South Africa: Revolutionary and Centrist Tactics against the ANC’s orchestrated Democratic Counterrevolution in 1994

A Reply to Socialist Fight and the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 7.11.2013, www.thecommunists.net

 

Socialist Fight and its Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (SF/LCFI) have recently published several documents in which they attack the RCIT and its revolutionary tradition. As part of this effort, they have republished a lengthy polemic against our movement written in 1995 by a short-lived centrist sect called “Revolutionary Internationalist League” (RIL). In a short preface to this old document, SF/LCFI expresses its support for the RIL critique of our movement: “…it has very valuable insights on the politics of Workers Power and the RCIT today.” (1)

The character of the document matches its authors in terms of lack of seriousness and is not worth a detailed response. (2) However it contains an important issue which SF/LCFI emphasizes as relevant for South African Trotskyists today. SF/LCFI holds up the old position of RIL and their then-comrades of the Committee for a Workers Government (South Africa) that revolutionaries should have given critical support for the African National Congress (ANC) in the elections in 1994 and should even have joined the ANC for years of entry work. SF/LCFI attack the position of our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International and its British section Workers Power – as we renounced giving electoral support for the ANC since it was a popular front which engineered together with the white monopoly capitalists the democratic counter-revolution at that time. In this document we will focus on this issue and it lessons for revolutionary tactics in the present period.

 

SF/LCFI/RIL arguments for advocating “critical” support for the ANC when it was orchestrating the democratic counter-revolution

 

Let us first reprint the criticism which the SF/LCFI comrades so enthusiastically approve:

This has been particularly clear over questions of electoral support. An early example was the initial refusal of Workers Power and the Irish Workers Group to call for a vote to Sinn Fein in the north of Ireland elections in the early 80s, despite the importance of the Republican military struggle against British imperialism, let alone the clear indications of the strength of its base among the most oppressed and militant sections of the nationalist working class. Subsequently they changed their position, merely commenting that they had not realised that Sinn Fein would get so many votes, as though it was just the number of crosses on ballot papers!

Much more recently we have seen a similar example of this sectarianism in the South African elections though without any possible excuse that they did not know the ANC would get so many votes.

Trotskyists have to fight to break the workers and the masses from the ANC. In the elections it was essential to fight for independent working class organisation and action, including defence to expose the treachery of the ANC, and to call for the unions and mass organisations to build a Workers Party, all of which was the position taken by the ITC. But this fight had to be taken into the living experience of the masses, who saw a vote for the ANC as constituting themselves as a nation, voting for social change and defending 'their' elections against sabotage. That is why we understood that on that basis and as part of that strategy (and not for any other reasons) consistent Trotskyists had to be in favour of a vote for the ANC.

Not Workers Power though. They could not bring themselves to vote for the ANC. They can vote for any bunch of counterrevolutionary social democrats on the basis that they are a bourgeois workers party. But the ANC and Sinn Fern are not bourgeois workers' parties. They are petit bourgeois or bourgeois nationalists and the ANC, moreover, is a popular front. That is how political arguments are settled by Workers Power: it is just a matter finding the right label. We are not quarrelling with the labels here, we are disagreeing with the LRCl's un-Marxist method of settling questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics, put a movement in the right category and up pops the appropriate response. This is a sectarian method which ignores the real questions of the movement and consciousness of the masses and of the advanced sections of the working class and youth, of their relationships to the various organisations and leaders, and of finding the most effective and dynamic way to intervene in their struggles and change the consciousness of the advanced workers.

So in the South African elections the LRCI ended up calling for a vote for the Workers List Party, an electoral front for a small centrist sect which got less than 1% of the vote. Moreover they knew perfectly well that this group actually opposed fighting for the unions to form a Workers Party, and that their electoral adventure was part of their sabotage of the Committee for a Workers Party. But never mind - they were not nationalists and they were not a popular front!

In both cases the opportunism towards reactionary bourgeois forces and the sectarianism towards the masses, mechanical formulae have replaced Marxist analysis and revolutionary strategy.” (3)

In another recently published document Gerry Downing – the central leader of SF/LCFI – reiterates their support for the RIL/CWG line of support for the ANC in 1994. In addition he develops this line further by advocating an entry of South African Trotskyists into the ANC in 1994 and the years afterwards.

It is likely that entryism in the ANC by a serious grouping would not have lasted more than a few years but it may well have saved the CWG as a political current. (…) a properly thought out and co-ordinated entry faction of the CWG might have produced good results. It was the logic of the call for the vote for them in 1994.” (4)

 

What was the Position of the Bolshevik-Communists?

