Published by Workers Power (Britain) and the Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International (Predecessor organization of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, RCIT), in: Permanent Revolution No. 5, 1987
Sue Thomas makes an assessment and examines the current debates going on in the ANC
In recent months the apartheid state has stepped up its efforts to claw back the ground lost to the working class and liberation movements over previous years. Its onslaught, launched with the June 1986 State of Emergency, succeeded in pushing the trade unions, township and youth organisations onto the defensive; but after eight months, the regime could still not claim to have inflicted a decisive defeat on the mass movement.
The measures of the 16 June State of Emergency (measures which increase the Bonapartist character of Nationalist Party (NP) rule in South Africa) were forced on the regime by the revolutionary situation which confronted it. The reform programme of P W Botha was designed to head off the revolutionary situation by co opting a layer of ’responsible blacks’ into coming to terms with apartheid. Removal of forms of ’petty apartheid’, eventually leading to participation in a fourth (black) chamber of a powerless parliament was the stated aim of Botha. Instead his tinkering with apartheid only served to spur on the masses to achieve a root and branch destruction of the apartheid state, beginning in the late summer of 1984.
The rebellion in the townships (the rent strikes, ’the peoples education’ programme in the schools, the growth of the boycott movement) and above all, the formation and growth of the COSA1IJ trade union federation induced panic in the ranks of the white rulers. In the first half of 1986 the strike movement reached new proportions with half a million days lost, the vast majority through the activity of the NUM and MAWU. All this led the Financial Mail to bemoan the fact that the country was ’sliding towards anarchy’. 1
Faced with this challenge the Afrikaner whites began to desert the NP. Defeats in by elections at the hands of the ultra rightist HNP in turn gave way to the emergence of the fascist AWB leading dissatisfied white workers and petitbourgeois, penetrating the armed forces and capable of disrupting the meetings of the NP itself.
So, using the planned activities around the anniversary of the Soweto massacre of blacks in 1976 as an excuse, Botha acted on 16 June 1986. A direct military coup proved unnecessary for the South African ruling class because of the ability of the apartheid state and its presidency to
unleash massive repression. In the ensuing months the NP has succeeded in stemming the drift of support to the right, to the extent that Botha now feels confident enough to call a general election (for the whites only) for 6 May this year. Botha hopes that with a renewed mandate the Nationalist Party can begin again the process of reform. In this sense the State of Emergency did not signal the abandonment of this project but a necessary precondition for its acceptance by a layer of the black population. In the words of Jannie Geldenhuys, Chief of Defence Forces, the state of Emergency is ’a mechanism to create that measure of stability to carry on with the process (of reform) and not to get cold feet and say we’ve gone too far.’ 2
Botha is intelligent enough to know that such a process of ’reform’ is the only long term hope of the South African white imperialists to retain at least their economic domination of southern Africa. Behind the rhetoric of the ’retreat into the laager’ Botha knows that a healthy South African economy depends on social stability of some sort; and that 450,000 members of the SADF, no matter how brutal and well armed can not permanently subdue seventeen million blacks. In the words of Joe Slovo ’they can occupy but they can’t govern’. The white business community recognise this more than most and are in the vanguard of those who aim to tame the ANC through negotiating with it.
The South African economy is the weakest link in the imperialist chain. It has only had an average of one per cent per annum growth since 1981; unemployment is growing even among whites. Profitability of apartheid has fallen dramatically in the 1980’s leading to an escalation of foreign companies halting new investment and even selling off their plant in SA (General Motors, Honeywell, Barclays, Xerox are just a few of the companies that have pulled out in the last year). While supplies and trade continue despite the change of ownership, nevertheless SA imperialism is becoming more and more narrowly based and increasingly dependent upon the fluctuations in the price of gold. To overcome these weaknesses in apartheid capitalism a political settlement, based on the success of the repression, is sought after.
The effect of the repression
The brutal repression since June includes the detention of an estimated 25,000 individuals (about forty per cent youth) including in some cases whole shop steward organisations as well as key community leaders. Most of the detainees identify with the United Democratic Front (UDF), the legal front for the ANC. Alongside invasions of townships, the bulldozing of squatter camps to atomise the resistance of the ’comrades’, the unleashing of vigilante forces, the black masses have suffered the occupation and closure of the schools and the torture and murder of many prisoners.
