Reform, Reaction and Civil War

For most of this century the policy of the SA bourgeoisie, in all its conflicting sections, has been determined above all by the need to control the rising black industrial proletariat.

White domination and racial segregation has, of course, been characteristic of South Africa since colonial conquest. The relationship of master and servant, and the separation of the European settlers and administrators from the native people under them, was typical of British and indeed all colonial rule – in Africa, in the Middle East, in India, in semi-colonial China, etc.

However, in South Africa, there has been the erection of this unparalleled state structure of white minority domination, under which South Africa moved to self-government and state independence, and which has been systematically developed as apartheid during the long rule of the National Party government since 1948.

That development was not accidental, nor has the creation of the apartheid system merely been the product of fanatical racist theories of the Afrikaners – which is the way it has been presented by the liberals, and by the Stalinists, who have no understanding of (and do not wish to understand) the way in which apartheid and capitalism are inseparably bound together.

Although the liberal bourgeoisie always objected to the apartheid policies of the Afrikaner nationalists, they had laid all the foundations for that policy under their United Party and other earlier regimes of white domination and segregation – reserves, pass laws, etc. Moreover, by 1948 they could offer no convincing alternative policy to deal with the black proletariat flooding into the urban areas as the result of the industrialisation of SA.

When apartheid appeared to ‘work’, they basically reconciled themselves to it. At the same time they have been able to maintain the luxury of ‘opposition’, disclaiming all responsibility for the horrors and atrocities of the regime – the inevitable outcome of their exploitative system which it is the state’s foremost business to defend.

The rigidity of the system in SA, and the fact that the same apartheid regime has been in power without interruption for thirty-seven years, is an expression of how limited are the alternatives available to bourgeois society for the defence of capitalism.

The tremendous drawn-out mass struggles of the 1950s were a demonstration that a qualitatively new stage had been reached in the rise of the urban proletariat, and in its struggle for political rights. Even with the minimum of real organisation, it constituted a revolutionary challenge to the ruling class and to the state system.

By this we do not mean that all the conditions necessary for a successful revolution had matured in the 1950s. The point is that the working class movement demonstrated a revolutionary character, and was moving in action towards revolutionary conclusions. This was understood by the ruling class.

It is for this reason that the movement was met by the turn of the regime to massacre, to mass arrests and the repression of all the mass-based organisations of the black people.

In the 1950s, as Inqaba has explained in issue No. 13, the Stalinist and middle class leadership of the Congress movement totally failed to appreciate the class issues that were at stake in the struggle for democracy. Thus, while basing themselves on the mass movement, they repeatedly crippled it by calling-off effective actions and rushing to make ‘peace’ with the liberal bourgeoisie.

Their belief was that the ruling class was fundamentally split between its racist and liberal fractions, and that by encouraging the liberals – and not ‘frightening them away’ – it would be possible to turn state policy in SA towards a programme of democratic changes. Thus, little by little, the African majority would gain its rights.

They failed utterly to understand that the whole bourgeoisie was inevitably driven by the spectre of working class power to demand a strong government and vigorous repressive measures against the mass movement whenever it began to gain a sense of its own potential strength.

Liberal Deception

The liberal capitalists, being more sophisticated than the crude racist right-wing, simultaneously employed measures of deception against the movement – cultivating hopes that reforms could be undertaken ‘if only’ the masses refrained from violence and waited upon the generosity of their masters instead of making ‘impossible demands’.

As always, the liberal bourgeoisie relied upon the foolish sincerity of bishops and humanitarian do-gooders of all kinds to convey this impression to the masses. These worthies employed as their conduit the CP and Congress leaders who were always falling over themselves for signs of favour from this quarter of official society. Having not a revolutionary but a reformist outlook, these leaders were keen to take the counterfeit promises of the liberals at their face value and pass them on to the mass movement as good coin.

Barely a year before the Sharpeville massacre, the Communist Party’s leading theoretician published an article in which he asserted that South Africa could be one of those “examples in history” where a democratic transformation of society could take place without violence; where, by a combination of other means the ruling class could be compelled to “give way for urgent and overdue changes, without dragging the people through the agony of civil war.”[1]

If this was the ‘theory’ of the ‘Communists’ – imagine the hopelessly confused outlook of the middle class Congress leadership in general. Nor did the PAC leadership, which split from Congress with an ostensibly more radical posture, have any clearer an idea.

Unfortunately, in a serious class struggle, even the most outstanding and necessary qualities of personal courage – which have not only been present in abundance in the fighting rank-and-file, but have characterised many of the movement’s leaders then and since – cannot substitute for clarity of understanding, perspectives and strategy.

Thus the mass movement was unprepared for the savage wave of reaction on the part of the state which opened with the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960. There followed a decade of dark reaction in which every imaginable form of oppression and segregation was introduced, tightened and refined.

Even the trade union organisations of the African workers were eliminated – not banned formally, but eliminated in reality. The cause of this lay mainly, though not solely, in the arrests and bannings carried out by the state. In a disastrous move, with complete blindness, the CP and ANC leadership took the best working class cadres with them into exile, with the notion of waging a guerrilla war along the lines of Algeria.

Now, with the Nkomati agreement between SA and Mozambique, the leadership’s guerrilla strategy – which was always based on false premises – has been more clearly exposed than ever before as the blind alley which Marxists have always pointed out it would be.

But the main factor which gave strength to the reaction of the 1960s was the long upswing in the development of capitalism. However, as capitalism grew, so all the more rapidly grew its future gravedigger, the black working class.

In the early 1970s there was the revival once again of the working class movement. This revival was spear-headed not by the exiled CP, ANC or PAC leaders (who in fact, after going into exile, had turned their back on the working class and denied that anything could genuinely be done in South Africa at that time), but by the independent initiatives of rank-and-file militants at home.