 

Let us first state and explain our position on this issue. From the 1980s onwards we warned of the dangers of the betrayal of the Stalinist/nationalist leadership of the ANC and the embedded South African Communist Party (SACP). The middle class leadership and the labor bureaucracy who dominated the ANC/SACP movement were determined to derail the revolutionary class struggle against the Apartheid regime in the 1980s and to find a place in the ruling class of a post-Apartheid capitalist South Africa. In order to cover this betrayal it propagated the well-known Stalinist stagiest conception of focusing first on a “national democratic revolution” – together with sectors of the bourgeoisie and by retaining capitalism – and after a long period they promised to fight for a socialist revolution. The predictable result was that the ANC developed into a fully-fledged popular front government which saved capitalism and kept the deep social and national/racial contradictions while at the same time implementing some limited democratic reforms. The ANC – in alliance with the bureaucracies of the SACP as well as of the trade union COSATU – has governed South African capitalism for 19 years and continues to safeguard the profits for its monopoly capital. It has helped to create a small black bourgeoisie, middle class and labor aristocracy and fully participates in the super-exploitation of the huge majority of the black working class.

Our movement explained already in 1986 that the ANC/SACP leadership aims not for a working class revolution but for the creation of a “democratic”, “non-racist” capitalism.

As Mandela explains, the demands of the Charter do not aim to break the power of the capitalists and establish a socialist state in South Africa, rather their purpose is to establish a black capitalist class alongside the white capitalists. (…) Thus the Freedom Charter is the programme for the popular front which aims to mobilise all classes, including the nascent black bourgeoisie, around a programme to establish a more ’democratic capitalism’. For all their talk about ’uninterrupted’ revolution, this is the programme the SACP endorses and fights for. The South African CP seeks to divert all democratic struggles into a self-contained ’democratic stage’, a distinct bourgeois revolution. This means doing violence to the manifold objective connections between all democratic issues and the overthrow of capitalism in South Africa. It means intervention to put a brake on and interrupt the dynamic of the struggle against Apartheid.” (5)

We warned that the ANC/SACP strategy the danger of aborting the South African revolution.

If this strategy is victorious inside the black trade unions and opposition movement, it could tie the working class into a fatal alliance with their present exploiters. In this way, the ANC/SACP, for all their talk of destroying ’apartheid capitalism’, could actually abort the South African revolution.” (6)

When the white monopoly capitalists and the Botha Apartheid regime as their political executive agreed to a negotiated settlement with the ANC, we immediately pointed to its consequences for the ANC. We explained that such a process would mean the transformation of the ANC from a petty-bourgeois nationalist movement into a bourgeois formation and – given its strategic alliance with the Stalinist SACP – a popular front formation which would oversee the maintenance of South African imperialism and the super-exploitation of the black working class.

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.” (7)

We emphasized that it was the elementary duty of revolutionary Marxists to warn the masses against the ongoing betrayal of the ANC/SACP and to call the organizations of the workers movement – the trade unions but also a bourgeois workers party like the SACP – to break their popular front alliance with the bourgeois ANC.

We criticized the then-comrades of the RIL – the Comrades for a Workers’ Government – for their failure to understand the character of the ANC and their adaption to the popular front by giving it electoral support in 1994.

Qina Msebensi (QM), the organ of Comrades for a Workers’ Government, the South African section of the LTT, stands clearly to the left of the MWT. It raises the revolutionary slogans of workers’ councils and armed defence squads, a revolutionary constituent assembly, the overthrow of apartheid capitalist tyranny and a workers’ government.

It has drawn up a programme of action embodying these demands. But there remain elements of serious confusion in its slogans. Its call for a “revolutionary interim government” deliberately confuses the call for a revolutionary workers’ government with the ANC’s interim government proposals.

Why is an interim government needed at all? Before elections to a constituent assembly any provisional government would be an instrument of delay, compromise and democratic counter-revolution. Interim to what? What class character would this government have? Is the ANC to be in it? And COSATU too?

QM also continues to place demands on the ANC as if it was a reformist workers’ party. They call on the ANC to “organise the masses to take power”, and want to extend critical electoral support to the ANC, including its bourgeois elements, in the full knowledge of the economic attacks that will rain down on the black toilers by such a government.

QM refers to the ANC leaders as petit bourgeois reformists. But it is not a workers’ party or even a radical anti-imperialist petit bourgeois movement. The ANC is a popular front; it is a class collaborationist bloc between workers’ organisations and bourgeois nationalists in which the latter call the tune.

