Theses of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), in: Trotskyist International No. 4 (Spring 1990)
Resolution adopted by the International Executive Committee of the LRCI, 4 March 1990
The release of Nelson Mandela has focused the attention of the world upon South Africa in a way not seen since the revolutionary situation of 1984-86. But this time we are not faced with workers’ strikes or uprisings in the townships. Rather, we have the spectacle of the ANC preparing to sell a “negotiated settlement” to the black masses. This is nothing short of a betrayal of the South African workers and should be branded as such. The current stage of the struggle in South Africa is dominated by the ANC’s perspective that apartheid can be abolished peacefully through negotiations with the white supremacist South African government. This policy holds grave dangers for the black masses of South Africa.
The roots of the negotiated settlement
The massive working class struggles of 1984-86 opened up the prospect, not only of the revolutionary destruction of apartheid, but also of the overthrow of South African imperialism. They offered the possibility of releasing the whole of Southern Africa from the domination of South African and western imperialism.
Today, the ANC and the SACP are willing tools to a settlement engineered by US and British imperialism. All these forces intend to oversee a settlement which guarantees the maintenance of a capitalist South Africa and of the profits extracted from the exploited black masses, and leaves power firmly in the hands of the white capitalist parties for the forseeable future. At the same time they recognise that more significant reforms have to be granted in order to avoid the danger of revolutionary change. The imperialists are aided and abetted in this project by their “junior partner”, the Moscow bureaucracy. Stalinism’s counter-revolutionary role in the world arena is being demonstrated once again—this time under the guise of diplomatic glasnost.
Until the release of Mandela and the opening up of the negotiation process, the ANC was clearly a petit bourgeois nationalist organisation. The latest events indicate that it is now setting out to transform itself into a bourgeois political force. It is offering its services to the white imperialist bourgeoisie, the black and coloured middle bourgeoisie and the bourgeois Bonapartist frontline states with their Anglo-American masters.
If the ANC agrees to a slow and peaceful dismantling of grand apartheid and the whites’ exclusive hold on political power then it will clearly have become a bourgeois formation. This process will involve the dispersal of its exiled cadres, many of whom are subjective petit bourgeois revolutionists, into broad mass organisations (township, youth, women and trade union). The result will be the interposition of a party and union bureaucracy between the masses and the leaders. This will free the leaders to ditch their past anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist promises and 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.
The economic crisis of the apartheid regime
On the basis of the destruction of township resistance and the successful imposition of the State of Emergency in June 1986, the semi-Bonapartist Botha regime was able to inflict a partial but significant defeat on the South African masses and bring to an end the revolutionary situation which threatened the destruction of the apartheid regime. The failure of the Botha regime to definitively crush the revolt, coupled with the continued combativity of the masses, has meant that the South African economy has failed to recover from the crisis of 1984-86.
Since 1986 capital flight has reached R60 billion or almost 20% of the country’s fixed capital. Growth rates (estimated at 1.5% in 1989) remain below those of the other imperialist powers and are historically extremely low for South Africa. Military spending has taken ever larger proportions of the national budget (from 21% of GDP in 1979 to 27% today), while inflation reached 16% in 1989 and shows little sign of falling.
Any rise in the price of gold may provide some temporary relief for the South African economy by boosting state revenues and the profits of the mining corporations. But in the medium or long term this has not offset the effects of political instability and consequent loss of investment confidence.
In addition to these growing economic problems, Botha’s plans for minor cosmetic reforms to apartheid have been decisively rejected by the masses. The tri-cameral parliament, which sought to draw in collaborators from the Indian and coloured communities has been reduced to a farce by the massive electoral boycott.
More importantly, the attempts to develop a significant layer of collaborationist black African middle class leaders through local structures has also met with defeat. The workers, youth and homeland-dwellers remain wedded to the aim of thoroughgoing democratic change: one person, one vote and black majority rule. More recently, the revival of workers’ confidence, as shown by the protracted national railway and brewery strikes, has indicated that the masses were beginning to overcome the legacies of the defeat suffered in 1986.
It is these internal factors together with the external pressure from the major imperialist powers, that have led to a major shift in the white ruling class towards making a settlement with the ANC.
