uses this mass action merely as pressure for a return to the negotiating table.
The tensions and conflicts that continue to surface inside the ANC reflect the extent to which it still retains the character of a popular front. It is as yet not a fully-fledged bourgeois party. Certainly, it already has an individual membership structure with numerous adherents amongst the rising black bourgeoisie as well as amongst the black and white middle class.7
It has the support of some of the homeland leaders and their bureaucracies as well as tribal leaders. Nevertheless, apart from its “alliance” with COSATU and the SACP it also includes the entire SACP leadership and many trade union leaders within its ranks.8
Despite the aspirations of the ANC base the pressure of the international and domestic balance of forces means that the ANC will either subordinate the unions to itself by a tyrannical and corrupt bureaucracy (like Argentine Peronism) or will break its formal ties with the unions to represent all classes (i.e. the ruling class). In either case it will be a bourgeois party.9
The Stalinist majority of ANC leaders were always the major architects of ANC policy. Moreover, the overlapping of the SACP and the ANC helps the Congress leaders to keep a hold on the mass movement, able to rely on the SACP cadre to keep militant youth and trade unionists on the straight and narrow path of a negotiated settlement.
The SACP was for a long time one of the most slavish followers of the Moscow line. Yet it is a striking fact that the party was legally launched and dramatically expanded precisely in a period when the rest of the world’s Stalinist parties were dropping like flies.
This paradox ought not to blind us to the fact that essentially the SACP has moved along the same road as the rest of world Stalinism towards embracing the market and social democracy. It has espoused its own version of “market socialism”.
The longstanding Menshevik/Stalinist stage-ist strategy facilitated this transition. The Party’s concept of the “national democratic revolution” allowed it to move to the left under the impact of the mass struggles of the 1980s and it was a major architect of the ANC’s “ungovernability strategy”.
In the wake of that defeat and under heavy pressure from Moscow it began a shift in policy expressed in particular by then General Secretary Joe Slovo first in “The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution” 10 and then in “Has Socialism Failed?” 11
In Slovo’s earlier writings, the alliance of the working class with the progressive bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie to win democracy is justified on the grounds that the smashing of the apartheid state would open up the road from democracy to socialism. In the new version, there is once again “no Chinese Wall” between democracy and socialism, but the smashing of the state has got lost along the way!
Slovo, and like minded members of the SACP leadership such as Jeremy Cronin, have driven the party towards the adoption of social democratic politics, the acceptance of the mixed economy and of extremely gradual reform. Pledges for nationalisation have been replaced by calls for action against the monopolies. “Realistically”, argues Cronin, “the prospects of substantial economic change in South Africa are not great”.12
The SACP Manifesto adopted at the Eighth Congress in December 1991 spelt out a utopian vision of a gradual transformation of society through the “development of a vast network of democratic organs of popular participation in both the economy and the political system under the leadership of the working class”, which would lead to “a position of dominance in all spheres”.13
Nevertheless, the SACP remains a bourgeois workers’ party, subject to the pressure of its working class membership, many of whom joined its ranks on its relaunch as a legal party, and it also contains old-style Stalinists such as Harry Gwala of the Natal region, in turn subject to the pressure of those involved in the desperate fight against Inkatha.
The Eighth Congress, while adopting a manifesto redolent of the new thinking, nevertheless voted to retain the concepts of “Marxism-Leninism” and the “vanguard party”. In short, the SACP remains a Stalinist party albeit one in which a social democratisation process is now well underway.
With over a million workers organised in the main trade union federation COSATU, the black working class is one of, if not the most militant and well organised labour movements in the world. It fully retains the strength and the organisational capacity to defeat the reactionary settlement currently being negotiated.
However, in the period 1986-7 it suffered a political defeat from which it has not yet recovered. Despite high levels of organisation in both factory and township, it was unable to repulse the 1986 State of Emergency and ward off the attacks on township and camp committees.14
As the working class organisations regrouped following the 1986 defeat they fell increasingly under the hegemony of the ANC and the SACP.15 By the time that mass action revived in 1989 the movement was no longer so democratic, with such a high degree of rank and file control.
In short, it had undergone a process of bureaucratisation. Thanks to the nationalists and the Stalinists it was not the same revolutionary threat to the capitalist order that it had been in the middle of the decade.
