South Africa: Forward to the Building of a Mass Workers’ Party Based on a Revolutionary Program!

NUMSA’s break with the ANC is an important step forward. A strong revolutionary organization is needed to overcome mis-leadership and to avoid yet another betrayal of our struggle for liberation!

Statement of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 5.2.2014,


1.            South Africa’s largest single trade union, the metal worker’s NUMSA, has broken its long-standing ties with the bourgeois ANC and the Stalinist SACP. NUMSA has also raised – albeit in algebraic terms – the possibility of forming a mass workers’ party. In addition, COSATU – the country’s largest federation – is deeply divided and could split in the next few months because of the loyal support for the ANC government by the dominant faction in COSATU’s leadership. The recently founded Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) as well as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by the former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, reflect the desire of the most advanced sectors of the workers and poor to build an new party alternative to the bourgeois ANC. This creates the historic opportunity to form an independent mass workers’ party for the first time in South Africa, a party which could lead the working class and the poor towards socialism. However, this exciting opportunity is in danger since, at the top of NUMSA, EFF, and WASP, are leaderships which have proven during their history that they are incapable of fighting for the historic interests of the working class. To build a mass workers’ party which is really independent of the bourgeoisie, socialists in South Africa must organize on the basis of a revolutionary program in order to fight against these existing petty-bourgeois leaderships.


NUMSA’s Break with the ANC: a Historic Step


2.            It is certainly no exaggeration to call the results of NUMSA’s Special National Congress in December 2013 “historic.” There, NUMSA denounced the so-called Triple Alliance (ANC, SACP, and COSATU) as “been captured by rightwing forces” and “calls on COSATU to break from the Alliance”. In addition, NUMSA resolved to “[withhold] our subscriptions to COSATU as an ultimatum for the convening of the Special National Congress of COSATU.” In line with this decision, in late January 2014 nine unions issued an ultimatum to the leadership of COSATU regarding the calling of a Special Congress before the end of March, and demanding the immediate reinstatement of Zwelinzima Vavi as General Secretary. (The latter was recently sacked by the pro-ANC faction in the COSATU trade union bureaucracy.) The NUMSA congress also resolved to “lead in the establishment of a new United Front that will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the UDF of the 1980s.” In addition, it resolved that “Numsa will explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism as the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa.“

3.            These decisions are historic. They put on the agenda the possibility of breaking up the reactionary popular front which– with the help of the Stalinist-reformist SACP – tied the workers’ movement to the ANC for many decades. The ANC was initially a petty-bourgeois-nationalist movement which was transformed into a bourgeois, pro-imperialist party in the early 1990s. In 1994, the ANC – with the full support of the SACP and the COSATU leadership – concluded a reactionary deal with the white monopoly capitalists in South Africa. This rotten deal formally ended Apartheid and was cheered by the reformists and most centrists (including the DSM/CWI) as “national liberation.” In fact it was a democratic counterrevolution – as were the sell-outs and de-mobilizations of the heroic liberation struggles of the workers and youth that occurred in many other countries in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, the white monopoly capitalists were allowed to continue their rule in exchange for accepting the ANC as the new executive of the ruling class, and by incorporating a small layer of black politicians and capitalists.


South Africa’s Post-Apartheid Capitalism: Continuation of Super-Exploitation and Poverty for the Black Working Class and Oppressed


4.            Since 1994, the ANC has ruled the country in the service of the bourgeoisie. While formal political Apartheid has been abolished, social Apartheid continues. Capitalist South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. According to official statistics, more than a quarter of the population is unemployed. Related to this is the dramatic increase of diseases and violence. It is estimated that a total of at least 2.6 million people have died of AIDS (mainly young adults and children), and as a result, the median age of death has fallen from 52 in 1997 to 43 in 2007. Another expression of the society’s decline is the extremely high level of murder, rape, and violence against women (the homicide rate for women was 25 per 100,000 in the early 2000s, six times the global average!)

5.            While a small black middle class and an even smaller black bourgeoisie have been created after 1994, the huge majority of the black population remains super-exploited and poor. Official unemployment among black people is five times higher than among whites. Only 2% of white households earned less than Rand 20,000 ($ 2,500) a year, compared with 49% of black and 23% of colored households. At the same time, the rich capitalist and land-owning classes remain nearly completely white. While the white population constitutes only 9.2% of the population, over 95% of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange is still controlled by white capitalists. The white minority nets 45% of total household income, about eight times that of black households. Similarly, the land expropriation of the black population continues to exist: A small elite of 60,000 white farmers own almost 87% of the land.

6.            In addition, an increasing number of migrants now live in South Africa – the majority of these are about 3 million documented and undocumented migrants from Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Swaziland. As migrants, they are even more super-exploited by South Africa’s capitalists than the native black workers.

7.            This development is a glaring confirmation of the Marxist thesis that neither poverty nor national and racial oppression can be abolished as long as capitalism continues to exist. Equality for all can only be achieved if the working class overthrows the capitalists by means of a socialist revolution and builds a workers’ republic. In other words, as Trotsky explained, Marxists have to combine the democratic tasks with the socialist tasks in the strategy of permanent revolution.