At the same time, the ’shadow government’ of the National Security Management System has been strengthened and its scope increased. In this, the security services have a network which reaches down to the most local levels of government and right up to the cabinet. The country has twelve Joint Management Committees, 60 sub Joint Management Committees, and 324 mini Joint Management Committees. On these bodies, security staff are linked to both the South African Defence Forces (SADF) and the South African Police (SAP) together with various public officials. They co opt local elected representatives through a variety of means, in particular specialist subcommittees such as the Political, Social and Economic Committees (SEMKOMs).
Reports surfacing in the Autumn of 1986, especially from Progressive Federal Party (PFP) Cape Town councillor Neil Ross and ex PFP reformer Frederick van syl Slabbert, highlighted the way in which the system gathers information, relaying it up through the National Interpretation branch to the State Security Council and thus to the Cabinet. They also revealed that these Committees actively intervene in local affairs in a way designed to build confidence in the discredited local authorities. In this way they help to stop the advance of the ’alternative authorities’, the street committees, Peoples Courts and so forth.
The hope of the National Party strategists is that these measures will be the backdrop against which it can usher in constitutional changes allowing ’multi raciar local and regional government where representatives of each racial group can meet together, but power remain firmly in the hands of the existing rulers.
Despite the repression Botha has not suceeded in enticing a significant layer of ’compromisers’ from among the blacks to do business with him. The propping up of the township councils, the recruitment of 6,000 council police with 10,000 more to come, the creation of specials or kirskonstabels and the unleashing of vigilante forces based on corruption in townships or squatter camps, none of these are likely to provide a substantial enough base to revive the strategy of the creation of an African middle class, the strategy which the black youth and women of South Africa so successfully halted with the township uprisings and organisation of 1985 6.
Whatever role Buthelezi and the ’homeland’ leaders are playing in sponsoring inter black violence, they still cannot come closer to Botha until the ANC is recognised and Mandela is released without risking being totally discredited. The reaction of big business and the imperialist bourgeoisies outside South Africa to the State of Emergency have served to enhance the role of the ANC and thus make any attempt to go around the ANC even less fruitful.
During the last eight months South African imperialism supplemented its measures at home with further economic and military pressure on the front line states. The second half of 1986 saw it with 20,000 troops engaged in keeping the lid on the Namibian resistance. It has retained its commitment to propping up UNITA in Angola and whether or not Pretoria was responsible for the death of Samora Machel, it had become increasingly open about its attempt to end the independence of Mozambique through economic pressure, including the expulsion of migrant mineworkers, and through sustaining the reactionary
How severe is the defeat
The State of Emergency has not resulted in a decisive defeat for the South African black workers. It is not comparable to the major blow that was delivered in 1960 at Sharpeville which ushered in a decade and a half of unrelieved repression and retreat. What the decree has done is first and foremost to isolate the struggles of the townships from those of the workers in the trade unions; it has stemmed for a period the growing interpenetration of those struggles. In fact one of the weaknesses of the union movement was that it was not able to prevent the action that was taken against the townships. However, the repression has not atomised the workers in the trade unions, not destroyed their capacity and willingness to engage in struggle.
Certainly the biggest blows have been felt in the townships and the squatter camps. The attacks on the radical squatter organisations in the Western Cape in fact preceded the State of Emergency and were in one sense a testing ground for it. The state was able to unleash Witdoeke led by the old Crossroads collaborationist leaders against the more radical forces in KTC and satellite squatter settlements. The success of this ’clean up’ revealed the weaknesses in community defence, and once the Emergency was in force, there was no possibility of preventing the bulldozing of KTC.
The wide net of detentions also struck at that bastion of township resistance, the Uitenhage townshsip of Langa. Over the summer at least 10,000 residents were forced into temporary retreat and suffered the forced removals they had battled against for so long. This pattern has been repeated in many areas and has allowed the state to pusue its policy of ’orderly urbanisation’, which allows for restrictions on movement without the pass laws.
One response to the Emergency was an increase in the large numbers of communities withholding rent. By August an estimated 300,000 households in thirty different black townships were on rent strike. But the police and defence forces scored a victory when they carried out evictions despite community resistence, notably in the Battle of White City in Soweto.