This, in fact, is what has given the reawakened movement its enormous revolutionary vitality. Of historic importance has been the building of the working class organisations by the workers and youth themselves, no longer dependent as in the past upon petty-bourgeois leaders for every instruction, for permission to do this and permission to do that.

The revival was heralded by the black student movement under the banner of ‘black consciousness’ from the late 1960s. Then followed the industrial strike wave in Natal and the Transvaal, and on the mines, in 1973, 1974 and 1975. There was the beginning of the rebuilding of independent trade unions.

Then came the youth revolt of 1976 – beginning with the Soweto uprising. Following that were the political general strikes in 1976 and 1977, but so far without real organisation underlying them.

Now the systematic building of trade unions has advanced to the point where half a million African workers are organised in unions under their own control. The use of the school strike has been developed as a tactic of the black working class youth – to the point where, in August 1984, the number boycotting schools reached a peak of one million. In the black townships there have been the tremendous mass struggles over rents, over fare increases, and so on, during the past few years.

The mass movement taking place today is absolutely unparalleled in its depth, its strength and its sweep. Even the lulls over the last ten years can be seen in retrospect as pauses for the catching of breath. For the first time it has begun to take on a fully nationwide character, extending from Pretoria to East London, from the Cape to Natal, from Vereeniging to formerly sleepy Grahamstown, from Uitenhage to isolated Beaufort West.

The township and youth struggles draw strength from and in turn reinforce the strike movement of the workers.

In 1984, despite the deep recession, South Africa had its record year for strikes. According to government figures, 378,000 worker-days were lost in 469 strikes. But these figures cover only the 180,000 workers involved in action over industrial disputes. The figures do not include the 800,000 or more workers who took part in the two-day Transvaal general strike in November – the most important political strike in the history of Africa, and the high point of the movement so far in the way it combined the organised actions of workers and youth.

A qualitative new stage was reached also in 1984 when the newly-formed National Union of Mineworkers (then only two years old and already with some 80,000 members), confronted the Chamber of Mines with the first organised strike action on the mines since 1946. Skilful tactics by the NUM forced a climb-down by the Chamber, and gave the union a partial victory in a situation where it was extremely dangerous to launch an all-out strike for which they were not yet adequately prepared. Now an even bigger confrontation with the Chamber looms.

Character of the State

Throughout the past decade, the state has continued to show its murderous character as the armed instrument for the preservation of ruling class power and property against the black proletariat. The massacres of the youth in 1976, in which possibly a thousand were slaughtered; the repeated police shootings and other brutalities against mineworkers in struggle; the Sharpeville Day massacre in Uitenhage this year – these are only the most outstanding of the horrors perpetrated daily against the black working people. This is the reality which the mass of black people face.

It would be the most serious mistake, in any perspective on future developments in South Africa, to lose sight for an instant of the nature of the SA state as a formidable, ruthlessly engineered killing machine upon which the whole ruling class relies for its preservation.

The capitalist class is fully conscious of the need to have at its disposal effective, organised ‘armed bodies of men’ – in short, a powerful state apparatus – to hold down the working class. It can never agree to weaken, let alone dispense with, this apparatus.

Nevertheless, the inability of the ruling class now to hold down and cow the movement by repression alone is every day demonstrated – in the townships, in the factories, and by the militant youth. This fact has propelled at least the major section of capital to seek the road of so-called ‘reform’.

It is important not to dismiss as irrelevant or minimise the significance of the shifts in the policy of the ruling class that are taking place. But their importance lies mainly in bringing to light the essential bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie’s position; the underlying splits that begin to tear them apart; and the contribution that these changes make towards emboldening the mass movement, thereby stirring to action more and more of the social forces of the revolution.

Nature of ‘Reform’ Strategy

It would be utterly naive to see in these ‘reforms’ the beginning of a progression towards genuine democratic rights for the black majority; to think that from these beginnings can come an evolutionary transformation of society, or transformation in the character of the state.

The important thing to understand is that the ‘reform’ policies of the bourgeoisie represent a development in its strategy of counter-revolution – to be combined with all the repressive forces available to it, and with the purpose of buying time for capitalism by diverting the proletariat from revolutionary goals.

Although today’s ‘reforms’ are said to be directed against the failed policies of Verwoerd, in a sense it was Verwoerd who pioneered ‘reform’ as a counter-revolutionary measure against the African people. Put forward as a supposed ‘alternative’ to naked wit baasskap, his policy was to create so-called ‘self-governing’ Bantustans as an ‘outlet’ for African political aspirations.

The tribal Bantustan policy was originated in the 1950s precisely in response to the rising movement of the detribalised urban black proletariat.

Now, because the mass movement has flooded over the ramparts of the sandcastle erected by Verwoerd, the ruling class rushes to find new means of diverting, dividing and obstructing the proletariat.

If the SABC now refers to Verwoerd’s conceptions as “nonsense” it is only because the regime and ruling class now need new methods to accomplish essentially the same class aims.

As already explained, it is impossible for the ruling class to concede a genuinely democratic constitution: one-person-one-vote in an undivided South Africa. That cannot be achieved this side of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie; this side of the victory of the proletarian revolution.

Horror of horrors to the bourgeoisie is the fact that the black workers and youth in the forefront of the struggle naturally and immediately combine their democratic demands with the stated aim of taking into common ownership the means of production.

Recent opinion polls, contrived to show a ‘majority’ of blacks opposed to nationalisation, scarcely convince the ruling class which uses them as propaganda against socialism. The answer given in opinion polls depends largely on how the questions are posed, who poses them, and in what circumstances they are posed. Apparently most blacks would even be opposed to nationalisation under a future ‘black government’!

