Published by Workers Power (Britain) and the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), in: South Africa Special: Apartheid: from Resistance to Revolution (Permanent Revolution No. 4), 1986
"A nationwide political crisis is in evidence in Russia, a crisis which effects the very foundation of the state system and not just parts of it, which effects the foundation of the edifice and not an out building, not merely one of its storeys. No matter how many glib phrases our liberals and liquidators trot out to the effect that . . . political reforms are on the order of the day . . . the fact remains that not a single liquidator or liberal can point to any reformist way out of the situation.” ("May Day Action by a Revolutionary Proletariat” Lenin 1913)
A new phase of the South African revolution has opened with the formation of COSATU and the success of the mighty May Day strike which it called. One and a half million black workers struck, tens of thousands attended rallies and demonstrations in defiance of the repression. In the townships, the youth have shown themselves undaunted by the savage onslaught that the armies of police and the state-backed ’vigilantes’ have unleashed against them.
Over 1500 have been killed since the major upsurge began in the Autumn of 1984 - 600 or more ’officially’ killed by police or army. Yet still the demonstrations, strikes and boycotts continue to shake the apartheid state to its foundations. They have shown themselves intransigent both to repression and to the deceitful concessions of Botha.
We are witnessing the opening of a revolutionary situation in South Africa. A prolonged economic crisis combined with over a year and a half of continuous revolt has drawn wider and wider sections of the masses into the struggle. From the students and youth in the townships, the workers in the factories to the workers of the hostels and increasingly the masses of the people of South Africa are in a mighty insurgence against the apartheid regime, determined even at the cost of their lives, to bring about its total destruction.
But as Lenin recognised the heroism of the mass revolt is not, in itself, sufficient to bring about a revolution;
"It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary and that they should be prepared to die for it: second that the ruling classes should be going through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward workers into politics . . .” (Left Wing Communism) In South Africa the crisis has faced the ruling class with precisely the fact that it can no longer “live and rule in the old way". Yet every attempt to modify its method of exploitation, to ’reform’ the apartheid system has proved to be too little and too late. It has been contemptuously rejected by the masses who push forward demanding the dismantling of the regime itself, whilst the very offer has thrown the racist camp into confusion and rage.
The paralysis of PW Botha’s Nationalist Party is itself a reflection of the growing political crisis of the ruling class. Balancing between the anti-reform “Verkrampte” and reformist “Verligte” wings of his own party, Botha is acutely aware that even the small reforms offered have produced ever widening splits in the white nationalist alliance forged around the apartheid system. The growth of support for the HNP and Conservative Party and now the dramatic rise of the clearly fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), only underline the impossibility of pursuing Botha’s reformist strategy. The sudden sabotage of the commonwealth mission, which was engineering a deal to allow talks with the ANC (the pet project of the Verligte wing and its most prominent figure, Foreign Minister Pik Botha) by means of the bombing raids on the frontline states, is symptomatic of Botha’s inability to go any further down the reform road.
Botha’s regime has shown itself unable to either repress the mass movement or to satisfy its demands. Most of its reform plans lie in tatters. The 1983 constitutional reform, which began the current wave of struggle, is rejected by the vast majority of black South Africa including the “coloureds” and “Indians” it was meant to draw into the system. The local councils in the black townships lie in ruins, only 5 out of 38 still functioning. Collaborators and their black police protectors are driven out by mass action. Committees of struggle, made up of the young ’comrades’, have sprung up to organise the boycott weapon and other aspects of the resistance in the townships. Although the total schools boycott, which went on for almost a year, has been suspended, the schools remain in turmoil as strikes and demonstrations take place against victimisations and imposed “security guards".
Above all, the working class, through its trade unions, has entered the struggle in a decisive fashion. The Transvaal General Strike of November 1984, which united trade unions and townships, was symptomatic of this development. The formation of COSATU in December 1985, organising half a million workers, the success of the May Day Strike and the General Strike called for the June 16th anniversary of Soweto, all spell out the growing threat to apartheid and the Botha regime.
The opening of a revolutionary situation by no means ensures the success of the revolution. This development will be accelerated, retarded or even reversed, depending on the strategy adopted and the leadership offered in the coming months. The South African revolution cannot merely mark time. It must either go forward to the revolutionary destruction of apartheid or it is in serious danger of a crushing counter revolution.