This change of policy was first apparent in relation to Namibia. The growing cost of the war, especially in Angola, and the defeat suffered by the South African armed forces at Cuito Cuanavale in the spring of 1988, convinced the Botha regime of the need to accept the imperialist peace brokered by Washington and Moscow and imposed on SWAPO. SWAPO’s collaboration in this peace process, combined with the fact that South Africa was allowed a large measure of control in the transition, reconciled Pretoria to Namibian independence. South Africa will now rule Namibia as a semi-colony rather than by direct occupation. For the major imperialist powers and the reformers in the South African ruling class, Namibia was also a “dry run” for a similar compromise within South Africa.
Although Botha’s Bonapartist rule was capable of securing a settlement in Namibia, it was too inflexible an instrument of white rule for the kind of bold far-reaching reform policies envisaged by the leading sections of Afrikaner monopoly capitalism. Botha would not countenance a dialogue with the ANC until it renounced violence, and certainly could not envisage a government of, or including, the ANC. A protracted struggle to oust Botha resulted in the more responsive De Klerk leadership taking office.
Following the re-election of the Nationalist Party government, the strengthening of the Democratic Party and the failure of the reactionary Conservative Party to seriously threaten Nationalist rule, De Klerk speeded up the search for a deal with the ANC. Since then the Nationalists have taken a series of steps designed to open the way for such a settlement; the release of the Rivonia Trialists including Mandela, the unbanning of the UDF, ANC and SACP.
The role of Stalinism
In its turn, the Stalinist leadership is now preparing to deliver up the mass movement to such a negotiated settlement. Their popular frontist strategy is that of a necessary democratic capitalist stage and of the postponement of the tasks of the socialist revolution. This programme, together with their use of the armed guerrilla struggle as a tactic to force a negotiated end to apartheid rather than carry out its armed overthrow, has always contained the seeds of a betrayal of the revolutionary democratic struggle. The increased likelihood of such a betrayal arises from the impact of Gorbachev’s global retreat on the policies of the SACP/ANC. The Stalinists now wish to prepare the masses for “partial victory”, that is, a settlement short of thoroughgoing democracy.
The Stalinists have been establishing their hegemony in the mass movement and in particular within the working class and the trade unions. In the year following the defeat of the township rebellions, the pro-ANC forces were able to manoeuvre inside the COSATU affiliated unions, denouncing those elements of the old syndicalist and “workerist” independent black union leaders who would not fall in behind Stalinist leaders.
In this period the Stalinists insisted that unity be built around the pro-capitalist “Freedom Charter”. At the same time they supported the development of “normal industrial relations” and of an incipient trade union bureaucracy. This was most graphically illustrated in the betrayal of the 1987 miners’ strike, which marked a major step backwards for class struggle trade unionism and consequently for the class as a whole.
The year 1988 was marked by a supposedly less sectarian attitude. The “Freedom Charter” was no longer seen as a barrier to unity. Pro-ANC leaders no longer opposed the rank and file pressure for workers’ unity in action against repression and the Labour Relations Act (LRA).
This shift in tactics had two aims. It was important for the ANC to be able to present itself, both within the republic and to the outside world, as the undisputed leadership of the mass movement. Secondly, it allowed it to introduce a new modified version of the “Freedom Charter”, the “Constitutional Guidelines” which spell out the aim of building a democratic capitalist South Africa with a “mixed economy”—a position which was always present, but in a disguised form, in the original Charter. On this basis the ANC entered firm discussions with capitalist representatives from South Africa and the major imperialist powers.
Having established their hegemony within COSATU and within the revived and reconstructed youth and women’s organisations, the Stalinists then moved to bring the rest of the movement under their grip. Every aspect of political and cultural life, from the youth to the sports organisations have been conquered from above by the ANC. Everywhere their purpose is the same: a propaganda war aimed at the generation of 1984-86, denouncing the radicalism of the township youth, attempting to temper their hopes and expectations, preparing them ideologically for a sell-out.