8.            It is hardly surprising that the workers and poor have become increasingly disenchanted with the ANC after two decades of its rule. In the last two elections, only 56% of the registered voters went to the polls. However in 2012, anger turned into mass resistance culminating in the heroic miners’ strike in Marikana in August 2012. The brutal repression by the police was an important lesson for millions of workers. It demonstrated that the ANC government is an executive of the bosses, that the SACP bureaucracy, which has two ministers in the government, is equally a class enemy, and that the COSATU bureaucracy was either also supporting the repression of the miners or remained passive and failed to mobilize support for the miners. Marikana convinced the workers’ vanguard that it needs unions which are liberated from the treacherous bureaucracy, as well as and a new party which serves the working class and not the capitalists’ interests.

9.            It has been this massive shift in the consciousness of the workers and youth that led 100,000 miners to leave NUM/COSATU and join AMCU and propelled the foundation of the Malema’s EFF as well as the WASP. Similarly, it was this massive pressure from the rank and file workers which forced the leadership of NUMSA to end its support for the ANC and call for a new United Front as well as a “Movement for Socialism.” These developments reflect that South Africa has entered a pre-revolutionary phase.


The Challenge of a New Mass Workers’ Party


10.          These developments are of major importance for all socialists in South Africa and around the world. Without doubt, in terms of the class struggle and working class consciousness, South Africa is today one of the most advanced countries world-wide. The South African workers’ vanguard now has the historic opportunity to form for the first time an independent mass workers’ party in South Africa, a party which could lead the working class and the poor towards socialism. However, the pre-requisites for achieving this are a realistic assessment of the existing leaderships, the elaboration of a revolutionary action program, and the unification of the South African revolutionaries in a Bolshevik organization.

11.          Socialists should strongly welcome the decisions of the NUMSA congress and join the thousands of activists in moving forward with a policy of class struggle. However, at the same time, they must differentiate between the enthusiasm of the rank and file activists and the reformist political calculations of the union leaders. Socialists judge the NUMSA leadership not by its words in congress resolutions, but by its deeds. What has been the record of the union bureaucracy in the past two decades? It politically and financially supported the capitalist government ANC party. What was the record of the union bureaucracy during the Marikana strike? It failed to mobilize its support for the miners and call for the expulsion of the police union from COSATU and the banishment of the strike-breaking NUM leadership. Of course, socialists must not draw any sectarian conclusions from this. If, rather, NUMSA now mobilizes for mass actions against the government, this must receive the full support of socialists. Similarly, socialists should call on NUMSA to launch a mass workers’ party and initiate or participate in every possible activity towards this goal. But at the same time, socialists must warn against any illusion regarding the NUMSA bureaucracy.


Obstacles to the Founding of a New Workers’ Party


12.          Not only has the NUMSA leadership failed in the past, the dangers of future betrayals are already lurking in the resolutions of their recent congress. These fail to give a clear commitment to the building of a mass workers’ party and to challenge the ANC in the upcoming elections this year. They also praise the old ANC program – the “Freedom Charter” – and commit themselves to fight for it. But the “Freedom Charter” was a petty-bourgeois democratic, not a working class socialist program. The historic ANC leader Nelson Mandela explained this unambiguously as early as 1956: “Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature, it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state but a programme of the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land, the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes. Its declaration ‘The People Shall Govern!’ 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-bourgeoisie.” (Nelson Mandela: Freedom in our Lifetime, 30 June 1956). Thus, the “Freedom Charter” already contained the future capitulation to the monopoly capitalists in the early 1990s. A new independent workers’ party must be built on a socialist and not a petty-bourgeois program! In addition, the NUMSA resolution calls for a united front “similar to the UDF of the 1980s.” But the UDF was a popular front, i.e., an alliance with petty-bourgeois forces that sought to win over sectors of the white bourgeoisie. It was a chief instrument in advancing the sell-out in 1994!

13.          The NUMSA leadership is a trade union bureaucracy which is currently moving to the left because it is being forced to do so by pressure from the workers’ vanguard. This leadership remains stuck in reformist policies and an orientation towards a popular front. Given the nature of the NUMSA bureaucracy, like that of all trade union bureaucracies, i.e., a privileged layer integrated via numerous strings into the capitalists’ system, this cannot be otherwise. In order to transform the unions into organs of the revolutionary class struggle, it is necessary to liberate them from their bureaucracies and win them over to a socialist program. In order to facilitate the process of building unity with NUMSA workers, socialists should apply the united front tactic as developed by the Bolsheviks: They must call on the union leaders to organize militant actions, while at the same time warning the rank in file workers about the dangers of betrayals by the union leadership. They have to focus on closing ranks with the workers and winning them over for a socialist program, instead of focusing on deals with the bureaucrats. Socialists should work inside NUMSA – as well as inside other unions – and organize a revolutionary opposition. They should build a rank and file movement, and win it over for a socialist program, thereby transforming the union into an authentic instrument of class struggle.

