Perspectives and some first lessons from the miners’ strike and the police massacre in South Africa

 

Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 20.8.2012

 


The heroic miner strike in Marikana continues despite the brutal massacre of the South African police on 16th August. Despite the murder of about 50 workers until now, the platinum mineworkers in Marikana are determined to fight for their rights against the greedy Lonmin management. Their just main demand is a minimum wage of R12500. At the moment the rock drillers at Lonmin earn only R4.000 a month. As a result while they have a perilous job, they have to live with their families in impoverished shantytowns like in the old days of the Apartheid regime. Most drillers are either migrants from Lesotho or come from rural, poor areas. On the basis of this super-exploitation, the British-based multinational corporation Lonmin, the world's third-largest platinum producer, makes huge profits.

The platinum mineworkers in Marikana are attacked by the police force under the command of the ANC government which is supposed to serve the people. They also have to fight against the betrayal of the bureaucratic leaderships of the South African “Communist” Party (SACP) and the trade union federation Cosatu. These “workers leaders” not only oppose the strike but even call the police to suppress the militant union AMCWU and to arrest their leaders!

The struggle for wage increases should be combined with the perspective of expropriation of the mines out of the hands of the private corporations which exploit the workers to raise the profit of the super-rich. The RCIT supports the demands:

* For a R12.500 minimum wage for Platinum mineworkers!

* Nationalisation of the mines under control of the workers!

* Immediate withdrawal of the police from all mine areas! Punish those responsible for the massacre! Compensate the families of the victims!

 

We support the call of the Workers International Vanguard Party (South Africa) for broadening the struggle. Particularly essential is their proposal for immediate preparations towards an indefinite general strike whose demands should include:

* A living wage for all workers 

* Reducing the working day, without loss of pay, so that all work can be shared among all who can work 

* An end of casualization and labour broking 

* Open the books of the mines to a workers’ inspection

* An end to all transfer pricing

 

The precondition for a successful campaign for the workers’ rights is the building of strike committees which are controlled by the rank & file. Equally important is the formation of armed self-defense committees. Only when the workers arm themselves and organize steps towards workers militias, they can defend themselves against the vicious bourgeois state apparatus. Only by building the self-organization of the workers in the workplaces and at the rank & file of the trade unions, can the workers fights successfully for their rights. This is the best way to escalate the struggle towards an indefinite general strike and towards the occupations of the mines and workplaces.

The strategic challenge for the working class in South Africa is their lack of political class independence. The official forces of the workers movement – mainly the trade union federation Cosatu and the bourgeois workers party SACP – are deeply integrated into the state apparatus via the so-called tripartite alliance with the governing ANC. This alliance is a popular front, i.e. an alliance of bureaucratically dominated workers organizations and a section of the capitalist class. In fact this alliance is a tool for the subordination of the working class organizations under the bourgeoisie. This popular front of ANC/SACP/Cosatu rules South Africa since 1994 in the interest of the monopoly bourgeoisie.

Therefore the strategic task is to break this subordination of the working class movement and to fight for the independent political and trade union representation. The growing internal disputes inside Cosatu and the SACP – for example around the question of the nationalization of the mines – reflects the growing dissatisfaction of rank & file workers with the leadership’s policy. Another clear indication of the growing mass dissatisfaction with the reformist bureaucracy is the split in the NUM and the formation of the new, more militant miner union AMCWU.

The struggle for working class independence naturally includes the struggle to kick out the Cosatu trade union leadership and to force it break with the ANC and the tripartite alliance. Similarly the SACP leadership must be denounced for its support for the ANC government and its failure to break with it.

The working class struggle at the moment is focused on the fight for higher wages, work place conditions and the defense against the vicious police forces. It seems naturally that these immediate issues could form the basis for a general strike. The present situation has a defensive character: this means the task is to unite the working class around issues to defend its living conditions.

However the task of revolutionary communists is to also bring into the working class movement an understanding of the necessary political tasks of the future. This includes in particular explaining the strategic task to bring down the popular front ANC government and to replace it by a workers government, based on the poor peasants and the urban poor. Such a workers government is a government based on councils and armed militias of the workers, peasants and urban poor. Its task would be to expropriate the bourgeoisie and fight for the introduction of socialism.

Agitation for a general strike to defend the immediate workers interest should therefore be combined with pedagogic propaganda for the struggle to bring down the ANC government and to fight for a workers government.

Finally we think that the struggle for an independent Workers Party is of central importance. Such a party should include militant workers, trade union activists, radical youth etc. Revolutionaries should argue that such a Workers Party should be based on a revolutionary action program.

It is of utmost importance that the international workers movement shows its unconditional solidarity with the miners struggle. They should support the miners struggle, condemn the SACP and Cosatu for their betrayal and wage solidarity actions like protest rallies in front of the South African embassies. For an international solidarity campaign with the South African miners!