But once the hitherto passive layers of the black working class are themselves stirred to action; once the advanced workers and youth explain clearly to the whole movement the realities of monopoly power in SA, explain the real causes of the poverty of the working people, and expound a programme of revolution through which the main productive forces and resources are taken into the common ownership of the people under democratic workers’ control and management – then there would be a tidal wave of support for that idea.

Already in the 1950s, the Freedom Charter, under the pressure of the advanced workers, proclaimed as its goal the common ownership of the mines, banks and monopoly industries, together with the expropriation and redistribution of the land. This was seen as a necessary foundation for democratic change.

If that was the understanding then, what is the understanding now?

At the launching of the UDF in August 1983, at a mass gathering attended overwhelmingly by working class black people, the most enthusiastic response, greeted by five minutes of applause, chanting and revolutionary songs, was for a speaker who called for the working class to take power in South Africa and take into common ownership the productive forces.

In November 1984 one of the leaders of the Transvaal general strike, Thami Mali, and another militant Siphiwe Thusi, spelled out the same view in an interview with a Johannesburg journalist:

I [Graham Watts – the reporter] ask what it is they want. Is it one-man-one-vote in a unitary SA? Yes, but that’s not enough. It must be a ‘workers’ state’ based on the principles of the Freedom Charter, which they call ‘a set of minimum demands’. The Freedom Charter is … all about how ‘the people shall govern’ and how the land ‘shall belong to all those who work it’. So you want a socialist SA? ‘Exactly.’[2]

What is understood now by the advanced active layer of the masses will be understood and communicated in time to come to the masses as a whole. An awareness of this has already struck into the marrow of the bourgeoisie.

Thus they wail in the press that the blacks do not understand the ‘laws of economics’ – which means they do not care about the need of the employers to make a profit! They have ‘no stake’ in the free enterprise system.

Need to Change Race System

The racial system which stabilised South African capitalism in the past has now turned dialectically into a source of tremendous revolutionary conflict and of irreconcilable class struggle.

The bourgeoisie is compelled to try to move away from that racial system.

For economic and political reasons, the big capitalists would like to be rid of apartheid altogether and rule on the basis of a ‘non-racial’ dictatorship. They dream of being able to break up the black proletariat, politically and geographically, and hold it down by a combination of state repression and a formally ‘non-racial’ but essentially undemocratic constitutional system incorporating black middle class leaders. But dreams are one thing; facts are another.

The ruling class is unable to move decisively away from the racist system precisely because they would be unable to stabilise their rule on any other basis.

When, in decades past, the advance of their economic system and the relative weakness of the proletariat would have provided more room for constitutional reforms, they revelled under the racist dictatorship, greedily squeezing every drop of profit out of the oppressed black workers that they could. Now when they need to change their method of rule – when they have no alternative but to change – change is no longer a workable alternative.

Botha, speaking for the capitalist class, declared that it was necessary to “adapt or die”. But in fact “adapt and die” will turn out to be the reality for capitalism.

The sickness of their economic system on the one hand, which necessitates material counter-reforms against the masses, and the accumulated power of the black working class, on the other hand, is what makes revolution a certainty.

This is why, alongside all the talk of ‘reform’, the real political changes remain so measly, so miserly, so obviously anti-democratic in purpose, while repression by the state forces is all the time stepped-up.

Still the challenge from below forces the capitalists to try to go further in the direction of political reform of the system – much, much further. But, having no confidence in any reform, finding their predicament at every step worse than it was before, they must again and again recoil from it, all the time increasing the savagery of repression. Finding themselves in complete disarray, and with the dawning awareness that there is no viable way out for them, the ruling class will again and again split under the hammer blows of the mass movement.

It has taken the regime more than ten years to move from the policies of Verwoerd to the present policies of Botha – and even that has necessitated a split of the ruling party. This is an expression of the difficulties facing the ruling class.

The fate of Botha’s new constitutional scheme of racial ‘parliaments’ for the whites, coloured and Indians, shows the fate that awaits future manoeuvres of the ruling class which do not go (because they cannot go) to the root of the masses’ demand for real political power.

It is clear that Botha turned to this new constitution with essentially four aims: firstly to incorporate the coloured and Indian middle classes into the system to reinforce white supremacy; secondly to divide blacks against each other by drawing Indians and coloureds to the side of the whites; thirdly to construct a bonapartist executive with tremendous powers, more able flexibly to manoeuvre between the racial groups and the classes and less tied down directly by the control of the white parliament; and fourthly, to provide a basis from which he could conduct further experiments in the direction of some political rights for Africans.

From beginning to end there has been nothing democratic about it.

The structure of the new constitution ensures that that party which has majority support amongst the whites controls the Presidency and the whole system. The coloured and Indian ‘parliaments’ are permitted to look after their so-called ‘own affairs’. The President’s Council, dominated by the whites and the nominees of the bonapartist President, decides everything of ‘general’ significance.

But even on the basis of this undemocratic bonapartist structure, they could not afford to have a ‘parliament’ for Africans. The reason is obvious: if 73% of the population were permitted to elect their ‘parliament’, what possible moral pretext could the white minority advance for retaining overall control in the structure?

Any form of directly elected parliament for the African majority would threaten to become a focus of even more explosive discontent against the rule of the present government. Coming-up against the concrete obstacle of the white-based state machine, unable for that reason and because of the limitations of capitalism to carry through any of the essential material changes demanded by the masses, it could only have the effect of spurring-on the revolutionary struggle for a complete overturn of the state power.