Already the regime has been marshalling its forces. Since the second half of 1985 it has been encouraging and arming its black “vigilantes” the “Amahuiho", “Mbhokoto", “Green Berets", “Pakhatis". In townships like Crossroads the ’vigilantes’ have launched a terror campaign, a dirty war against radical leaders and activists. The appearance of an Afrikaner fascist movement with obvious support within sections of the white police, signals the growing possibility of a counter revolutionary offensive. While the fascists are undoubtedly a last resort for South Africa’s rulers, a more or less open military dictatorship which sweeps away the last judicial and parliamentary restrictions on the repression and seeks to destroy the mass movement is a serious possibility.
The potential for avoiding such a defeat depends above all on the leadership now being given to the black struggle. The ANC, which is undoubtedly the major force within the movement, is pursuing its “twin track” strategy. Declaring for a “peoples war", for the setting up of “Revolutionary People’s Committees” to “transform no go areas into mass revolutionary bases", whilst at the same time using the threat of “ungovernability” to try and force negotiations and serious concessions from the Botha regime. Nowhere in the ANC’s strategy for making the country “ungovernable” does there appear, as the central weapon, the general strike. Yet the fight for a mass general strike against the regime remains the burning need of the moment.
Only a country wide general strike can paralyse the South African economy, can lay the basis for dual power through the occupation of the factories and, via the trade unions, the unification of the township committees of struggle into real soviet type bodies, organising the workers, students, youth, housewives and the community as a whole against the regime.
It is vital to win the unions and the working class to such a perspective as the only way to total victory. A general strike will almost certainly lead to a civil war situation. Dual power will not emerge fully formed or peacefully in South Africa. The racist regime has a reactionary mass base not only amongst the whites but amongst the “conservative” blacks, the homeland stooges, their vigilantes. A general strike is the only way of fissuring this reactionary alliance. When millions of workers show their determination, then the basis of the regime will start to totter, beginning with the blacks who face the insurgent people, in the police force and the army and in the homeland defence forces.
In such an immediate struggle to smash the apartheid regime, the workers will find themselves in alliance with petit-bourgeois and even black bourgeois forces, namely, the popular frontist UDF or ANC. Such united fronts are not only permissible in the South African context but necessary to ensure the success of the immediate, practical task of smashing the apartheid state. Workers must make sure that they retain their political independence in any such blocs of struggle. The apartheid regime must be smashed. The outcome of its destruction must not be ’negotiations’ with the nationalists or a ’convention’ sponsored by the frontline states or the Commonwealth. All such deals will be a tremendous betrayal.
The workers organisations, and first and foremost COSATU should, in the organising of the general strike, create township-trade union councils to organise the strike and to lead the struggle for apartheid’s total destruction. All those anti-apartheid forces should be united at base level but also at leadership level around the demand for the total destruction of white rule, for the total disbanding and disarming of the SADF and the police; for the arming of a mass workers’ and popular militia and the immediate convocation of a revolutionary Constituent Assembly based on one person one vote for all over sixteen years of age.
But the workers’ demands and goals must go further; for the smashing of the capitalist system of exploitation in South Africa and the establishment of working class power. To achieve this goal, the workers need above all a revolutionary party which fights against the subordination of the workers’ demands to the interests of the nascent black bourgeoisie, one which fights for permanent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
These are the problems of the South African revolution which are analysed and dealt with in this journal; the origins and nature of South African Imperialism, the rise of the black proletariat and the problems of revolutionary leadership. The revolution in South Africa has momentous significance for the world working class. The smashing of the South African state will be an even greater blow to imperialism than either the overthrow of the Shah or of Somoza in Nicaragua. It will dramatically aid the struggle for liberation from imperialist domination throughout the African continent and throw imperialism and its stooges into disarray.
The British working class is called upon to stand four square on the side of the black struggle in South Africa/Azania. There is no doubt where the Thatcher government will stand, even if Botha launches a new and more terrible wave of repression - with her friend Reagan, firmly on the side of counter-revolution. Only massive working class action can obstruct such blows against the South African revolution.
We dedicate this journal to the black workers in South Africa/Azania who, under dire conditions of poverty and illegality, using enormous reserves of courage and ingenuity, built the mighty new trade union movement in South Africa which is the gravedigger of apartheid; and also to the youth and students of the townships who by their self-sacrificing heroism have confronted the apartheid state’s repression on a daily basis, at the cost of many fallen comrades.
Victory is yours! June 1986