 

Which lessons can we already draw from the miners struggle?

 

The state apparatus is not neutral but a violent tool in the hand of the capitalist ruling class.

First the tragic events during the first week of the miners’ strike demonstrate once more the basic truth of Marxism: “the most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie, for the suppression of the working people by a handful of capitalists” (Lenin, 1919). The mass murder on 16th August showed that the state apparatus – be it at the service of the most reactionary, racist Apartheid regime or the supposedly anti-racist, supposedly “black-majority” ANC government – it will always be a state machine in the service of the tiny minority of the capitalist class.

Of course no class-conscious worker underestimates the value of democratic rights and the importance of getting rid of the disgusting Apartheid laws. But democracy mainly means that the toiling masses can more or less organize themselves freely to resist. And even these limited rights are permanently violated by the government as we can see now. In any case in the bourgeois democracy the toilers have no say over the state apparatus and the government.

The bourgeois state apparatus must be smashed and replaced by a new workers state based on councils of the workers, peasants and urban poor.

The massacre of 16th August proved once more how terrible wrong the Stalinists, Bolivarian reformists, centrists etc. are who spread the illusions that the bourgeois state can be reformed or “democratized” in the interest of the working class. What a tragic nonsense is it to believe (like the fake-Trotskyist CWI of Peter Taffee and IMT of Lal Khan and Alan Woods) that capitalism can be transformed into socialism via getting a majority in parliament elections! The state apparatus cannot be reformed and cannot be put into the service of the working class struggle!

 

There cannot be a peaceful transformation of capitalism. The ruling class can only be overthrown by a violent revolution of the working class.

Secondly the mass murder of the ANC police showed that the ruling class will always defend its power and its wealth with violence. Even if the workers fight only for a decent minimum wage of R12.500 the bosses instruct their police forces to kill them. Imagine what they will be prepared to do if the workers want to take over their enterprises and mines?!

Lenin stated in his book The State and Revolution The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution“. This correct assessment must be a cornerstone for any working class party which seriously want to serve the cause of liberation.

The working class must be prepared for this perspective. This is why it is of utmost importance for Marxists to explain the need for the arming of the working class and the formation of armed self-defense committees as a first step towards a workers militia. Those “Marxists” like the Stalinists or the centrists a la CWI and IMT who fantasize about the possibility of a peaceful transformation of capitalism without armed struggle and civil war are dangerous daydreamers who are an obstacle for the preparation of the working class for its future tasks.

 

Stalinism is a reformist force which bases itself on working class organizations in order to serve the ruling class. It therefore plays a counter-revolutionary role in the workers movement.

In many countries Stalinism is an influential force inside the workers movement (like the trade unions). Its core is the bureaucratic apparatus which bases itself on its position in the workers movement and the state apparatus. However while it claims to represent the interests of the working class, waves the red flags with hammer and sickle and even talks about socialism, in reality it serves the interests of the capitalist class.

This is obvious if one looks at the role of the SACP in South Africa. They supported the popular-frontist ANC government from the beginning and even participated in it until today with ministers. Currently there are two SACP ministers in the ANC government which ensured that after 18 years in power the toiling masses are still living in poverty.

The SACP bureaucrats even went so far as to condemn the miners on strike and to demand from the state apparatus to arrest their leaders. This shows how pro-capitalist, anti-working class and counter-revolutionary these Stalinist leaders are.

This counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism is not limited to South Africa. It the USSR, Eastern Europe and China it suppressed the working class whenever it raised its head. Finally it helped to restore capitalism in those countries. In France, the Communist Party participated in the Jospin government 1997-2002 which participated in the NATO wars against Serbia in 1999 and Afghanistan 2001. In Syria the Communist Party is a member of the pro-regime ruling bloc and many Stalinist parties around the world still support the Assad regimes in its murderous suppression of the popular revolution.

Of course the counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy should not lead Marxists to ignore the numerous honest workers and rank & file members of these parties. This is why Marxists must not content themselves to only denounce Stalinism. The struggle against this form of reformism must include the united front tactic as Lenin explained it so well in his book on “infantile communism” and as Trotsky elaborated it further in his writings on the struggle against fascism in Germany. This means the permanent attempt of Marxists to fight alongside Stalinist-influenced workers in the class struggle, propose them unity in struggle, demanding from the leaders to support the struggle without refraining for even a minute from the necessary warnings and criticism of the failures and weaknesses of those leaders. Used in this way, revolutionaries can succeed to break sectors of the rank & file workers away from Stalinism.

 

The trade union bureaucracy is a corrupt and rotten cancer in the workers movement. A mass rank & file movement in the unions and the organization of new layers of the workers – particularly from the lower strata – are of decisive importance for the class struggle.