Policy of Division

It is impossible for the ruling class to concede direct representation to the Africans, at the level of central government, in proportion to their numbers. Therefore, essential to the bourgeois strategy is the maintenance and extension of tribal and local divisions – and the breaking-up of SA for political reasons.

Yet this is bound to be rejected by the increasingly conscious black working class masses, demanding their national and social emancipation. The coloured and Indian ‘elections’ in 1984 were met by a tremendously successful boycott. In the coloured elections less than 20% of the 18-year-olds and above voted. In the working class townships less than 10% voted. A similar thing happened in the Indian elections.

What was especially significant was that the trade unions came forward, alongside the UDF, and the organised African workers played a leading role together with the youth in approaching coloured and Indian working class families in their homes and canvassing for the boycott.

The result is that no thread of respectability attaches to these puppets who have become ‘honourable members’ of the coloured ‘House of Representatives’ or the Indian ‘House of Delegates’. Quite the contrary, they are discredited and disgraced as stooges, as much among their so-called ‘own’ people as among the Africans.

They can achieve nothing of significance to provide a basis of popularity. Hendrikse may be ‘prime minister’ of the coloureds. But, as a student journalist put it, what has he got for his ‘own affair’? 180,000 homeless coloured people!

If a member of the Indian House of Delegates wants even to question the law in the Orange Free State which prohibits Asians staying there longer than two months, it has become a matter of doubt whether this would be an ‘own affairs matter’ (in which case he could raise it) or a ‘general affairs matter’ (in which case he would be ruled out-of-order). ‘General affairs’ are for the President’s Council.

Such is the absurdity of the situation that, for example, opposition members in the white parliament can apparently no longer ask the government for its per capita spending figures on white, coloured, Indian and African population groups. It can only ask about its ‘own affairs’ – and about the affairs of the unfranchised Africans.

The real measure of the changes brought about by this new system is shown in the fact that eventually, after a lot of resistance, coloured and Indian MPs are now being allowed to dine with white MPs as the latter’s guests in the white parliamentary dining room!

Forced to Go Further

Such is the fiasco of the new constitution; such is its rejection by the vast majority of the population; so surely has it inflamed the anger of the oppressed people – that Botha at the very opening of the new parliaments had to announce plans to proceed further with constitutional change.

The necessity of this, he said, was to give recognition to the permanence of at least ‘some’ of the African population within so-called ‘white South Africa’ – and the hopelessness of attempting to accommodate African political aspirations solely within the framework of the Bantustans.

He has announced the creation of a new ‘national negotiating forum’, through which he hopes to achieve the incorporation of unelected African ‘leaders’ into responsibilities of government at national level. Yet even Gatsha Buthelezi has dismissed this as a meaningless sop!

That does not mean, however, that Buthelezi wishes to entrust his fate to the democratic will of the African people. Professor Lawrence Schlemmer, who acts as a ventriloquist’s dummy for the Inkatha chief, has in fact warned the bourgeoisie not to attempt the establishment of a fourth parliament for Africans. That would merely lead to an explosion of frustrations and release more resistance. So it should be “avoided”.

But, says Schlemmer, “some form of incorporation [of Africans] into a joint body at parliamentary or Cabinet level dealing with general affairs is essential.”[3] Buthelezi, in other words, wants to be appointed a Cabinet Minister without having to be elected! Until Botha is ready to offer him that, he maintains his ‘democratic’ intransigence.

Yet for Buthelezi to enter any position of central state responsibility would lead to the evaporation of any basis of popular support, even among the most backward strata, which he presently retains. And Botha for his part would not be able to move this far without stirring up a big backlash of conservative revolt among the whites, fearing that their privileged status will vanish.

‘Regionalisation’

Botha’s grand plan is believed to involve the development of new regional authorities, based on the eight economic regions in the government’s development plan. It is not clear whether or to what extent these authorities will intersect with or incorporate existing ‘independent’ Bantustans. Probably that is still a riddle to Botha himself at this stage. However, it is most unlikely that the regime would be able or willing to actually dismantle the Bantustan political structure.

The government is reconsidering the Buthelezi Commission’s 1982 proposals for the joint administration of KwaZulu and Natal – and their possible extension to other areas. This commission advanced a plan of ‘consociational’ administration for the region.

This idea is critically examined in a recent article in the SA Labour Bulletin (April 1985) on ‘Regionalisation, Federalism and the Reconstruction of the South African State’, by Cobbett, Glaser, Hindson and Swilling.

“‘Consociation’,” they write, “refers roughly to the notion of a ‘grand coalition’ government between different groups which retain a high degree of autonomy and enjoy proportional representation and minority veto power. Consociation … is thought to be appropriate to maintaining stability in societies ‘deeply divided’ by linguistic, cultural, racial, ethnic and other divisions.”

The ‘brilliance’ of this bourgeois political concept is shown in the fact that one of the more notable ‘successes’ claimed for it in the past has been the Lebanon! The strategists of capital in South Africa can have few illusions in its viability, even temporarily, in a society gripped by irreconcilable class antagonisms in which issues immediately become reduced to the language of naked power.

Least of all, for this reason, could ‘consociation’ be seriously adopted by the SA ruling class as a method of re-organisation of central government. It is not accidental that there is nothing ‘consociational’ or subject to ‘veto power’ in Botha’s bonapartist Presidency. That is the whole essence of the new constitution.

However, the application of a ‘consociational’ scheme to regional administration is now being seriously considered. This would entail the working together of different authorities, in some cases from different, racially segregated areas.

But it should be borne in mind what the (unspoken) real basis was which underlay the consensus reached between Buthelezi and the white capitalists in his commission report. The latter could only consider sharing regional ‘power’ with even a committed bourgeois flunky like Buthelezi because two very important conditions were fulfilled.