With the legalisation of the ANC and SACP many COSATU affiliated union leaders emerged as members of one or both organisations including those from the former “workerist” and syndicalist wings. Moses Mayekiso, along with other socialist leaders in NUMSA and other unions, joined the SACP.
The politically active cross-union, rank and file shop steward organisation characteristic of the mid-1980s has given way to a greater dependence on an apparatus of full-time officials, and an increasing number of white collar experts who are answerable to the officials rather than the rank and file.
Shop steward organisation still remains strong, but even here there is an increasing tendency for them to be drawn from more educated, skilled and clerical grades and thus to be subject to pressures of promotion opportunities.16 There are fewer base meetings, with less reporting back and an increasing number of full time stewards (i.e. with 100% facility time).
COSATU locals are also less active. Overall, “workers are losing workers’ control, and it is in danger of becoming just a slogan”, according to one union leader.17 Many in the union leaderships, while remaining influenced by the democratic traditions they grew up in, nevertheless bow to the pressures to create a “modern”, efficient machine. A common attitude is that “Today the practice of ‘workers’ control’ has become cumbersome if not impractical”.18
The leaderships of COSATU and many individual unions have moved towards an ever closer collaboration with the bosses. National bargaining is in the hands of the officials and in a number of crucial instances, such as the NUMSA strikes in 1991 and 1992, retreats have been ordered by the national leadership in the face of employer offensives.
In the case of the Mercedes Benz dispute in 1990, rank and file workers were forced to accept a national deal less favourable than could be enforced at local level after the intervention of national union and ANC leaders.
The following year the NUMSA auto industry agreement included, in return for a moratorium on retrenchments, a promise to prevent any “plant-specific unprocedural industrial action” which led to a decline in productivity.
Any union militant will understand the pressures to develop stable trade union structures and procedures when a period of mass struggle has abated. Sheer energy and innovation which carried individuals and sections through a pre-revolutionary ferment cannot be sustained indefinitely.
But it is important to recognise and resist the process of bureaucratisation and the political leadership that fosters it. It is important to entrench workers’ democracy in preparation for a new wave of mass struggle to come.
COSATU and its affiliates have been drawn into providing a parallel settlement to the one being negotiated between the National Party and the ANC, and in fact the various agreements with the bosses are an important component of the whole process.
The majority of COSATU affiliates supported the call for COSATU to have a place within CODESA, some in the false belief that this participation would ensure greater influence for working class interests in the negotiating process. In reality, it would have tied the class even closer into the sell-out. As it was, the demand to be let into CODESA strengthened working class illusions in the negotiations.
The union leaders now for the most part accept the perspective of a capitalist South Africa as the outcome of negotiations, although the aim of eventually achieving socialism is still the subject of platform rhetoric. The officials’ main concern is how to win influence for the unions in this set-up.
Thus they are offering co-operation with the bosses in “restructuring” industry and making it more competitive. COSATU advisers, Lewis and Joffe, advocate a “restructuring accord” which will trade increased productivity and flexibility for job security.19
Productivity deals and changed working practices hold little attraction for workers while wages are so low, unemployment is so high and conditions at home and at work so appalling.
This pressure means that union leaders and academics are looking at grander scale negotiations and agreements, further developing the National Economic Negotiating Forum. In other words, the search is on for a social contract and a framework in which productivity agreements can be negotiated.
In the last three years the perpetuation of divisions along ethnic and linguistic lines has remained the most powerful weapon in the hands of the white ruling class. These artificially inflamed conflicts weaken working class unity and strengthen every reactionary sector. Such divisions were the very basis of the apartheid state and have been carried on by the De Klerk government in its attempt to reduce the influence of the ANC and split the black majority.
South Africa’s black working class and peasantry is composed of a series of different ethnic-linguistic groupings. The most important of these are the Nguni group of languages, which includes Zulu (roughly eight million), the Xhosa (approximately seven million, four million of whom are domiciled in Transkei or Ciskei) and the Sotho, totalling around 10.5 million, broadly divided into northern and southern Sotho.20
Since the Second World War in particular, the process of industrialisation and class formation in modern South Africa has undermined the political and cultural structures deriving from the old tribal federations and kingdoms, promoting a narrowing of cultural differences. This process is further advanced here than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time the policies of “grand apartheid” deliberately tried to hold back or reverse this process. It encouraged not only the survival but the creation of collaborationist “traditional”, “national” leaders in the homelands. The organisation of migrant labour and hostel system was also used to sharpen ethnic tension.