The correct class tactics would be to call on the leaders of the workers’ organisations, COSATU and the SACP, to break with their bourgeois strategy designed to meet the needs of a pro-IMF black neo-liberal bourgeoisie and their white capitalist allies. They should mobilise the masses for the immediate and unconditional calling of elections for a sovereign constituent assembly and take up the struggle for a workers’ government.” (8)

 

The Key Issues which SF/LCFI/RIL/CWG failed and still fail to understand

 

One of the key problems of the SF/LCFI policy is its incomprehension of the nature of the popular front and the appropriate tactics against it. This becomes evident from their approval for the nonsensical comparison of Sinn Fein and the ANC in the lengthy RIL quote above. They completely confuse two things: one is a petty-bourgeois nationalist (or populist) movement which is engaged in a mass struggle against oppression and exploitation. This was clearly the case with Sinn Fein when it was centrally involved in the national liberation struggle in Northern Ireland against the British occupation. This was also the case with the ANC when it was a leading force in the militant Anti-Apartheid struggle in the 1980s (and also before).

The situation was very different when the ANC started negotiations with the Apartheid regime in 1990 which opened the doors to the disastrous democratic counter-revolution in 1994. This treacherous development can be rather compared with the sell-out of the Irish national liberation struggle by the Sinn Fein leadership when it joined the negotiations with the British Blair government leading to the so-called Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998.

The RIL muddle-heads – and SF/LCFI blindly following them – however compare the ANC selling out the revolutionary mass struggles with Sinn Fein still part of an ongoing mass struggle against the British occupation. It is not surprising that they therefore are astonished that the Bolshevik-Communists applied different tactics to different situations. We gave critical support to the petty-bourgeois nationalist Sinn Fein (including at elections) which was at that time engaged in an ongoing liberation struggle. This was part of our tactic of the anti-imperialist united front. Similarly we applied the united front tactic to the ANC when it was engaged in the heroic mass struggles of the Black working class and youth (albeit not at elections since the ANC was banned and couldn’t participate at elections). We stopped giving critical support to Sinn Fein (including at elections) when its leadership sold out the mass struggle and became part of an imperialist settlement. Applying the same method one could not give critical support to the ANC when it settled for a reactionary settlement with the white monopoly capitalists and thus openly betrayed the black working class and youth which fought so heroically against the Apartheid regime.

SF/LCFI can't see the decisive and qualitative difference between a potentially treacherous leadership which however is still engaged in mass struggles and thus under the pressure from below and an openly and actually betraying leadership which joins hand with the capitalist or even imperialist state apparatus and monopoly capital and actively derails the revolutionary masses. It is a well-known law of dialectics that quantitative changes in the end lead to qualitative transformations. It is however equally important for a Marxist to recognize when such a qualitative transformation takes place. Otherwise such a Marxist is doomed to master the recognition of the various aspects and different shades of the development with similar precision as a color-blind person manages to recognize the multifaceted colorfulness of a rainbow.

It is certainly true that Marxists in 1994 who refused to give electoral support for the ANC were a pretty small minority and became relatively isolated amongst the mass of the black workers and youth. However in a situation where the masses stop fighting, are retreating and passively hoping for a solution via the counter-revolution, Marxists can not support their illusion by calling to bring the ANC as the leading force of the “democratic” counter-revolution to power. In such a situation, when the class struggle ebbs and the working class faces a strategic defeat, Marxists are often forced to remain an isolated minority. But this is the politically principled and hence only possible alternative compared to giving electoral support to the ANC which means nothing else than supporting the party which is the chief agent of this historic betrayal of 1994.

Naturally, even then there could have been developments which could have created new features in the situation. Let us assume the fascists of Eugene Terreblanche‘s Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging would have started a civil war against the ANC in 1994. In such a civil war Marxists obviously would have defended the ANC in order to smash the fascists (but still could not give it electoral support). However this obviously was not the main feature of the situation in the early 1990s.

The key task of Marxists in this period was to agitate in the workers movement for a break with the ANC and the formation of an independent Workers Party. The RIL laughs about the small number of votes for such an attempt at the 1994 elections (the Workers List Party) and our support for this. But we were aware that the betrayal of the ANC leadership would sooner or later lead to divisions and splits and hence would open the possibility for revolutionaries to advance the struggle for political working class independence. We see such developments in the recent year. Revolutionaries who have denounced the ANC sell-out from the beginning and did not support this historic betrayal in 1994 by voting for the chief party of the betrayal were certainly in a better position when the first illusions of the masses have mitigated.