On the one hand he himself could hold out some promise of disciplining KwaZulu through the mafia-apparatus of Inkatha, which has been consolidated with immense capitalist funds over the past decade. And, on the other hand (and more importantly still), they could continue to shelter under the power of central government and the armed apparatus of the state, which would come to their assistance if ever their vital interests were threatened.

In fact, for every step in the direction of decentralisation of administration in SA, we see two steps towards centralising and reinforcing even further the military-police repressive power and the Bonapartism of the central bourgeois state apparatus.

Centralisation of power is certain and primary, decentralisation uncertain and secondary, in the policy of the SA ruling class. Thus the powers of the white Provincial Councils, now to be abolished, will be transferred first to central government, and only later to new regional authorities as and when these are established.

A continued effective monopoly of central state power will remain for the bourgeoisie the necessary condition for any moves towards a system of joint black-white administration at regional levels. But that in itself does not guarantee the workability of the scheme.

Where else than in KwaZulu do the ruling class have an Inkatha or a Buthelezi to lean on? No doubt there are aspiring Buthelezi-type traitors, but none with the same base, none with the same muscle. Even in KwaZulu/Natal all Buthelezi’s dictatorial measures have been unable to prevent mass explosions in the recent period.

No Viable Basis

Moreover, how could regional authorities of this kind possibly be effective unless there were viable lower authorities underpinning them?

The proposed ‘regional service councils’ to jointly administer water supplies, electricity and sewerage are themselves to be based on the existing racially segregated local authorities. Yet, in most African townships, these local authorities have already either been demolished by the masses or face the imminent prospect of the same fate. “Since the unrest began on 3 September,” writes Allister Sparks in the Observer,[4] “109 councillors have been attacked and five killed, including a mayor and two deputy mayors; 66 have had their homes burnt down; and 147, including the entire councils of seven townships, have resigned.”

In Sebokeng, sixteen homeless Lekoa councillors are now living in a protected compound, behind a high security fence of barbed wire with heavily-armed guards at the gate. They are refugees from the people they are supposed to represent. The locals refer to them disparagingly as “the government in exile”.

Moreover the council, which had begun its life by raising rents, is financially crippled by a rent strike maintained solidly since September by more than 90% of the 350,000 residents of the area.

In the Eastern Cape, puppet councillors have been hurriedly resigning their positions in order to escape death at the hands of the enraged populace. This is a symptom of the revolutionary polarisation which has taken place.

In the main, the government will be compelled to maintain direct control over the administration of the townships, and will be unable to establish to any significant degree stable locally-elected councils for these areas.

Thus how can the ‘tiers’ of regional and sub-regional administration be made viable? Throughout, the regime will be able to staff the structure only with the most disreputable black stooges. Even now these have to think twice, or rather ten-times, before going in for collaboration, since the burnt homes and businesses and the charred bodies of councillors have shown that the fruits of office do not consist entirely of perks.

As if these were not sufficient obstacles to its scheme, the government is determined to add more. So afraid are they that any measure of real power in determining policy could pass into the hands of the black people, even at the level of the ‘regional service councils’ , that Botha is taking steps to render this impossible.

In the composition of these authorities, apparently, the various townships together with the white suburbs, etc., are to be given representation in proportion to their contribution to the revenue! (Where, we might ask, is the brotherly ‘consociation’ here?!)

Black workers in SA have taken up the cry of the American Revolution: “No taxation without representation!” Now Botha discovers a slogan for the bourgeois counter-revolution against democracy: “No representation without taxation!” This can only ensure the even more determined rejection by the masses of this scheme.

It is necessary to see the whole process dialectically, and not to give credence in an empirical way to the new initiatives and ingenious subtleties of the bourgeoisie as they search desperately for ways to ‘reform’.

The authors of the article in the Labour Bulletin are right to point-out that the ‘reforms’ are designed to enable the ruling class to move “beyond formal racialism without capitulating to what is termed ‘majoritarianism’.” This is precisely what will make them unworkable. The whole crux of the issue in South Africa is majority rule – not ‘formal’ departures from racialism but the demand of the black majority that real power to determine the government of the country should pass into their hands. By whatever pretext, this cannot be evaded; by whatever route, all evasions will fail.

The above-mentioned writers have put together valuable research on the developments in SA towards federalism – and in particular on the regime’s ‘regionalisation’ policy. But they are quite wrong when they conclude:

This re-conceptualisation and re-organisation of spatial forms, if synthesised into a coherent policy programme, as some reformers in the state and capital envisage, could provide a basis for a long-term strategic offensive aimed at reconstituting the relations of exploitation and domination in South Africa.

There is no room now for a “strategic offensive” of reform by the bourgeoisie. They are incapable of “synthesising a coherent policy programme”. Their policies constitute a defensive response to the rising threat of workers’ revolution. Their real nature was summed up in a recent Rand Daily Mail cartoon showing Botha in the role of King Canute, facing an advancing tide of black influx which had clearly ignored his orders to stop. “Well in that case I order you to come in only half way,” he declares!

Effect of Recent ‘Reforms’

The recent scrapping of the Mixed Marriages Act and Section 16 of the Immorality Act, which prohibited sex between people of different races, is clearly understood by the majority to be mere cosmetic change. Nevertheless this has been enough to give a propaganda handle to the ultra-right.

The right to freehold tenure in place of mere leasehold, recently ‘granted’ to urban Africans with permanent status in the townships, is likewise generally seen as a pathetic sop. Even the thin stratum able to afford to buy their homes will not thereby be given any ‘stake’ (as the bourgeois imagine) in the ‘free enterprise system’.