The most dangerous expression of reactionary nationalism and ethnic prejudice is Chief Gatsha Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, which purports to represent the interests of the Zulu people. This is a lie! No organisation is a greater threat to the Zulu speaking people. Inkatha is a tool of the racist police state and an agent for the balkanisation of South Africa.
In the 1980s trade union militants and activists from UDF affiliates in Natal and KwaZulu found themselves in a desperate struggle against Inkatha. In 1986 with the aid of covert state funding, later exposed in the Inkathagate scandal, Buthelezi launched UWUSA, a bosses’ union, set up to undermine COSATU and its affiliates. Worker and community militants withstood Inkatha and state terror.
Their courage brought considerable success in preventing the emergence of the collaborationist union as a serious force and strengthened pro-ANC township and camp organisations in Natal and KwaZulu in the face of gangster terror. Nevertheless, in the period since 1990 Buthelezi’s movement has proved a terrible threat to the working class and pro-ANC mass movement. Pro-Inkatha forces, especially among the hostel dwellers have been involved in terror campaigns in the townships. Buthelezi has constantly demanded a seat at negotiations, has argued that the cease fire should not apply to Zulu “traditional weapons” and now is trying to build a new reactionary pro-federal bloc with white reactionaries and other homeland leaders.21
The prolonged agony of the background to negotiations—violence, poverty, failure to tackle the land question— and the inability of the ANC to find a revolutionary solution to them, fuels support for Inkatha. KwaZulu, which is composed of 29 separate fragments, has 38% of the land area of Natal/KwaZulu but 55% of the population. More than a third of the population is landless. Many move in ever increasing numbers to the townships and camps.
The problem of the homelands and migrant labour cannot be solved short of an agrarian revolution involving the nationalisation of the land and the seizure and occupation of the big, productive estates. Anything less leaves the black majority fighting over tiny plots of the worst land. This will be used by every reactionary to inflame ethnic differences.
Those members of the Zulu working class and rural poor at present misled by Buthelezi can and must be won to a bold programme which can assure them land, jobs, wages and housing and makes them an integral part of the proletarian revolution.
A political offensive to win away Buthelezi’s mass support must be combined with effective resistance to the physical threat the Inkatha thugs pose to all progressive forces. The Mandela leadership has refused to support armed defence and, indeed, in a number of instances acted to demobilise it. Shortly after his release, Mandela shocked Natal’s young pro-ANC militants by calling on them to “throw their guns into the sea”.
The fact is that most of the violence in the Natal region has not been the action of Zulus against other groupings but that of pro-Inkatha forces against Zulu workers. Allowing Inkatha and its gangsters free reign simply allows Buthelezi to grow stronger. Nor must there be the slightest concession to the current federalist plans of Buthelezi or sections of the Natal bourgeoisie who wish to create a reactionary bloc to genuine black majority rule.
Only when the white racist state has been smashed, only when the Inkatha murder squads have been disarmed and dispersed, only when the bantustan mini-dictatorships have been dissolved, then and only then will it be possible to discover in a democratic way if the Zulu speaking people genuinely want some form of autonomy or even independence. We firmly believe that after playing a crucial role in the class and national liberation struggles they will not want this.
It is obvious now that the principal players on both sides—the National Party and the ANC—are moving towards a settlement which, far from meeting the real political, social and economic needs of the masses, would rob them of the prize for which they have shed so much blood over many decades. This settlement would be a form of “democratic counter-revolution”, aimed at isolating and crushing the militant vanguard, in the factories, the townships and in the ANC and the other organisations that have fought for freedom from apartheid.
The imposition of a reactionary settlement is now a great danger. Moreover, the peaceful democratic counter-revolution is not the only one that is possible. Battle cries are heard against a settlement and against the ANC itself from within the ranks of the military.
Talk of plots and coups, whilst receding since the referendum last year, have not disappeared. The upper and secondary levels of command in the security forces are stuffed with violently pro-apartheid figures.
While the highly bonapartist nature of the South African presidency as it was constructed in the Botha era gives De Klerk huge powers and considerable room for manoeuvre, he has not yet been able to carry through a thorough purge of the top military and security ranks. This is no surprise since his own pursuit of a settlement relies on their overt and covert operations in the townships.