The SF/LCFI comrades’ advice that Marxists should have entered the ANC in 1994 “for several years” is undoubtedly the highpoint of their popular frontist jumble. It certainly can be possible and necessary to enter a reformist party or – under specific circumstances – even a petty-bourgeois or bourgeois mass party when it is engaged in mass struggles and when there is a potential for an inner-party polarization.

However to join a bourgeois popular front party in a situation of strategic defeat where the mass struggle is in full retreat, where the masses move to the right and where the black bourgeois and middle class strengthen its grip over the ANC, is nothing but criminal nonsense! It can mean nothing else than voluntarily liquidating a Trotskyist organization into a bourgeois-led party which is moving fast to the right. This can only lead to demoralization and dissolution of a Trotskyist organization.

 

The Relevance for Today

 

The issue of the correct tactic in1994 is certainly not only of historic interest. With the heroic Marikana strike in August 2012 a new period has opened in South Africa full of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary possibilities. There are strong indications for this as the creation of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) with roots amongst the militant miners vanguard as well as of the petty-bourgeois populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of ex-ANC youth leader Julius Malema, which is very popular amongst militant workers and youth, show.

Entryism in such political formations against the context of the new class struggle period is perfectly reasonable. The WASP and the EEF are political formations which have arisen against the background of great class struggles and which are related to them by their support for them. On the other hand, the ANC in 1994 was actually calling off the class struggle and orchestrated a historic betrayal of the decades of mass struggles.

The SF/LCFI lacks any clarity in political understanding when they are advising entry tactics by comparing the situations of 1994 and 2012/13.

The failure to differentiate a Sinn Fein or an ANC engaged in mass struggles and a Sinn Fein or an ANC orchestrating a historic betrayal of working class and oppressed, demonstrates once more a fundamental lack of political compass. Their failure to see the difference between an actual counter-revolution and a mass struggle (in which petty-bourgeois forces are of course preparing a counter-revolutionary deal) leads them to utter confusion when faced with the problems of the current Arab Revolution. Failing to see the difference between counter-revolution and mass liberation struggles causes them to consider the counter-revolutionary capitalist dictatorships of Gaddafi and Assad (supported by Russian and Chinese imperialism) as “progressive camps” while the democratic mass uprisings in Libya and Syria are denounced as “pro-imperialist counter-revolutions” because of limited or mostly rhetorical Western imperialist support. (9) It is only logical that they join the counter-revolutionary camp in Libya and Syria.

The SF/LCFI comrades confuse counter-revolution and liberation struggle in the case of South Africa and they do it faced with the Arab Revolution. This is however unavoidable given their lack of a revolutionary program and their semi-critical attachment to the rotten centrist tradition of Gerry Healy.

Revolutionary organizations are tested in historical situations when central issues of the class struggle arise and force each and everyone to take a position. We judge organizations and activists not only by the theoretical position – as important as they are – but also by their concrete stand in central political issues of the liberation struggles of the workers and the oppressed and which lessons they learn from it.

This is why the RCIT considers theoretical clarity and a principled program as essential for revolutionaries who are dedicated to building revolutionary vanguard parties nationally as well as internationally. Clarity on issues like the popular front, on the nature of the democratic counter-revolution in South Africa including the possibilities for advancing the formation of revolutionary party in this country today, on the Arab Revolution, etc. are central in this context. The RCIT is dedicated to contributing to the discussion amongst South African revolutionaries in order to support the elaboration of a revolutionary action program for the coming period. Such a task requires not only collective work but also the centralization of revolutionary cadres in a joint homogenous national and international Bolshevik organization.

 

Footnotes:

(1) The Revolutionary Internationalist League On Workers Power (1995), republished by Socialist Fight / Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, 18.10.2013, http://socialistfight.com/2013/10/18/the-revolutionary-internationalist-league-on-workers-power/

(2) The document reflects the crass combination of sectarianism and opportunism of the RIL. It invents all strange forms of distortions and accusations against our movement. However, despite its considerable length (more than 15.000 words) it fails to reproduce a single quote from the organization it is criticizing! The RIL functioned as the British satellite of the US group RWP around the cult leader Leland Sanderson which, in addition to its political failures, was well-known for a psycho-cultish internal regime it up-hold. (See on this e.g. Letter by the IBT's Jason Wright documenting his leaving the Revolutionary Workers League, http://www.regroupment.org/main/page_appendix_3.html) The RIL document is full of sneering arrogance against the “irrelevant sect Workers Power and LRCI” and boasts about the superiority of the RIL’s theory and practice in leading movements. However, history was cruel to them and one or two years after they published this “scathing criticism” of our movement … they dissolved themselves and disappeared! Their US masters dissolved soon after. RIL/RWL was one of those sects which come and go without tradition and without leaving any heritage for the revolutionary Trotskyist movement. Why do the SF/LCFI comrades have to base their historic critique of our movement on such a flash in the pan?! Can it be the case that the comrades themselves lack a continuity of tradition and program and therefore have to rely on a hotchpotch of various political groupings?! For a fundamental critique of the SF/LCFI’s political support for the tradition of the British centrist Gerry Healy and his “International committee” see our document Michael Pröbsting: Healy’s Pupils Fail to Break with their Master. The revolutionary tradition of the Fourth International and the centrist tradition of its Epigones Gerry Healy and the ”International Committee” – A Reply from the RCIT to ”Socialist Fight”, October 2013  (http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/healy-and-fourth-international/).