The schools boycott was ended in December and the new term has opened with severe restrictions on the curriculum and political activism. But even here resistance continues. Stay aways were reported as eighty per cent solid in the hometowns of three MX militants executed on the 8 September. As recently as 21 November 1986 over eighty per cent of Mamelodi township went on strike to observe the first anniversary of the thirteen murders of residents by the SADF.
Within the union movement the main effect of the repression has been to behead the organisation at the local level as well as encourage the reactionary elements to promote inter black violence. The detentions and raids in June and July succeeded in severely disrupting organisation and communication within the unions. The Emergency also made conditions for negotiation on future mergers more difficult, for instance among the railworkers.
In Natal, the COSATU unions have been under attack from Buthelezi’s Inkatha and its scab union, UWUSA. In particular, MAWU militants have been put under seige by vigilantes. At the end of November, however, it could still mobilise 7,000 in its Chesterfield stronghold for the funeral of murdered trade unionist S’nonso Mcunu.
Reactionary vigilante forces have also been at work in the mines, where they are able to take advantage of the separation of mineworkers from local townships, a separation encouraged by the hostel system. In and out of the mines, right wing gangs known as Russians’ reappeared.
Nevertheless, the resilience of the trade union movement was revealed, first of all in the mass observance of the Soweto Day Stay Away immediately after the State of Emergency was declared. One and a half million workers struck. On July 14 tens of thousands of COSATU members struck against the detentions in the particularly well organised workplaces. Strike action and occupations took place in the distributive trades where trade unionists were able to carry on the fight despite the detention of the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (CCAWU) executive. The state was forced to arrest 999 members of CCAWU at a Johannesburg dairy and hold them for two weeks before it could break the back of the first wave of resistance. Without doubt, however, the wave of political strikes had ebbed by late summer.
Other indications that the trade union movement had survived the first phase of the State of Emergency came in the miners’ response to the tragedy at Kinross mine. Besides the Kinross miners take over of the bosses insulting memorial service, 300,000 miners obeyed the NUM’s stay away call on the day of mourning, the biggest strike in the NUMs history. This action brought forth some sort of solidarity action in 56 out of 60 MAWU organised plants as well.
The Metal and Allied workers Union (MAWU) continued to hold together the majority of the 900 workers sacked by the B1’R subsidiary, Sarmcol, in 1985 through concerted activity in the local community and organisation of temporary co operative work. A long and bitter dispute continued in the Clover food chain. General Motors main factory was occupied when they announced withdrawal without consultation with the unions, and when the strikers were expelled, they maintained their strike for another two weeks before returning to work in the face of threats of dismissal and vicious attacks from the police.
At the end of 1986, the unions organised in COSATU had an estimated membership of 700,000; that is the federation had grown by 200,000 since its formation the year before, by a combination of existing unions joining and new members being recruited. Further mergers between unions had taken place, such as the Domestic Workers Association, and others were under discussion.
The apartheid state has not crushed the unions by any means. Now a new layer of leaders is being trained to deal with the situation. What has happened over the last months has tended to confirm the analysis we put forward in Permanent Revolution 4. 3 The struggles of the townships is not inexhaustable; it can be isolated and repressed. But at the same time precisely because the trade unions had not been in the front ranks of the political struggle against apartheid before June 1986, the mass of black workers have not experienced this State of Emergency as a crushing blow.
For the same reason the South African bourgeoisie has not solved its crisis of direction. Because the trade unions represent the strategic threat to apartheid capitalism, and because this threat remains and is consolidating itself in important respects, the Afrikaner ruling class has not overcome its disarray. The resignation of the ambassador to Britain, Dennis Worrall, and the demand from some in the ruling Nationalist Party to talk to the ANC indicates the continuing pressure for ’reform’, while the actions of the military self evidently indicate the demand for more repression. In addition the divided perspectives of the ruling class are well illustrated in the series of rulings by the judiciary which have seen detainess released or reporting restrictions lifted only then to find them countermanded by the executive.
We can still expect the government to lurch from ’reform’ to repression and back. Over the last months the government has steadily increased the media censorship. We may well see more measures; the banning of the UDF, the outlawing of boycotts, banning of certain leaders. And we may see them precisely because the measures so far have failed to inflict enough of a defeat as to lower the political aspirations of the black population.