The majority of top SADF and SAP officers have retained their posts and unless he envisages a more wholesale purge than the current plans for “integrating” MK22 and South African Defence Forces and South African Police then there are few reasons for a coup.
As with the Latin American military in the 1980s, the officer caste can accept a democratisation process, but any “democratic” transition will have to be “managed”, with a high degree of state repression and bonapartist governmental forms. But this militarist danger is no reason for sinking into tacit support for the settlement as a “lesser evil” or into a de facto popular front to bring it about. A whole series of pitfalls face De Klerk and Mandela which give conscious revolutionaries and militant fighters ample opportunity to expose and replace this leadership.
The crises that lie ahead for Mandela and De Klerk stem from the likely prospects for South African imperialism. Any new regime that emerges from the negotiation process could be crushed between the reality of a mauled economy and resurgence of popular expectations.
There is now a huge pool of unemployed urban workers and landless labourers. An estimated 5.5 million persons, or 40% of the potential labour force, is unemployed.23 The population is young, with 50% under the age of 19, and an increasing proportion of it is black, (81% by the year 2000) and urban.24 There is a serious housing crisis, with seven million urban dwellers in informal housing and another twelve million people expected to swell the population of the cities by 2010. In addition there are enormous transport problems resulting from the legacy of the township system.
Most estimates conclude that to make any impact on these problems would necessitate a growth rate of around 5% per annum throughout the next ten to twenty years. But none of the strategies for economic recovery on offer predict anything approaching these levels.
The difficulties are compounded by the fact that gold no longer plays the same role in world currency markets. Gold’s contribution to GDP fell from 12% in 1980 to 6% in 1990.25 In the 1991-92 fiscal year gold contributed only 1% of the state revenues compared to 9.6% in 1982-83.26 Some 70% of gold exports are now for the jewellery trade.
It is true that South Africa is an imperialist power and this implies that it has economic reserves available that did not exist in, for example, Zimbabwe after 1979. The great South African based concerns such as Anglo, and Barlow Rand have considerable overseas investment.
They have also developed enormously diverse interests. Anglo’s single biggest sector is now financial services and around a third of earnings in this sector are from non-South African interests,27 Anglo’s associate, De Beers, controls the London-based diamond Central Selling Organisation. Gold Fields of South Africa has large UK interests.
South Africa was and is able to pursue its own interests in the surrounding region. South Africa is looking to further develop its dominant role in the continent through trade and investment, although its own promotion of devastating civil wars in southern African states—together with the recent drought—suggests that they will be little more than unrewarding semi-colonies in the short term.
Life as a minor imperialist power is tough in the late twentieth century as, for instance, the cases of Australia and Sweden show. While South Africa’s ruling class is under pressure to deliver reforms to significantly improve life for the black majority, these countries are being forced to slash social reforms. The new South Africa will disappoint millions who currently believe in it.
However, it is not enough for socialists simply to warn of the bankruptcy and disaster of the reformist strategy; they have to provide a coherent revolutionary alternative to it.
How are we to address today’s struggles and link them to the socialist and revolutionary goal which thousands upon thousands of militants in the South African labour movement pledged themselves to in the 1970s and 80s?
The recent turn to brazen reformism by many ANC and COSATU leaders and the postponement not only of socialism but even of significant social reform to the indefinite future opens the road that joins revolutionaries and the rank and file fighters of the mass organisations.
Socialists must argue for a programme that includes both revolutionary democratic demands and tackles the need to rapidly raise living standards: to build millions of houses, to provide good health care, to expand education massively and to slash unemployment levels.
The only real alternative to the trap of entering a social contract is for working class organisations to fight for these measures. Socialists have to point out that the resources for these measures will require making massive inroads into the capitalists’ wealth and property. Expropriation and nationalisation—far from being outmoded ideas—are vital to meet the most elementary needs of the working class.
South African workers do not need a “national plan” agreed with an employers’ forum, but rather an emergency plan drawn up by organisations of the working class and rural poor and carried out at the expense of the parasites who have sucked labour dry in the fields, mines and factories for a century and a half. To those who fear the future without the market as chief regulator of economic life we say: bureaucratism, corruption, inefficiency and repression are not a concomitant of socialism. Rather, in the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe they were a product of the absence of workers’ democracy in setting the goals and carrying out the plan of production. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes is not the collapse of socialist planning but of bureaucratic dictatorship.