14.          Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have attracted many militant youth as well as sectors of the workers. This is hardly surprising, given the militant rhetoric of the EFF and its support for the Marikana strikers. However, Malema must be judged by his deeds, not his words. Malema, too, has for many years supported the ANC government. Today, he is reaching out to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the arch-reactionary leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, who collaborated with the white Apartheid regime in the 1980s against the liberation struggle. The EFF is not a workers’ party, but rather a petty-bourgeois left-populist force. However, socialists would be dead-wrong to ignore the fact that the EFF today rallies tens of thousands of workers and youth behind it. In addition, in practical terms, Malema’s EFF has, in various recent class struggle events, stood to the left of the COSATU bureaucracy and the Stalinist SACP. The task is to work side-by-side with the EFF supporters and implement the united front policy towards the EFF, in order to break the workers and youth away from the Malema leadership.

15.          The formation of WASP has been an important step forward since this reflects the political radicalization of vanguard sectors of the militant miners and other workers. Since promoting the formation of a mass workers’ party is a chief task in South Africa, socialists should have a positive attitude towards WASP and should work together closely with its militants (including, perhaps, even joining its ranks). However the major defect of WASP is the fact that its leadership is dominated by the right-centrist DSM, the South African section of the CWI. In the 1980s the predecessor of the DSM was part of the ANC and refused to fight for an independent workers’ party. In 1994, it supported the ANC in the general elections and was complicit in camouflaging the democratic counter-revolution as “national liberation.” Unsurprisingly, the DSM leaders don’t say a single word critical of NUMSA’s praise for the “Freedom Charter” and the UDF of the 1980s. (See WASP: After Numsa's congress – seize a historical opportunity in the 2014 elections, 30.1.2014.) In addition, the CWI absurdly believes that socialism can be achieved peacefully and via parliamentary elections. It also refuses to defend semi-colonial countries and peoples against imperialist aggressors (e.g., Gaza, Afghanistan, and Iraq). To ensure that WASP becomes an important instrument for the revolutionary class struggle, a strong revolutionary opposition has to be built to win over the entire party – including many of the honest DSM rank and file members – for an authentic socialist program.


What Should be the Program of a new Mass Workers Party?


16.          As we have said earlier, present developments offer excellent opportunities to advance the organization of the workers’ vanguard independent of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces and to win them over to a revolutionary program. Socialists must enthusiastically participate in activities and discussions of NUMSA, EFF, WASP, and other organizations in order to advance a revolutionary program and a class struggle perspective. NUMSA speaks about the need for a united front. This is absolutely correct, and should be welcomed by all socialists. Revolutionaries should propose a program of struggle for such a united front. Such a program should include important immediate and transitional demands like: a massive raise of the minimum wage in all sectors; equal wages for women and migrants, a public employment and infrastructure program to abolish unemployment and to improve living and health conditions; the nationalization of the major industry and banking corporations under workers control; the expropriation of the white farmers; etc. The task should be to prepare for a nation-wide general strike which unites public sector workers with precarious workers and the unemployed, youth, and the poor. Such a perspective has to go hand in hand with a call to form factory committees and action councils in the townships, schools, etc., thereby organizing the broad masses. Furthermore, the formation of self-defense units must be promoted to repel the forces of repression which – as we saw at Marikana –are prepared to kill workers in the interest of the bosses. All organizations claiming to defend the interests of the workers and the oppressed should be called to join such a campaign.

17.          At the same time, socialists should support all efforts to build a mass workers’ party independent of all factions of the bourgeoisie. It would be sectarian to make the adoption of a socialist program a precondition for participating in the formation of a new workers’ party. However, from the start socialists should argue for the necessity of an Action Program which outlines the transition from the present situation to the socialist revolution. Such a program should include the expropriation of the super-rich – native and foreign, white and black – and the nationalization of industry and the banks under workers’ control. It should also call for a comprehensive public reconstruction plan – elaborated in detail and under the control of the workers and the poor – to build the necessary infrastructure (housing, electricity, transport, health sector, etc.) to eradicate the extreme inequality in living conditions between the rich and poor, and the white and black populations. Another important task would be to rally the (mostly black) rural poor for the expropriation of the white landowners and the nationalization of the land. While socialists advocate, in principle, the formation of larger agricultural units to increase productivity, it is up to the rural poor to decide whether they wish to go along with such a policy of cooperatives, or if they prefer to distribute the land among them for individual farming. Finally the workers’ party should fight for the overthrow of the capitalist ruling class and the formation of a government of the workers and poor, based on councils and popular militias of armed masses.

18.          The most urgent task now is to unite all authentic revolutionaries in a Bolshevik organization which will fight for such a program and actively participate in the present process of building a new workers’ party. It should also combine such a campaign with the fighting for a new workers’ International which, in our opinion, will be the Fifth Workers’ International. The RCIT looks forward to discussing these matters and collaborating with revolutionaries, in order to advance the formation of such a revolutionary organization.