It is a well-known fact that the trade union bureaucracy collaborates with the capitalists and governments. In its living conditions the bureaucrats are far away from those of its members whom they are supposed to represent. Many however think that this is a phenomenon only of the trade unions in the Western imperialist countries where most unions have given up even a verbal commitment to socialism. This is completely wrong and South Africa is a particularly clear example for this.

While Cosatu claims officially its commitment to socialism and its leader Zwelinzima Vavi in a recent congress speech even supported the socialist revolution and quoted from Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, Cosatu is in fact dominated by a bourgeosified bureaucracy. It supports since many years the capitalist ANC government. It closely collaborates with the corporations. Cyril Ramaphosa, the former leader of one of the biggest unions in Cosatu, the National Union of Miners (NUM), is today a share holder and top manager at Lonmin, the very corporation who called the police to kill the miners! The already well-paid NUM secretary, Frans Baleni, got a salary increase of more than 40% last year, so that his total salary package is about R105.000 a month. In other words he earns 26 times as much as the miners in Marikana!

Independent of the ideology with which the reformist bureaucracy chooses to covers itself, as a bureaucracy is has a material interest to keep its positions and privileges. This is why it always strives to become part of the state apparatus and to make deals with the capitalists. It sometimes can lead or even initiate limited struggles. But these mobilizations are always subordinated to the strategic goal of the bureaucracy to achieve a better place at the manger of the bourgeoisie.

This is why the strategic task of communists is to liberate the unions from these bureaucrats. The unions must become the property of the workers only and hence be controlled by them. The unions must be revolutionized. They must become fighting, democratically controlled unions as part of the revolutionary movement for socialism. This is why a revolutionary mass party will strive to lead the trade unions – to lead them of course in a democratic and not bureaucratic way. Of course, here too, the united front tactic as outlined before is of decisive importance.

Of particular importance for such a strategy of revolutionizing of the trade unions is the mass recruitment of new layers of the working class. In most countries in the world an ever decreasing part of the working class – often mostly the better paid sectors – is organized in the unions. This must be changed. The broad mass of the working class, the lower strata, and the super-exploited – they must be the primary sectors of the working class which needs to be won and organized. The poor and migrant miners in Manikana show that these layers can even play a vanguard role in the class struggle.

The struggle for such a transformation of the trade unions must be waged inside the unions. It must be orientated to build rank & file movements inside the unions against the bureaucracy. Splits and the formation of new unions (like the AMCWU, which split from the NUM) can in specific cases be a tactically necessary tool if those unions represent real sectors of the masses. But the goal must be to strive for the unity of the working class and the unity of the trade union movement without giving up the relentless struggle against the bureaucracy.

 

The Popular Front is a dangerous prison house for the working class. The working class must break with the Popular Front and fight for a Workers Government.

As we argued before the popular front represents the political subordination of the working class organizations to the capitalists. Therefore the struggle for the workers organizations to break with the popular front is of chief importance. It is a gross violation of the principle of class independence to politically support such a Popular Front and call for its election.

Unfortunately this is what a number of centrists – like the CWI, the IST, the Mandelite Fourth International etc. – did in the past and still do today (like voting for Chavez in Venezuela or Morales in Bolivia). By this they helped to confuse the workers vanguard and to continue their subordination towards the bourgeoisie. The RCIT’s predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International – rejected already in the early 1990s to vote for the ANC.

The alternative is the relentless struggle for the break of the Popular Front and the formation of a Workers Government, based on the poor peasantry and the urban poor. In elections revolutionaries should fight for candidates of working class organizations.

 

The working class needs a new world party of socialist revolution. A united international revolutionary organization based on a revolutionary program must be built now!

The heroic struggle of the South African miners shows once more – after the Arab Revolution, the mass struggles in Greece and Spain, the Occupation movement and the August Uprising of the youth and migrants in Britain – that the working class and oppressed are prepared to fight for a radical change. We live in a historic revolutionary period. But the masses lack a leadership which shows them the way and helps them to find the necessary instruments for the struggle. Only a new world party of socialist revolution in the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – the Fifth International, after the failure of the first four Internationals – can offer such a leadership.

However such a new world party will not arise spontaneously. Nor can revolutionaries passively wait till somehow it will arrive. The first steps towards this goal, the first organizing of an international nucleus of revolutionary communists, must be undertaken now. Trotsky emphasized repeatedly: “Only an international organization can be the bearer of an international ideology.” To advance the struggle for the new World Party, a revolutionary international pre-party organization must be build now. The RCIT calls on revolutionary forces around the globe to join us in this struggle and to build together with us a joint international revolutionary organization.

 

RCIT International Secretariat, 20.8.2012