Trotskyists predicted the inevitability of this collapse. For us workers’ control, a democracy of workers’ councils should not be simply a method of directing mass struggles, controlling the union leaderships or even particular factories but a means of planning the whole of the economy and society.
These aims and methods of struggle must be linked together in a programme for the South African revolution which includes an immediate fight for a revolutionary sovereign constituent assembly; the building of defence units and a workers’ militia to tackle the violence of the state and its Inkatha stooges; the reviving of cross union locals and workplace-township committees.
The working class vitally needs a party which breaks from the ANC leadership and its betrayals. Such a revolutionary workers’ party is crucial if all the disparate and diverse sectional struggles of the South African masses are to find the necessary level of co-ordination and inter-action that can outwit, out-plan, out-manoeuvre the security forces of the state. No one trade union—or federation of them—no one broad coalition of township groups can take the place of such a party.
On their own, mass organisations of struggle—especially ones that welcome the class enemy into their ranks—cannot work to a conscious battle plan to seize political power, the very condition of further progress in South Africa. For this task a combat party of the vanguard workers is essential. To build such a revolutionary party is the duty of all who have transcended the narrow confines of one front of struggle alone and pursue working class independence and leadership in the fight to smash apartheid.
1 Whereas from 1945-74, average GDP growth rates ran at 4.9%, in the late 1970s and 80s, the economy stagnated. See Gelb, “South Africa’s Economic Crisis”, London 1991, p4. Furthermore, the GDP per capita fell by 1.1% in the 80s. See The Economist 29.2.92
2 Guardian 14.11.92
3 Work in Progress (WIP), 84.
4 P Lundell and Z Kimie, “Apprentice Training and Artisan Employment”, in South African Labor Bulletin (SALB) 16/6 July 1992
5 L Nyembe, “A new labour dispensation in the public sector”, in SALB 16/7 Sept 1992
6 It has even been able to tolerate critical voices and make self-criticisms as at its Consultative conference in December 1990 and the Congress in July 1991. But it has used these manoeuvres to win endorsement for positions which allowed the process of concessions to continue.
7 Bobby Marie of NUMSA noted recently that “There are cases where organisers discover, to their great confusion, managers who are card carrying ANC members.” See “Cosatu faces crisis” in SALB 16/5 May 1992
8 The popularity of these figures—whether as exiled MK cadres such as Chris Hani or as leaders of the internal fight of the 1980s—resulted in high votes for them at the ANC 1991 Congress. Thus of the ten most popular directly elected members of the executive, half were in the SACP.
9 Naturally, this excludes the ANC transforming itself into any kind of workers’ party as the Marxist Workers Tendency have argued with their slogan “Build a Mass ANC with a socialist programme”.
10 Joe Slovo,The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution , London,1988
11 Joe Slovo, Has Socialism Failed?, London, 1990.
12 A Callinicos, Between Apartheid and Capitalism., London, 1992 p87
13 SACP Manifesto, SALB,January 16/3 1992
14 The responsibility for this lies with the petty bourgeois nationalist and Stalinist leadership of the ANC and its allies and secondly with the economist and reformist alternative leadership to them which was built in the 1980s.See Permanent Revolution 5,(1987).
15 See Workers Power ( London) nos 96-99 for coverage of these developments.
16 See Dot Keet, “Shop Stewards and Workers Control” SALB 16/5 May/June 1992.
18 Marie, op cit.
19 Lewis and Joffe, “A strategy for South African Manufacturing”, in SALB 16/4 March/April 1992
20 Figures taken from South Africa Year Book 1989-90
21 Guardian 10.12.92
22 MK is the armed wing of the ANC
23 Financial Times 5.6.92.
24 “Marketing in South Africa”, US Department of Commerce, September 1992
26 Financial Times , op cit.
27 “Company Report”, Extel
Can apartheid be destroyed by reforms?
The LRCI immediately recognised the real threat posed to the liberation struggle by the negotiation process. We argued that the ANC leadership would:
“. . . direct the whole mass movement into a strategic compromise—a multi-racial imperialist capitalism based on the super-exploitation of the black and coloured masses, and perhaps even a small section of poor whites.”1
Our previous analysis of the development and crisis of South African imperialism2 meant that we were not deceived by the pseudo-radical theory that apartheid and capitalism formed an indissoluble whole.