The ANC: Perspectives in light of the emergency
In Permanent Revolution 4 we stated that
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 in the coming months.’ 4
We argued that there was a crisis of leadership within the working class movement of South Africa, all the more starkly revealed in the context of millions of blacks throwing themselves into the scales against the apartheid state. Increasingly, as 1986 wore on, the masses looked to the ANC for that leadership. Far from being to the advantage of the black millions this was a dangerous trend. As we stated in June 1986:
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 Peoples 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.’5
The declaration of the State of Emergency in June revealed the weaknesses of the ANC strategy to ’Make South Africa ungovernable’, which depended on continued ferment in the townships. This strategy envisaged that the apartheid state could not survive in a situation in which substantial township areas were out of its control. During 1986, the ANC developed this theory to include a recognition of the role of the popular committees, Peoples Courts and so forth that had sprung up, according them a key part in the development of Peoples’ Power. The ANC also continued to propagandise for the armed struggle now seeing this as occurring predominantly in urban areas. But, despite talk of the leading role of the working class’ and a recognition of the strength of COSATLJ, the ANC failed to explain to the masses the centrality of strikes, occupations and the seizing of the factories in the struggle to defend the mass movement and in the conquest of power.
Crucial in the fight to forstall Botha’s repression was the mobilisation of the trade unions in a general strike which could have paralysed the South African economy, could have unified the union factory committees with the township committees and thus laid the basis for real soviet type bodies in a massive united front against the state. By failing to advance this strategy the ANC contributed to the success of the repression. Criticism has been directed at the ANC and its legal front, the UDF, by activists for failing to politically prepare the youth and workers for the attack of the state. For example, the Cape Youth Organisation (CAYCO) has accused the UDF of egging on the spontaneous revolt without creating the solid forms of organisation on the ground capable of resisting state repression. 6
Why then did the ANC fail and what lessons, if any, have they drawn? The ANC espouses a strategy, enshrined in the Freedom Charter of 1955, which insists that the main task of the South African revolution is to achieve bourgeois democratic rights (including property rights) for the black masses. As Nelson Mandela stated in 1956 the Freedom Charter is:
’A programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis.. .[whichJ... visualises the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of this country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty bourgeois.’ 7
Precisely because of this strategy the ANC fears the independent mobilisation and organisation of the working class around its own demands because it threatens this ’unity’. But the ANC are in a dilemma. The peasantry in South Africa is almost non existent, the urban black petty-bourgeoisie very weak, the proletariat is massive. Therefore, the working class must have a leading role in smashing apartheid; but this class must be politically subordinated to the petty bourgeoisie. This is the reactionary core of the ANC’s programme. This class, because of its thousands of ties with private property in the means of production has a historic tendency to submit to the domination of the big bourgeoisie and deserting the side of the proletariat on whose shoulders it has climbed to shake hands with the bourgeoisie.
The determination to enforce this quest for bourgeois democracy in South Africa is fraught with dangers for the black workers. Over the last 70 years the history of ’democratic revolutions’ from Mexico and China to km and Zimbabwe, shows that the possibility of a stable bourgeois democracy (even if called ’peoples power) is remote. In the imperialist epoch and in particular in the present period of intensified crisis, such a democracy could grant very little in the way of social reforms to the masses, if the main concern was to pacify the big bourgeoisie and promote the growth of a black exploiting class.
The consequences could be very bloody. A working class that has raised itself to its full height to bring down the apartheid state would have established much in the way of workers control in the mines and factories and the townships. To force the black workers to relinquish all this in the name of ’unity of the classes’ could unleash a mighty civil war with the ANC at the head of the counterrevolution.
The ANC has renounced nothing since the State of Emergency. In fact the ANC continues to advance its popular front strategy of alliance with the ’progressive’ wing of the bourgeoisie even in the face of the evidence of where that class’s real allegiances lay. Where is the business leader jailed for his defiance of the State of Emergency? What happened to the ’progressive’ General Motors when it called in armed police against its strikers?
The ANC met South African and overseas business
representatives after the State of Emergency. Some evidence of what might be said at real negotiations was revealed in the Round Table discussions broadcast by the BBC on 22 June involving ANC leading members Thabo Mbeki and Mac Maharaj together with Neil Chapman (Southern Life), Chris Ball of Bamat, Tony Bloom (Premier Group) and two Afrikaner academics.