Firstly, the socialist revolution does not threaten to take people’s homes away from them. On the contrary, it alone can guarantee all people a home. Secondly, as examples in many countries have shown, homeowners with mortgage debts are just as much threatened with homelessness when unemployment and economic recession hit. In Britain’s Broad Green constituency, for example, a high level of home-ownership among workers has not deterred them from electing an avowed Marxist and Militant supporter as their Labour MP.

To South Africa’s impoverished working masses, in fact, this ‘reform’ by the regime only adds insult to injury. The ‘right’ of some Africans to own property is conceded when the substance of property has vanished from almost all Africans.

The same applies to the concession that, after all, a minority of the African people are to be allowed to keep their South African citizenship. Blacks are now left to ponder which is worse – no citizenship, or citizenship without citizens’ rights.

Of more immediate impact is the government’s intended amendment to the Mines and Works Act to permit Africans to qualify for blasting certificates. Coming at a time when the NUM had placed the issue squarely on the table in this year’s dispute with the Chamber of Mines, this concession will be felt by the black mineworkers as a recognition of their potential power. They will be emboldened by it. While only momentarily giving relief to the mine bosses, this change will further alienate support for the government among white miners, and so can only deepen the contradictions it faces.

The pending repeal of the Improper Interference Act to allow mixed-race political parties is hardly an earth-shattering change as far as the black masses are concerned – for their genuine political organisations are banned or otherwise persecuted and, in any event, have turned their backs decisively on the puppet ‘parliaments’.

The most immediate impact of the repeal is expected to be that it will allow fusion between the white PFP and co-thinking bourgeois collaborators in the coloured and Indian ‘parliaments’. There is press speculation that this might even put the PFP in a majority in the Indian ‘House of Delegates’, thus giving it a seat in the cabinet!

The most likely effect of that would be to undermine still further remaining illusions among the blacks in the beneficence of the white PFP liberals. Possibly Botha is calculating on such a development to implicate the PFP indirectly in governmental responsibility and deepen the incipient split already evident within it.

Despite the minimal nature of all these ‘reforms’ from the standpoint of the masses, it would, nevertheless, be wrong to conclude that the ruling class can introduce no more than token changes or changes of trivial importance politically.

The government’s ‘suspension’ of forced removals (although no reliance should be placed on it) is a step of great significance – because it is an acknowledgement of the power of the mass movement and expresses the fear of the regime to provoke that movement further. Similarly significant is the campaign now going on among a section of the big bourgeoisie for doing away with the pass laws.

Capitalism has been built in South Africa on a foundation of migrant labour, on total state control of the movement of the black proletariat as a necessary measure for maintaining the system of cheap labour. Influx control has also served to weaken the pressure for social spending in urban areas, and the pressure of the working class for political rights, by confining the families of millions of workers to the rural dumping grounds of the reserves.

However, the inevitable process of urbanisation has continued all the same. Industrial labour has increasingly become settled in the cities. Black workers have secured through struggle at least some basic trade union rights and recognition, and migrant workers themselves have become organised in the unions. Despite all the pass arrests and forced removals, ‘squatter’ settlements of working class families have mushroomed on the edges of the ‘white’ cities. In all these respects influx control has miserably failed, or at least begun to fail.

A Financial Times survey on South Africa[5] comments:

If the reality is that millions of blacks ignore the pass laws … and the rest of the influx control laws like water passing through a sieve, would it not make sense to scrap them? Nothing would do more to improve the image of South Africa abroad or to convince South Africa’s black majority that talk of reform was more than mere rhetoric.

Studies by the Urban Foundation and by academics argue that influx controls have become so ineffective that they will make a difference of only about two million in the total urban black population of SA by the year 2000. Thus, argue the liberals, they should be scrapped in an attempt to pacify the blacks and the ‘international community’.

This view is finding some support within the bureaucracy. The director of the so-called Population Development Programme has concluded that the best way to deal with SA’s rising population is “rapid urbanisation of the impoverished black population and the subsequent upgrading of living standards with particular emphasis on education, health and housing.”

According to the Financial Mail,[6] “Most leading SA businessmen seem cautiously in favour of abolishing influx control – given adequate preparation and infrastructure in the urban areas, plus increased development in the rural ones.” (Our emphasis.)

But here lies the rub! What they take as “given” is precisely the thing which is not given. If they could “upgrade living standards” all-round in South Africa, there would indeed be very significant scope for ‘reform’. But, as our economic analysis has shown, and as will increasingly dawn upon the whole bourgeoisie itself, they are compelled by the imperative logic of their profit-system in crisis to further attack the already unbearable living standards of the blacks.

Cynical Calculation

In fact Anglo American’s Gavin Relly, who favours doing away with influx control, cynically emphasises that more unemployed in the urban areas will help the employers to drive down wages. Once the capitalists favoured pass laws as a means of preventing organisation of the workers and thus holding down wages. Now that the working class has established its permanence in the urban areas and begun to consolidate its unions all the same, this exploiter’s main concern has become to break their bargaining power through unrestricted influx! However, that will not work either.

Whether with or without influx controls, the bourgeoisie faces a revolutionary movement of the black proletariat in the urban as well as the rural areas. It is those among the big business spokesmen who still retain the most ludicrous illusions in the ‘wonders’ of the ‘free enterprise system’ who are most fulsome in their calls for the scrapping of influx control. Others, however, are far more cautious and realistic from their class point of view.

Thus a spokesman for Assocom says:

Assocom believes there must be complete mobility of labour. Thus [!] influx control in its present form must be abolished. However, this could give rise to various socio-economic problems which need to be borne in mind. Our view, therefore, is that the influx of people into the cities should be dependent purely upon housing and employment [being available] and, once there, those people should be free to move anywhere in SA.