The de-coupling of apartheid from capitalism would seek to demolish the overt racist laws and regulations that prevent the full development of a black bourgeoisie and hinder the growth of a black middle class and a stratum of skilled workers.
These latter classes and strata, especially a black labour aristocracy, are essential to the stability of a still-capitalist and perhaps expanding imperialist South Africa.
The designation “apartheid-capitalism”, popular with the left in South Africa and beyond, had an apparently revolutionary purpose: to explain that apartheid could not be removed without the destruction of capitalism.
It was absolutely correct to argue that the poverty and super-exploitation of the black popular masses could only be overthrown by revolutionary means aimed at capitalism.
This was and remains the only way to secure and guarantee real and full democratic rights for the multi-millioned majority, and an end to racial oppression.
But the idea that there was an automatic process connecting the fall of apartheid to the fall of capitalism was a cover for all kinds of confusion and opportunism.
It was not a concretisation of the theory of permanent revolution but its negation.
This false perspective certainly contributed to the failure of the left to build an independent anti-capitalist workers’ party, or to fight for a programme which openly links revolutionary democratic to socialist tasks.
The “apartheid-capitalism” conception fosters the illusion that as long as the mass movement is fighting apartheid it is by this very fact fighting for socialism too.
It thus wittingly or unwittingly adopts a stages perspective which de-prioritises the fight for class demands, for a class programme, for working class leadership in the democratic struggle and thus for a revolutionary workers’ party.
Revolutionaries who say that it cannot succeed are engaging in a false radicalism which hides a fatal passivity that hopes objective events will solve these tasks.
The project can succeed if the present leadership of the ANC/SACP is not defeated and replaced by a genuine working class alternative. l
1 Trotskyist International 4 Spring 1990
2 See Permanent Revolution 4, London, Summer 1986
What future for the South African economy?
The alternative strategies presented by economists of both right and left in South Africa can be broadly categorised as “growth through redistribution”, or “growth then redistribution”.
The latter is, of course, the preferred strategy of the IMF and the advisers of big business in South Africa.
The IMF and the banks insist that resources for the necessary social investment should come from holding down wage rises to no more than 1% per annum.
This strategy also implies little or no increase in government spending, which already runs at around 30% of GDP reflecting the legacy of state welfare and payments to white farmers.
The resources which could be freed for social spending and crucial infrastructural projects would be small since huge reductions in defence spending are ruled out.
As a former Development Bank chairman put it with admirable frankness, “We don’t have the resources for the kind of welfare state we have been running for whites”. 1
In fact all that is on offer is a “trickle down model” which would benefit only a small layer of the black population—obviously the growing black bourgeoisie now able to expand businesses and buy land and a black middle class layer of professionals.
Black industrial workers in stable employment might also benefit from better social and educational provision.
There is a further problem.
The IMF model is one which projects export-led manufacturing growth. Raised productivity is crucial to any success here. Unit labour costs have risen by 600% since 1975 and productivity has risen hardly at all. 2
Even the Economic Trends (ET) group (advisers to COSATU) agree that a growth model based simply on an expansion of demand through redistribution is “unrealistic”.
Nevertheless, they believe it is possible to “achieve growth through the more extensive and rapid redistribution of wealth”. 3 In the first outline of their strategy they stressed
“The simultaneous creation of employment and the expanding production of basic consumer goods”, through a strategy “based on a synthesis of interests bringing together not only the employed working class and the mass of urban unemployed, but also the middle classes (black and white).” 4
The ET group rests theoretically on the positions of the Regulation School of political economy, itself originally influenced by Maoism and Stalinism, which argues that capitalist development can be seen as a series of phases with different “regimes of accumulation”.
Capitalist crises can give way to new periods of stability through changes resulting in new forms of capital accumulation using new forms of social control and changing conditions of production and realisation.
According to this view, in South Africa “racial Fordism” allowed dramatic growth for a whole period; that is, mass production of mineral wealth by super-exploited labour.
Now, the argument runs, new employment and expanding production of consumer goods could produce a new equilibrium.
This growth model was obviously attractive to the reformists of COSATU and the ANC when they were in opposition. Now they see themselves on the verge of assuming governmental responsibility their tune has begun to change.