Ball revealed the dangers for the South African working class in both the negotiations and in the imprecision of the ANCs programme, the Freedom Charter by saying:
’I think this discussion is a brilliant example of the very virtues of negotiation because we are able to take such emotive terms as “people’s power” and “redistribution of land” and try to define more specifically what we mean so that people can understand clearly whether there is fear in the results of our discussion or not... let us accept that something like three quarters of the revenue of the mines goes directly to the state now. Now what does nationalisation mean? It doesn’t mean anything’s very different from the current situation. We need to put flesh on that term.’
In a recent interview, Joe Slovo (Chief of Staff of MK and leading cadre of the ANC and South African Communist Party) insisted that all that was need for negotiations to begin between Botha and the ANC was the acceptence by the whites of the ’principle’ of majority rule in a unitary democratic state. If accepted then:
There is much that can be tossed around, including constitutional mechanisms for safeguarding the rights of the individual, the relationship between private and social property.’
While Slovo retains the achievement of socialism as an ’ultimate’ goal (’and I emphasise the word “ultimate") he believes: ’ that there will be a mixed economy in the postliberation period, in which in particular the black middle class and small black bourgeois will come into their own. 9
The real danger that the ANC poses to the success of the proletarian revolution in South Africa is that since June 1986 and the retardation in the revolutionary situation the ANC has consolidated its position; its politics have become more hegemonic as the mass movement has receded. On the one hand, the ’liberal’ bourgeois in South Africa have seen that with the mass movement thrown back for the moment, that now is the time to draw in the ANC, in the hope of moderating it. In August 1986 Tony Bloom, a leading white business figure, told the New York Times
that he was: ’desperately concerned that both Pretoria and Washington are making a historic mistake in refusing to negotiate with or recognise the ANC... lasting stability will never be created without j’ 10
He need not have worried. The imperialist bourgeoisie was taking advantage of the same situation. Within months of the State of Emergency Oliver Tambo was being wined and dined by the best of them, a marked reversal of attitude from earlier in the year. Ronald Reagan insisted in August that there were, after all, ’sound people’ in the ANC who could be separated off from the communists. In September Tambo met with Geoffrey Howe and Crocker (of the US State Department). Further meetings with US Secretary of State George Schultz are planned for 1987.
All this attention has not been without its own reward. In January this year Tambo stretched out the hand of friendship to the whites if they would renounce apartheid and announced an amnesty for state agents the ANC had captured. Such moderation is in direct contrast to the militant sounding radicalism that has come from the ANC when it it speaking directly to its supporters or to leaders of the front line states. In an interview in ANC News Tambo pushes aside the setback of the state of emergency and argues that in 1987 the people must move from ungovernability to peoples power’. He even calls upon the masses to be armed and for the struggle to be stepped up by taking the armed struggle into the white urban areas.
In fact what is happening is a classic response of petit bourgeois nationalism to an ebb in the mass struggle. They are preparing not for the revivification of the mass working class struggle (strikes, occupations, etc) but for an intensification of the elitist armed struggle which leaves the masses passive. While the 10,000 trained by the MK is few enough to topple the might of the SADF only about 500 of these are in South Africa. In an interview with Radio Freedom in Addis Ababa in October 1986, Chris Hani (a leader of MK) illustrated well the disdain for specifically working class form of class action when he replied to a question which doubted the ability of the factory worker to participate in the peoples war ’when they are only in the factory Hani said:
Well, the workers... must use revolutionary violence, they must plant mines, they must deal with all managers, directors and captains of industry who display hostility to the workers demands.’ 11
He went on to argue for economic sabotage in the factory as a form of protest, but nowhere was even the perspective of workers control or strike activity. The truth of the matter is that the ANC leadership in exile, having exploited the period of mass struggle in 1985/86 to refurbish its ranks with armed fighters intends mainly to take the war into the white suburbs in the hope, not of defeating the SADF, but of building up pressure from within the white community to come to an acceptable settlement through negotiations of the kind that Slovo, Tambo and others have been outlining.