So much, by the way, for ‘complete’ mobility of labour!

The Federated Chamber of Industries president says:

The FCI takes a very pragmatic view of the effects of influx control and also of the consequences attendant upon anything less than an orderly transition to unrestricted mobility… From a business viewpoint the capacity of SA’s urban areas to absorb large numbers from rural areas will put pressure on existing resources; an unplanned movement undoubtedly will over-burden transport, health, housing, law-and-order and other services” – ‘law-and-order’ a ‘service’, that’s a new one! – “and depress living standards.

The president of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut says bluntly:

The immediate phasing out of influx control is unacceptable in the light of the present economic, labour and social conditions in urban areas. Influx control serves an essential and beneficial regulatory purpose until such time as housing and employment can be provided for the influx of thousands of blacks into the urban areas… Any reconsideration of this policy under present depressing economic conditions is totally misplaced.

The president of the SA Foundation and chairman of Gencor says: “At this juncture, I do not believe that we should be increasing the potential for conflict in the country. I therefore feel I should not comment.[7]

Here we have a really classic expression of the impasse in which the bourgeoisie finds itself. On the issue of influx control, as will be the case with more and more fundamental issues in future, the bourgeoisie is unable to produce a coherent policy. Each side is able to prove conclusively that the other’s policy will not work. And in this, both are right!

In the immediate aftermath of Sharpeville, in 1960, the regime felt it necessary to suspend the enforcement of the pass laws for about six weeks. This was because they feared to provoke a revolution. It is entirely possible that we shall see such suspensions – and much longer suspensions – of these laws again in future, under the pressure of the mass movement.

Indeed, were there now to be a really determined, well-organised and resolutely led mass campaign of pass-burning, the complete defiance of influx control laws, and attacks on pass courts and records offices, this system could be thoroughly wrecked. However, to the extent that the matter is left to the ruling class to decide, it is most unlikely that they could move to the abolition of these measures.

Fear to Show Weakness

The main reason is the one implied in the above quotations. They will fear to give such a signal of their weakness and disarray to the black working class, because that would stir it to even more vigorous struggle and the assertion of ever more far-reaching demands. This fear will increase as the mass revolt intensifies – as will the pressures towards abandoning the pass system. So the dilemma of the ruling class will become more acute.

We should not be surprised if, in the coming period, even some of the most vociferous bourgeois spokesmen in favour of abolishing influx control change their position once again on this issue. But somersaults vice versa are also possible.

On the other hand, what is likely is that the regime will attempt to modify the operation of the pass laws by partial exemptions, and by tying it in with the plans for ‘regionalisation’ of administration. Recently, they have slightly broadened the conditions for Section 10 rights and extended the mobility of the minority who qualify.

But the idea that we can be entertained to a period of genuine ‘free mobility’ of black people in SA through the good offices of the ruling class is shown to be absolutely ludicrous at a time when townships are being surrounded by troops, and people entering and leaving are stopped, checked and searched.

Again, for every move in the direction of changing or dismantling an old measure of state control over the black population, there will be two or three new measures of repression and control introduced.

Essential Barrier

Again and again to the fore comes the essential barrier to the transformation of society – the racist capitalist state machine itself.

The big capitalists – the so-called ‘liberals’ – would like, and indeed need, to change the racial character of the state. They are frightened half witless by the spectre of rampaging white soldiers and riot police, carrying out ‘unnecessary’ provocative massacres and so whipping-up the revolution. They want to give the state a ‘broader base’ among black people, in the hope of making its repressive function more ‘acceptable’ to the masses.

But they are caught on the horns of a contradiction from which there is no escape.

Marx and Engels explained that the bourgeoisie rules, in the final analysis, by relying on ‘armed bodies of men’ together with their appendages in the shape of courts, prisons, the bureaucracy, etc. This is what the state basically is.

But the bourgeoisie, having created a state in one form, cannot simply at its discretion exchange it for another. If there were a hundred years of peaceful capitalist evolution ahead of them in South Africa, who knows what changes they could gradually bring about in the racial complexion of the state? But the reality today is that they are facing a revolutionary challenge to capitalism.

The state which they have built is founded in white domination and privilege. It is a state whose whole essence is to defend capitalism against the black proletariat by the method of guaranteeing and defending the privileges of the whites.

It has been shaped and honed over generations for this purpose. This is reflected in the character and composition of all the commanding strata of the bureaucracy, the judiciary, etc., and in the make-up of the armed forces.

Half of the police force may be black; coloured, Indian and later even African people may be drawn into the army – but essentially the army rests and will remain resting on white working class and lower-middle class troops, organised by a commanding hierarchy of white upper-middle class and bourgeois officers. And it is the army which, as we have seen increasingly in the townships, is the ultimate weapon of power and repression wielded by the ruling class against the blacks.

Because of the challenge of the black proletariat from below, the ruling class have to try to reform the state system; they have to try to change the state itself. But they cannot afford to weaken the repressive power of the state in the face of this black challenge.

To the limited extent that they can ‘blacken’ the state forces, they render the state potentially unreliable to them; and at the same time this drives to disaffection the reliable white forces they have.

With everything in turmoil around them, they have no choice but to keep the snarling wolf-hounds of the white state apparatus in readiness for action, and again and again unleash their ferocity against the people.

The feebleness of the black middle class, and the advanced stage of racial and class polarisation and conflict, makes it all the more impossible to extend the basis of the state to incorporate blacks on any reliable foundation. This has been shown by the fate of the collaborator councils, for example. Now the black police themselves are under pressure from the masses to resign their jobs or face grisly reprisals.