The 1992 ANC policy guidelines dropped “growth through redistribution” as a slogan and the SACP manifesto stresses export-oriented policies:
“There is no ‘royal road to growth’. Growth will depend on investment, a successful export strategy, and so on. If the slogan ‘Growth through Redistribution’ has been understood as implying an inward-oriented, single measure strategy, this is not what is in reality needed.” 5
The ET group itself, in its Industrial Strategy Project, lays stress on industrial restructuring and the involvement of workers and the trade unions in a “restructuring accord”.
In the past the ET group and the SACP have stressed the need for anti-trust measures to reduce the power of the big corporations and greater state intervention to encourage investment.
Nationalisation all but disappeared from the agenda.
Now even anti-trust measures are going the same way in the name of realism and responsibility. Instead, debate revolves around the type of social contract that the working class should concede:
“It is only in reaching some kind of strategic accommodation between labour, the state and capital that unions will be able to extract what potential benefits the reorganisation of manufacturing production offers.” 6
Well-organised workers should agree to wage restraint in return for certain social measures to be taken by the bosses and the state.
This class collaborationist model is a reactionary utopia.
Like the British “Social Contract” of the 1970s or other similar deals between reformist parties, trade unions and the bosses, it will mean sacrifice on the part of workers without any means of enforcing the deal on the employers.
The idea of a friendly government of the ANC siding with the working class, or rather neutrally overseeing fair play between unions and management, is based on the typical false reformist understanding of the role of the state.
However independently the state can appear to act at certain junctures, it expresses the interests of the ruling class.
If a government were forced to make serious concessions to the working class at the expense of the bosses it would meet the fate of Allende in Chile—bloody overthrow at the hands of reaction.
1 Financial Times, 5 June 1992
2 Quarterly Guide to the Economy, Ned Bank, November 1992
3 Gelb, South Africa’s Economic Crisis, London, 1991, p30
5 SACP Economics Forum, “Redistribution and Growth” in African Communist Second Quarter 1992.
6 Joffe and Lewis, “A Strategy for South African Manufacturing”, in SALB16/4 March/April 1992
Revolutionaries and the national question
The response of the nationalist and working class movements to ethnic conflict in South Africa have been varied.
Very influential on the non-Stalinist left have been a number of “one nation” theories which call for the building of one non-oppressive, united nation state.
This theory was adopted by the left and black consciousness organisations in South Africa—such as AZAPO and the Cape Action League whose theorist, Neville Alexander, gave it its most sophisticated expression.
Its progressive impulse was that it reflected the desire of militants to oppose the ethnic and linguistic divisions in the working class and oppressed strata which apartheid sought to maintain.
The LRCI has argued that this theory had two enormous weaknesses. Firstly, it abandoned the Leninist principle that Marxists are fighters against all national oppression and privilege but are not nation builders.
We have no positive commitment to creating and preserving one or another national culture or national state.
We are against forcible retention within a state of a people which has democratically expressed the desire to leave it and whose exercise of this right will not result in the oppression of another people or act as a means to sabotage a great democratic or socialist struggle.
We are, in short, not nationalists, however progressive or enlightened. We are internationalists, like our class. For us, as Trotsky said, “the working class has no fatherland” is not an agitational quip but the bedrock of the proletariat’s existence as a class for itself.
The core of the struggle to end racial and national oppression is the ending of the monstrous political and economic privileges of the whites. This requires first and foremost unifying the artificially divided peoples of South Africa.
It means overcoming the “tribalist” ideologies of the bantustan leaders like Buthelezi and counter the constant attempts to set the linguistic groups and communities at one another’s throats.
It means also combating any manifestations of concealed favouritism or privileges for one linguistic group or another within the liberation movement.
The fears of any particular oppressed language group or community that it could become a vulnerable minority in the new state have to be put at rest. For this reason we believe that revolutionaries should include in their programme of democratic demands the recognition of the right of any of the oppressed ethno-linguistic groups to territorial self-determination after the racist state has been overthrown.
We should, however, argue unremittingly against any group separating, as it injures class unity, hampers the development of the productive forces, and weakens the fight against imperialism.
Socialists should fight for the maximum unity of the working class and the largest possible workers’ state in the form of a federation, first of southern and then the whole of Africa.
To recognise the right to separate, however, is a pledge given to all those who genuinely fear the fate of minority peoples, an understandable fear given the history of Africa.
It will help win them and hold them to the united struggle against the racist state. It is not a concession to tribalism but a weapon against it.