In opposite to them, our movement has existed for decades and continues to defend the revolutionary program in words and deeds. Evolving around the British group Workers Power from the mid-1970s onwards, the predecessor organization of the RCIT were initially called “Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International” (1984-89). We renamed ourselves in “League for a Revolutionary Communist International” (1989-2003) and later “League for the Fifth International” (2003-2011). When the majority of the LFI started to degenerate into centrism, the founding cadres of the RCIT fought against it but remained a minority and were finally expelled in April 2011. Since then we are combining the preservation of the revolutionary heritage of our movement – which the LFI majority has given up by now – with refining our theory and program. (On the issues of our expulsion by the LFI majority see RCIT: Where is the LFI drifting? A Letter from the RCIT to the LFI comrades, 11.5.2012, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/centrist-degeneration-of-lfi/)

(3) The Revolutionary Internationalist League On Workers Power (1995), republished by Socialist Fight / Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, 18.10.2013, http://socialistfight.com/2013/10/18/the-revolutionary-internationalist-league-on-workers-power/

(4) Gerry Downing (SF/LCFI): On the Differences in the Revolutionary Marxist Group, 4.11.2013, pp. 13-14, http://socialistfight.com/2013/10/30/on-the-differences-in-the-revolutionary-marxist-group/ and http://lcligacomunista.blogspot.co.at/2013/11/the-struggle-for-revolutionary-party-in.html. The SF/LCFI comrades later took this document from their website without any explanation.

(5) Workers Power/Movement for a Revolutionary Communist International: The Crisis of leadership, in: South Africa Special: Apartheid: from Resistance to Revolution (Permanent Revolution No. 4), 1986, p. 25, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/crisis-of-leadership-south-africa-1986/

(6) WP/MRCI: The Crisis of leadership, in: South Africa Special: Apartheid: from Resistance to Revolution (Permanent Revolution No. 4), 1986, p. 29, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/crisis-of-leadership-south-africa-1986/

(7) LRCI: South Africa: No to a negotiated settlement! Fight ANC betrayal! in: Trotskyist International No. 4 (Spring 1990), p. 50, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-fight-anc-betrayal-1990/

(8) LRCI: South Africa: contours of a counter-revolution? in: Trotskyist International No. 12 (September-December 1993), p. 13, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa-counterrevolution-1993/

(9) The RCIT has published numerous documents on the Arab Revolution which have been published in our journal Revolutionary Communism and on our website. We name only a few: RCIT: The Arab Revolution is a central touchstone for socialists! Open Letter to All Revolutionary Organizations and Activists, 4.10.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/open-letter-on-arab-revolution/; RCIT: Syria: Down with the Imperialist Geneva Accord! Stop US and Russian imperialist interference in Syria! No imperialist-controlled “peace” negotiations which can only result in a defeat for the Revolution! International Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution against the murderous Assad Dictatorship! 15.9.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/against-geneva-accord/; RCIT: Syria: Against Assad and Against Imperialism – Victory to the Revolution! For International Solidarity with the Popular Revolution against the murderous Assad Dictatorship! But Without and Against any Western Imperialist Military Intervention! 27.8.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-against-assad-imperialism/; Michael Pröbsting: The Coup d'État in Egypt and the Bankruptcy of the Left’s “Army Socialism”. A Balance Sheet of the coup and another Reply to our Critics (LCC, WIVP, SF/LCFI), 8.8.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/egypt-and-left-army-socialism/; Yossi Schwartz: Class struggle and religious sectarianism in Syria, 12.6.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/class-struggle-and-religious-sectarianism-in-syria/; Yossi Schwartz: Syria: After the defeat in Qusayr and ahead of the Battle for Aleppo, 11.6.2013, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-after-defeat-in-qusayr; Michael Pröbsting: Liberation struggles and imperialist interference. The failure of sectarian “anti-imperialism” in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011, Autumn 2012, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism/