A Reply to City Press’s Mondli Makhanya

– the RET Faction, the MWT and “Entryism”

by Weizmann Hamilton

City Press Editor-in-Chief Mondli Makhanya’s article “Beware the Entryists of the ANC” (14 March 2021) reflects the growing alarm within society, especially, but not exclusively, within the capitalist class over the threats posed by the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction. Working class people and the middle class, themselves threatened with impoverishment, fear a decent into anarchy and lawlessness. They are equally alarmed by the rise of a political force whose programme can be summed-up as standing for the right to loot and plunder, for immunity from criminality including corruption and murder. 

The country is faced with its greatest economic, political and social crisis since the fall of apartheid. The economy is crippled, the health, education and electricity and municipal system dysfunctional, and the police and army and state security agencies infected with criminal elements and the site of struggle between the ANC’s two factions. Most important of all, the conditions of the masses today are worse than they were under apartheid; and yet the ANC’s policies are premised on heaping more misery on them as the way out of the crisis.

For an editor of an influential paper like City Press, even as an organ championing the cause of the dominant, for want of a better term, neo-liberal constitutional democrat faction represented by Ramaphosa, a far more serious analysis of the RET faction’s social and political character, historical origins and the genesis of the factional civil war could have been expected.

Instead Makhanya seizes upon an entirely superficial analysis, which were it not so egregiously misleading, would not be worthy of a response at all. It provides absolutely no understanding whatsoever of what the RET phenomenon represents.

In drawing a parallel between the reactionary political activities of the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction and the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC (MWT) – bound together in the equivalent of a “doctrine of common purpose” to take over the ANC through the crime of “entryism” – he instead adds to the confusion. The RET faction itself relies upon such methods. They pretend falsely, that they represent something ideologically fundamentally different from Ramaphosa’s neo-liberal constitutional democrats.

Makhanya describes the MWT as “the most prominent” Trotskyist faction to have attempted to “hijack the then exiled ANC” to “influence the South African liberation struggle in their direction”. He warns the ANC to beware of a similar attempt by the RET faction and appeals for it to be “crushed” just as the MWT allegedly was albeit with “mixed success”.

Makhanya’s comparison is misleading in more ways than one. Firstly he intentionally mixes-up two entirely irreconcilable trends of political thought. The MWT is a forerunner of the Marxist Workers Party. As its successors, and defenders of the programme on which it was founded and which we continue to fight for today, the MWP has an obligation to its supporters and the working class public to reply to the misrepresentations of the MWT’s work in the struggle to end apartheid and capitalism and to clear our name of the slander of association with the RET. Makhanya’s article raises a number of issues in connection with the MWT that are false that it is not possible to deal with in this reply. We will deal with them in follow up articles for readers of our website and journal, Izwi la Basebenzi.  

What the MWT stood for inside the ANC, and we continue to stand for today outside it, is the abolition of the barbaric capitalist system that, to borrow Mandela’s words, “for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude.” Unlike Mandela, who stood for the creation of a “prosperous non-European bourgeoisie so that free enterprise could flourish as never before”, the MWT stood as does the MWP today, for the abolition of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society – the polar opposite of the position of the RET.

The necessity for this has never been made as clear as in recent history by the catastrophic mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic by the ruling capitalist elites worldwide. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the irreconcilable contradiction between private profit and social need; between the anarchy of the so-called free market and the need for democratic planning for the utilisation of society’s resources; between the need for international democratic co-operation to meet the needs of all peoples and the repugnant competition for dominance of the rich over poor nations as witnessed in vaccine nationalism.

Makhanya’s utilisation of the term “entryism” is designed to prejudice the reader and suggest something sinister and “secret”. But Makhanya is not the first to use the term as a weapon of political insult. It is the weapon of choice of Stalinists like the SACP, right-wing social democrats, especially in Europe, who fought any organised attempt to push pro-capitalist leaderships to implement the socialist programmes that on paper their parties claimed to stand for.

The simple and rather unremarkable truth is that in most political parties there are different trends of thought reflected in contending, sometimes completely antagonistic programmes, tendencies and the different organisational methods flowing from them. There is nothing new or inherently sinister about that.

Makhanya acknowledges that “Love them or hate them, the leftist entryists have always been principled ideologues”. Precisely! But he damns us with faint praise. He forgot to add that contrary to the Cambridge dictionary definition of “entryism” he relies upon, far from being secret, and by implication sinister, the MWT operated openly, putting our programme and policies before the workers and youth in our journal Inqaba ya Basebenzi, later the paper Congress Militant, and today Izwi la Basebenzi, for democratic discussion and debate.

We stood for clear socialist political principles and a working class programme; the RET faction stands for their own self-enrichment and creation of a new black capitalist elite. In claiming as the RETs do in their recently released Basic Document that they are calling for “a return of the ANC to its socialist ideological orientation”, they are confirming their political dishonesty by falsifying the ANC’s history, certainly that of its leadership and what is reflected in all key documents the ANC has produced throughout its history.

The ANC leadership has been consistently pro-capitalist, even when it was at its most radical, following the adoption of the Freedom Charter. If the ANC leadership has exploited the masses’ democratic aspirations for freedom from national oppression, the RET faction is now attempting to exploit the widespread anti-capitalist and socialist sentiments within the working class in support of a pro-capitalist and anti-working class agenda. What both factions have in common is the political exploitation of the working class to marshal support for their capitalist class interests.   

Despite the two factions’ denunciations of each other as they fight for control of the ANC – Ramaphosa’s more conscious neo-liberal constitutional democrats or the pseudo-radical RET – they are in reality two sides of the same capitalist political elite. The RET faction is not, as implied by the term “entryist”, a political faction attempting to take-over the ANC from the outside. The RET is home grown, led and supported by ANC members. They are equally committed to the preservation of capitalism – a system based on the exploitation of the working class, of the resources of the economy, looting, and self-enrichment. The two factions differ only in method.

The constitutional democrats favour the orderly “constitutional and lawful” plundering of the economy and exploitation of the working class under the supervision of the economic constabulary of the imperialist Rating Agencies, the IMF and the World Bank. The RETs’ frustrations with the strictures of bourgeois law and the Constitution in particular is rooted in their failure to realise the historical ambition both factions stand for – the creation of a black capitalist class occupying a position at the summits of the economy that corresponds with the country’s racial demographics. Of course such an economic and social order would perpetuate the slavery of the working class majority.

In contrast, therefore, to the methods of the constitutional democrats, they have resorted to unbridled gangsterism such as the AK-47 wielding thugs paralysing construction sites across the country demanding a share of profits in the name of “radical economic transformation”.

Far from being an alien infestation, the conditions for the rise of the RET faction were created by the capitalist economic policies currently under the stewardship of the Constitutional Democrats. The RETs are merely the latest incarnation within the ANC of right wing pro-capitalist populism. The RETs are socially, ideologically and politically the same phenomenon within the ANC as the EFF outside it.

Nor is this a phenomenon unique to SA. Worldwide, the capitalist ruling classes have been alarmed by the rise of reactionary right-wing populists like the US’s Trump, Brazil’s Bolsanaro and India’s Modi – the vile detritus produced by the very capitalist system they defend, because of the instability it produces into the foundations of their system and the likelihood that as the Financial Times, one of world capitalism’s most prestigious capitalist mouthpieces warned, “the pitchforks” of the working class will come.

These policies have been as disastrous for the working class and for the economy in SA as they have been worldwide. They have produced a sharp polarisation and rising tensions between the capitalist class and their governments on the one side and the working class masses becoming increasingly alienated from them, on the other. The factional civil war in the ANC is merely the lightning rod for the intensifying class conflict – the result of the relentless impoverishment of the masses and destruction of the economy the ANC policies have produced.

Outlandish as Makhanya believes the MWT’s programme was, the truth is that our views were a much more accurate reflection of those not just of the worker delegates at the Congress of the People in 1955, but, much more emphatically, those of the youth and worker leaders across the political spectrum of the trade union movement in the 1980s.

Space does not permit quotations in full of positions put forward by various worker leaders, such as the then leader of the Metal and Allied Workers Union (Mawu – later Numsa) general secretary Moses Mayekiso (Fosatu Worker News October 1983), Thozamile Gqweta president of the South African Allied Workers Union (The Worker October 1984) and from the centre pages of Izwilethu (paper of the Council of Unions of SA June/July 1984).

At a May Day rally organised by 21 trade unions in Johannesburg in 1985, Cusa’s Sipho Radebe stated: “Our solidarity and unity will leave the oppressors trembling with fear. No other class can set us free from our bondage but we ourselves in the working class.” Comrade Radebe was followed by Fosatu’s comrade Ntsamai who brought the audience to its feet declaring: “Capitalism, capitalism is our enemy.”

Suffice it to say that these views were completely in line with those of the MWT: that the struggle against apartheid could not be separated from that against capitalism; that the struggle for national liberation was inextricably bound up with that against capitalism and which, based on such a programme, would grow over uninterruptedly into the struggle for the socialist transformation of society. The sentiment of the most militant and advanced detachments of the SA proletariat were summed up in the words of the slogan that adorned the stage at Cosatu’s 1987 conference: “Socialism means Freedom”.

Who on the other hand supported the views of the exiled ANC leadership and its witch-hunt of the MWT? The witch-hunt in reality reflected the international and SA capitalist classes’ fear and loathing of the socialist consciousness of the working class in SA. The Financial Times (26/03/85), commented: “in the eyes of the young, apartheid is equated with capitalism.” Harry Oppenheimer joined in the attack on the MWT: “left wing radicals, often Marxists, who believe that racial discrimination and private enterprise are parts of the same system and should be eliminated together, [often] succeed in taking the much large numbers [of activists] … for a ride.”  

Makhanya correctly dates the end of the operation of the MWT as a tendency in the ANC to 1996 – the year of the adoption of the ANC’s Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy. Gear’s adoption was the final repudiation of the ANC leadership’s promises to the masses and the burial of the Freedom Charter where these were set out. It was the culmination of relentless SA capitalist and imperialist pressure exerted on the exiled and imprisoned leadership, principally Mandela, from the mid-1980s in secret talks.       

It would burn away illusions in the ANC, and bring it into open collision with the working class. It would put an end to the possibility of building a mass ANC on a socialist programme that we had campaigned for and would necessitate building such a party independently of and in opposition to it. As Peter Taaffe, then general secretary of the then Militant (now Socialist Party of England and Wales) predicted in his pamphlet: From Slavery to the Smashing of Apartheid, the ANC would eventually turn its guns on the working class. Our perspectives have been confirmed in the blood of the martyrs of Marikana.

If Makhanya sought to avail to his readers the lessons of history he would have drawn-up a balance sheet for them on the price of the ANC leadership’s “victory” over “Trotskyist entryism” after 26 years of the building of the “non-racial, non-sexist democratic society” promised by their and the SACP’s ‘National Democratic Revolution’.

The ANC is now under the stewardship of Ramaphosa – the preferred choice of big business and imperialism to manage their affairs in SA. He presented his credentials to them by the betrayal before the end of apartheid, in the 1987 miners’ strike, and after, by creating the climate for the Marikana massacre after denouncing the mineworkers strike as a “criminal act that must dealt with concomitantly”. This is the reason they funded his election campaign to the tune of an estimated R1 billion. Why is Ramaphosa desperately fighting efforts to reveal the identity of his donors in court? Because it will confirm to whom his faction is really accountable. Their method of seeking influence is not by “entryism” in the form described by Makhanya, but by pouring billions into the coffers of their preferred candidate.

Ramaphosa presides over an economy that even before the pandemic was performing at its worst level since World War Two. The notion that the modest 5.4% growth levels for ten years successively merely to arrest extreme poverty planned by the Ramaphosa-led National Planning Commission is precisely utopian. SA is amongst the most unequal societies in the world; 56% of the population lives in poverty as unemployment has passed the 11 million mark.  

This is what ultimately, Makhanya is defending. The idea of a society free from inequality, mass unemployment and abject poverty is, for Makhanya, pure fantasy.

In South Africa, the ruling class looks at the RET faction (and the Economic Freedom Fighters – EFF) as part of the same phenomenon. If not a threat to the capitalist system itself, then a threat to its stability and in SA the foundations of the post-apartheid capitalist political and economic order. But what the ruling classes worldwide fears most of all is the re-discovery of left, socialist and Marxist ideas by the poor and working class masses in their millions. The MWT stepped-out of the ANC because we foresaw what the neo-liberal Gear – imposed in sharp contrast to the democratic process that led to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, without debate even within cabinet, let alone the ANC as a party – would result in.

The sleight-of-hand at the heart of Makhanya’s article is to try and lump together the “extremism” of the left and of the right as equivalent threats to their system.  The MWT’s “wacky” ideas of an “egalitarian utopia”, will find mass support ironically as a direct result of the catastrophic consequences of capitalist ‘common sense’. No more than the witch-hunts of the 1980s against our sister Militant Tendency in the British Labour Party and the MWT, nor against the now Socialist Party of England & Wales in 2015-20 in the struggles around the Corbyn-leadership, will future “efforts to crush the MWT – which included high profile expulsions [from the ANC]” which Makhanya notes – be more successful in preventing the working class worldwide from turning towards the ideas of our international, the Committee for a Workers International.

Marxism explains that nothing in capitalist society can be ‘above’ the class struggle. In practice, Makhanya is therefore placing himself (and his newspaper) at the service of South African capitalism’s ‘middle ground’, represented politically by the Ramaphosa-wing of the ANC, the DA etc. But this will not create the ‘stable’ capitalism the likes of Makhanya want. By guaranteeing the continued misery of the masses it will, sooner rather than later, foster the political organisation of the working class on the still solid foundations of socialist and Marxist ideas. The debates taking place within the South African Federation of Trade Unions about the creation of a trade union-led workers party sums-up the experience of the poor and working class under 26 years of ‘democratic’ capitalism – it does not work and we need an alternative.

Our struggle since 1996 for a mass workers party on a socialist programme, has now won support in the new trade union federation Saftu and amongst communities and youth formations. On 10 May, the Working Class Summit will reconvene to discuss the implementation of the resolution to build such a party adopted at the first summit in 2018.

The author of this article was a member of the Political Committee – the leading body of the MWT. He is now general secretary of the Marxist Workers Party of which the MWT were the progenitors. He participated in discussions in exile between the MWT leadership and the then NUM secretary general Ramaphosa on the need to unite the emerging unions and federations on a socialist programme. Then NUM president James Motlatsi, also part of those discussions, agreed to join the MWT. Unfortunately Motlatsi succumbed to the pro-capitalist ideological counter-revolution that swept through the mass democratic movement resulting in the capture of Cosatu in the Tripartite Alliance. Ramaphosa’s subsequent record speaks for itself.