The political response of the trade unions
In the period preceding the 1986 State of Emergency, the class had consolidated its unions and shop steward organisations. It
was engaged in intense debate about the extent to which the unions should be involved in politics and the nature of the political programme they should adopt. Within FOSATU (and subsequently
debate became polarised between the so called ’workerists’ and the ’populists’. The former wished to concentrate upon everyday trade union issues (wages, safety at work, hours) issues which did not consciously confront the question of the apartheid state. From one side this emphasis at least recognised the importance of building the new unions as mass organisations of struggle. They also remained sceptical about the degree to which the Freedom Charter outlined adequate demands for the workers and insisted that strong trade unions were necessary to protect and promote the interests of workers in the post liberation period.
The great danger of this ’workerist’ position was that it surrendered the intiative on the political struggle now to those who looked to the ANC with all the dangers that we have described earlier. Given that in the current crisiswracked situation it is impossible for the trade unions to be apolitical it allows the political agenda to be set by those COSATU leaders who lean towards the ANC/IIDF such as Jay Naidoo, Sydney Mafumadi and Elijah Barayi. Given this it was hardly surprising that by the spring of 1986 the pro ANC forces had increased their influence considerably. This was confirmed by the March 1986 statement in which the ANC and COSATU recognised each others role in the struggle. At the same time it was a testament to the success of COSATU that the ANC had had to change its early sectarian stance to the independent union movement.
The State of Emergency has if anything strengthened the hands of the ’populists’ in COSATU. The repression at the very least has encouraged the union activists to concentrate their energies upon the problems of wages and conditions in a manner unconnected to the struggle to bring down the apartheid regime (for example the NUM pay claim in 1986). In addition, after the intial burst of strikes against the detentions there has defintely be a tendency in COSATU to confront the political issues of the emergency through the methods of the popular front.
In the autumn, COSATU joined the United Democratic Front, the National Education Coordinating Committee and
others to form the National Unity Against Apartheid and the Emergency. This popular frontist body was formed by the UDF after it had called for ’all patriots’ to show national unity by uniting with all other forces opposed to the Emergency. The dangers of this in sowing disunity in COSATU were shown when CCAWU protested at the Christmas against the Emergency call being made using the COSATU logo, but without it as a major affiliate having been consulted. 12
Nevertheless, there is resistance still within the ranks of COSATU to hitching the unions onto the cart of the popular front; activists and leaders within the metal workers union MAW, led by the detained Moses Mayeliso, still outline the need for an independent political programme and party for the working class. For example, in the July 1986 issue of MAWU1s paper, Umbiko we Mawu, it was argued that
MAWU is totally committed to the principle of workers’ control. This is non negotiable. But workers must not only control their union they must also lead the struggle for liberation in South Africa. If workers are not at the head of the liberation struggle, then there is no guarantee that the Botha government will be replaced by socialism.’13
At the first national MAWU Congress, held between 3 and 5 July, 300 factory delegates confirmed this stance in resolutions passed at the Congress. One of them restated the socialist objectives of MAWU and said that it will ’participate fully in all COSATIJ discussions on the political programme of the workers’. In the September issue of their paper, MAW President Maxwell Xulu insisted that
’A long time ago, some people used to say that there was no need for a workers programme, because we have the Freedom
Charter... [but] many things have changed since then...There are thousands of workers organised in trade unions. they are pushing to make the working class stronger. One very great step forward
for the struggle is the workers’ programme. It will also speak of what kind of
society workers want to see fter aparthid.’14
Revolutionaries in South Africa should relate positively to these developments. Trade unions are not adequate for carrying out political tasks, but they are mass organisations and the revolutionary vanguard should call on them to play a key role in building an independent class party of the working class. In fighting for a workers party it is clear that at the start of the process there will be much disagreement as to the programme of it; the outcome of its structure and programme should be as a result of democratic internal debate and the free competition of tendencies.
The conditions in which such a workers’ party could be formed, and in which there could be a clear and open fight for a revolutionary working class programme, these conditions are rapidly disappearing, although every last chance for propagandising for such a party must be taken, while the unions remain legal. The working class and youth will continue to debate the way forward by whatever means they have. It must ensure that it has all the information possible from the leaders of the unions and the liberation movements. They should insist that all negotiations are reported down the ranks, even in conditions of illegality and censorship.