The ANC has also turned to the task of building bridges with other sections of the black and coloured population outside its domain. Already the possibility has been floated of the coloured Labour Party dissolving and coming into the fold of a revamped ANC. Many of Mandela’s speeches since his release have preached co-operation between supporters of the ANC and the apartheid stooges of Inkatha. An even wider forum of black political representation could be created to accomodate both the ANC and Inkatha. But the precondition for this will be even further concessions by the ANC to traditional tribal leaders and private property.
The crisis of working class leadership
How has the South African workers’ movement, which has the fastest growing trade union movement in the world, allowed itself to be hegemonised by those who represent hostile class interests? The explanation lies in the problem of political leadership. None of the political alternatives to Stalinism within the workers’ movement put forward a programme or strategy which could prevent the growing dominance of the politics of the popular front.
The major opponents of Stalinist and class collaborationist policies had economist, left reformist or at best syndicalist politics. The weaknesses of the strategy of the old “workerist” leadership contributed to the defeat of the masses in 1986. The trade unions did not act to prevent the crushing of the township rebellion. A year later, there was little open opposition within COSATU to the NUM leadership’s retreat.
By keeping the unions separate from the political questions being debated in the townships, the old “workerist” leaders of the independent trade unions left a vacuum of leadership which only the Stalinists were in a position to fill. Syndicalist politics denied the necessity for building an independent revolutionary workers’ party and left the workers under the sway of the popular front. Even the most left of these leaders, such as Mayekiso, dropped the idea of constructing a workers’ party, and instead pursued the need for workers’ leadership within the mass democratic structures. Alone such a strategy will not build a workers’ leadership to organise and fight against the betrayal of a negotiated settlement and for socialism.
The black consciousness or Africanist leaderships have been unable to provide an effective opposition to the Stalinists. The formation of the alternative trade union federation NACTU, initially under black consciousness leadership, was a blind alley for workers. It weakened the unity of the workers’ movement without developing a leadership capable of resisting the popular front. It has now come under the domination of an Africanist leadership more favourable to the popular front policies of the Pan-African Congress.
The Marxist Workers Tendency (MWT) has continued to advance its strategy of building and transforming the ANC. The dangers of this strategy are ever more apparent. It has led the MWT to defend the “Freedom Charter” against the current revised “Constitutional Guidelines” of the ANC, attempting to lend the Charter a socialist gloss. The MWT continues to call for an “ANC Government of working class power” even at the time that those same ANC leaders are preparing to betray the masses. The MWT fails to argue the need for an independent revolutionary workers’ party and programme.
The state of the working class
The workers’ movement remains enormously strong. Despite a year of standstill or even retreat, the union movement has continued to grow. The COSATU affiliated membership is now over one million strong. A series of trade union mergers has allowed significant steps towards industrial unionism to be made. Workers continue to ignore the provisions of the LRA. Workers’ Summits have brought together workers from the rival federations. Strike figures were up again in 1989 and black workers’ wages have at least kept pace with inflation.
While much of the township organisation was smashed by the repression and the state of emergency provisions, local committees, including those organising the rent boycotts, did survive or re-emerge. The renewed mass activity, despite being carefully controlled during the Defiance Campaign of August-September 1989, together with the huge stayaways in June 1988 and September 1989, confirm that the black working class retains its potential as a revolutionary force for the overthrow of apartheid unless its leadership can carry out the planned betrayal.
The nature of the proposed sell-out
The outlines of the proposed settlement are gradually emerging. The unbanning of the ANC and the UDF will be followed by further measures including the relaxation of the State of Emergency. Further elements of apartheid legislation such as the Group Areas Act may also be repealed. But the Nationalists are insisting that the whites will not accept majority rule. At the moment they are offering only minority power-sharing to representatives of the black masses under the formula of “group rights”. But even a Lancaster House type settlement with a predominantly ANC government could be conceded on condition that there are constitutional guarantees for white economic power and political privileges in the form of a white veto.
For decades the ANC has stood for “one person, one vote” and majority rule. Now there is talk of this being a long term aim, of “transitional arrangements” which fall far short of this demand—the so-called “partial victory”. Mandela has made it clear he wishes to reassure the whites that there will be no prospect of “black domination”. There is even talk of “an interim government” which would assume responsibility for apartheid while negotiations are taking place.
On economic policy, Mandela and other ANC leaders are busily creatively re-interpreting the “Freedom Charter’s” commitment to nationalisation in order to comfort the monopoly capitalists. The ANC will settle for a minimum extension of nationalisation, or even merely opposition to privatisation of the existing nationalised industries (e.g. the railways), coupled with lip-service to the extension of fake “democratic accountability” within these sectors.
There remain certain obstacles to a sell-out. The SACP/ANC will have to use its hegemony over the mass movement to pressure the regime to make more concessions while making sure that the movement does not escape their control and endanger negotiations. The Nationalists have to deliver a settlement which is acceptable to the majority in their own ranks and to the armed forces and the police. They face potential opposition from the white workers and petit bourgeois, who will turn to reaction as their own privileges and living standards are threatened.
The tempo of events is fast and all sides involved in the sell-out need to ensure a speedy process to prevent a crisis of expectations developing within the masses. While the South African ruling class aims to maintain its class rule through the medium of a negotiated settlement, it will not hesitate to use its armed might and renewed repression if necessary. Such a turn could occur if any serious challenge is made to the state or its capitalist paymasters.
Down with the sell-out! For working class power!
The urgent need of the moment is to organise against the negotiations. The negotiations are not intended to lead to a step by step transference of political power to the black majority, still less to end their economic super-exploitation. As De Klerk has insisted “I do not intend to negotiate myself out of power”. On the contrary, negotiations are intended to prevent the victory of the black masses. De Klerk has laid a trap for the black workers into which they are being led by Mandela and the ANC.
The ANC leaders must be called to account. There must be no secret talks or deals. The organisations of the MDM and other workers’ structures, must demand the leaders answer to the mass movement. Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, must provide arms and help prepare workers’ defence at work and in the townships. MDM leaders must support and build solidarity with all workers’ struggles. They must not be allowed to restrict workers’ action in the interests of the negotiated settlement.
The only guaranteed weapon against the sell-out being prepared by the ANC leadership is revolutionary mass action by the workers and the rural poor. Against the strategy of a negotiated settlement the black workers must demand the convocation of a sovereign constituent assembly to establish the opinions of the population. The convocation of such an assembly will have to be carried out by the workers’ factory and township committees, by action councils uniting all the exploited and oppressed in a collective fist of mass revolutionary power. Only by this route will a constituent assembly stand a chance of being both democratic and sovereign.
• Down with a negotiated settlement. Down with the federal and power sharing solutions. For universal direct and equal suffrage. For the convening of a sovereign constituent assembly elected by all over 16 years irrespective of race or creed, where a simple majority will decide a new constitution.
• Smash the institutions of apartheid. Continue and spread the defiance campaign. Build workers’ organisations to conduct the defiance campaign; for a workers’ militia to defend the communities. Maintain the rent boycott. For a massive programme of public works and a programme of improvements under workers’ and community control.
• Defend the workers’ standards of living. For a renewal of the Living Wage Campaign and for the sliding scale of wages. For factory occupations against retrenchments. Cut the hours not the jobs. For a general strike to smash the Labour Relations Act.
• Down with the State of Emergency and all anti-democratic measures. For the immediate release of all political prisoners and detainees. Down with conscription; organise the white youth to refuse to fight for the imperialists.
• For the occupation of the big estates. Down with the homeland system. Demand that the homeland leaders renounce their “independence”
• The workers and peasants must create their own organs of democracy, struggle and power. No to the popular front alliances. For the workers’ united front against apartheid. Build and extend the shop stewards’ locals within and between unions. For the renewal of the township committees and for firm links with the factory committees—for the building of workers’ councils to organise the defence of the communities, the seizure of the factories, the creation of a workers’ militia and the expropriation of the capitalists.
• For a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government which will expropriate the banks, monopolies and land, break the power of the bourgeoisie, spreading the South African revolution by supporting the toiling masses in the whole of Southern Africa in throwing off the yoke of imperialism. Forward to the Socialist Federation of Southern Africa.
• Build the revolutionary workers’ party to challenge the traitorous leaders and lead the struggle for working class power.