Of course, it is even more urgent that preparations are made now for the construction of underground structures and propaganda organs to carry forward this debate alongside legal structures. We are under no illusion that Botha will stand idly by watching with interest the outcome of a struggle to build an independent workers’ party!
A programme of action
It is without question that all the struggles of today in South Africa start from immediate and democratic demands. The black masses suffer exclusion from the land that was theirs, from massive super exploitation at work, nonexistant social services and terrible and enforced education.
Even outide of the State of Emergency the blacks have long been deprived of the basic democratic rights which those in more developed imperialist bourgeois democracies have enjoyed; the right to live where they choose, citizenship, the right to vote, the right to marry and live with whom they choose. The State of Emergency has increased the numbers subject to arbitary arrest and detention, subject to rent evictions, to censorship. But 16 June did not not introduce arbitary arrest, rent evictions, or censorship into the lives of the black people.
Clearly, however, working class action to get the State of Emergency lifted, to unban organisations, for the release of the detainees is important and urgent, and only serves to underline the fact that the South African revolution starts as a democratic one. Beyond the need to fight the present State of Emergency the burning tasks are to fight for universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage for all men and women over the age of sixteen. The working class must lead the fight for the total abolition of all discriminatory laws and the smashing of every aspect of the racist bureaucracy through the means of an armed militia of the urban and rural workers.
Does this mean that we are fighting for a ’democratic stage’ in the revolution? By no means. A bourgeoisdemocratic’ revolution does not await South Africa. No lasting period of capitalist stability awaits ahead in which the institutions of bourgeois democracy can flower or capitalist private property function sweetly to lift up the masses out of their suffering. As we said in Permanent Revolution 4:
"The programme of permanent revolution alone can fuse the struggle against apartheid with a battle to destroy capitalism and create a workers’ state... What we reject is the notion that the solution of the democratic tasks necessarily predates the fight for socialist revolution and that only democratic slogans can be advanced in the present stage. We must fight to give the democratic struggle a proletarian direction and content.” 1
Although only a proletarian dictatorship (a workers’ state) can guarantee these democratic aspirations, many millions of black people deprived for so long of bourgeois democratic rights have deep illusions in ’democracy’ of this sort. In the present situation it is vital to use ’whatever is progressive about these illusions’ (Trotsky) as a battering ram against the apartheid state. Thus we call for a sovereign constituent assembly. It is imperative for the revolutionary workers to insist on full sovereign rights for such an assembly. Too often in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe petit bourgeois nationalists and Stalinists have kept real power within a tiny ruling council; too often have the new rulers sold the democracy short by agreeing instead to a national convention, which bargains with and provides safeguards for the old white exploiters. In order to prevent this a fully accountable, recallable constituent assembly, elected by direct and equal suffrage only is acceptable.
Within the context of the constituent assembly, with full and free clash of programmes, the revolutionary communists must fight for the creation of workers councils and militias. The democracy of these councils is far superior since they are fully accountable to the workers. They can deliberate, legislate and execute their own decisions without the need for a mass of unaccountable bureaucrats.
In the fight for consistently revolutionary democratic demands, communists must link them at every stage to the class demands of the working class. Such demands must include partial economic and political demands concerning wages and conditions, an end to job inequality, for full trade union rights, for decent housing. Moreover, these in turn must be linked to a series of transitional demands which link the struggles of today with the struggle to establish working class power. Thus in the workplace we must fight for workers’ control of production, of hiring and firing, of the speed and intensity of work, of safety, of the length of the working day. In addition the black workers need to struggle for committees to formulate demands on wages which themselves establish, with the backing of committees of women, the real nature and level of price and rent rises and oversees a sliding scale of wages to protect the workers from inflation.
This fight will run up against the resistance of the bosses who will insist that they can not afford these concessions. in these circumstances, the committees of workers must demand an end to business secrecy and the nationalisation of individual or whole sections of industry.
The advance of these demands is the real measure of the success of the working class in the South African revolution. Along this path lies not only the overthrow of apartheid but the destruction of capitalism itself. If this is not done then the workers gains will be short lived and constantly threatened. The State of Emergency has resulted in a retarding of the tempo of the revolution, but the ruling class has not solved its crisis; the workers are regrouping and debating the lessons of the last period. The future outcome of the revolution depends on how soon the working class breaks free of the noose of popular frontism and charts its independent course for power.