The regime cannot recruit ‘popular’ black figures into the system, because the system is obliged to carry-out openly anti-working class and counter-revolutionary policies and actions which guarantee that any ‘popular’ figure who entered would become unpopular.

Thus they have all the more to retain the old white basis of the state in its essentials, and step-up repression. It is imperative that we never lose sight of this fact through all the twists and turns of events that will unfold.

The policies and manoeuvres of the regime and the ruling class will become increasingly chaotic. There will be further ‘determined moves’ and ‘new initiatives’ in the direction of reform; there will be false starts, retreats, savagely increased repression, temporary retreats from that, attempts to combine reforms and repression in new ways, new failures of that, and the long-term undermining of morale and cohesion in the camp of the bourgeoisie and of the whites generally.

White Living Standards Attacked

At the same time that capitalism is compelled to drive down the living standards of the mass of black people, it is forced also to attack the material privileges of the whites.

Now even white living standards are persistently falling or showing a tendency to fall. Where they can be maintained at their old levels, this is only by running down savings, or running up debts.

Four years ago whites were saving 11 cents out of every rand in their pockets; now they are saving 2 cents. Reliance on hire-purchase and other forms of consumer credit has gone up astronomically. The majority of the bank credit in SA is consumer credit, and in the recent period it has been growing by R1 billion per quarter.

Bank overdrafts and HT debt now total R14 billion. In 1984 there were 385,065 civil judgements for debt – the amount involved having increased 60% in a single year. This year a record number of families are going through the courts, filing for bankruptcy.

Pockets of real poverty are now beginning to reappear among working class whites as a result of recession, necessitating in some cases feeding schemes at white schools.

At the same time the imperative need of the capitalist state to cut public expenditure has driven the regime to try to take back the relatively large wage increase given to civil servants in 1983-84, and to begin to drive down their real incomes.

One-third of economically active whites are employed by central government or the provincial administrations. If parastatal corporations are taken into account, this figure rises to an estimated 60%. Whether directly or indirectly, all attacks on the living standards of the whites inevitably introduce instability into the foundations of the state itself.

When, in March this year, Botha announced a one-third cut in the Christmas bonus for state employees – a measure affecting about one million people – there was an immediate outcry by white railway workers, postal workers, teachers, clerks, etc.

An angry meeting of 1,000 white railway workers in Johannesburg on 5 March (typical of many across the country) threatened labour unrest if the cut was not rescinded.

The workers were unimpressed by Botha’s appeal to ‘their ‘patriotism’. “The time has now come,” he said, “to do what we sing in our anthem: Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika.” It is beginning to dawn on the white workers that the bourgeoisie’s ‘nation’ and ‘country’ are not in reality theirs.

“This is a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer,” declared a leader of the white transport unions. The Minister of Transport was accused of “treating the railway workers like his farmhands.”

The bonus cut was described as the worst setback for white workers since the 1922 cuts – the occasion of the only serious white working class revolt in the history of SA. The 1922 revolt was a key factor leading to the state’s strategy of buying the loyalty of the white workers with job security and material privileges. Now the ruling class has no choice but to undermine these privileges.

The era of the tame white working class is coming to an end. But because an independent class movement is impossible among a privileged aristocracy of labour seeking to defend their position against the demands of the low-paid and oppressed mass of the workers – this revolt among the whites inevitably falls at first into the clutches of the most reactionary bourgeois and petty-bourgeois nationalist politicians.

A typical headline in the Herstigte Nasionale Party’s (HNP – Reconstituted National Party) Die Afrikaner reads: “Wegbeweeg van diskriminasie die oorsaak van ekonomiese krisis” (the move away from discrimination is the cause of the economic crisis). Treurnicht’s Conservative Party puts precisely the same line.

With a declining economic ‘cake’, they point-out, any material advances by, or political concessions to, the blacks must be at the ‘expense’ of the whites. This argument makes crude but clear ‘sense’ to the majority of whites remaining trapped within the blind alley of capitalist society.

One of Treurnicht’s favourite platform tricks is to tell his audiences that, when they see the President on television wagging his finger, it is because he is counting the furniture in their living rooms to give it away to the blacks!

This filth flourishes nonetheless in a situation where a white child can expect to use ten-times the financial and physical resources available to a black child. This when the state, in 1984, spent R1,385 on the education of each white child, and R192 on the education of each African child. Yet a Conservative MP can gain popularity by declaring in the House of Assembly: “The ordinary white person is sick and tired of being the milk-cow (for the blacks).”[8]

Here is summed up the absolute impasse and revolting sickness of bourgeois society; the horrible polarisation and race conflict which has been engendered by capitalism in SA. From this there is no way out except revolution.

As the crisis of society intensifies, and as the movement of the black masses takes on a more and more revolutionary character, inevitably the great majority of small farmers, urban middle class and working class whites must be propelled in the direction of ultra-right racist reaction. So far we have only seen the beginnings of this process. It affects not only the Afrikaners, but the English-speaking whites as well.

The process exhibits many contradictory features. It will develop not in a straight line, but through sudden turns and sharp changes, and while there are tendencies in the opposite direction at the same time.

Among the white workers we can see, simultaneously, moves in some sections of their unions even towards the proposed new non-racial federation, while in politics Treurnicht is gathering white worker support. The overall line of development will be towards the right.

Botha, it is true, secured a 66% majority in the white referendum of 1983 for the introduction of his new ‘reform’ constitution. This was despite the National Party itself having only about 50% support in opinion polls, and against the combined opposition of the PFP (on the government’s left) and the Conservative Party/HNP (on the extreme right). The explanation for this is twofold.

On the one hand, the great majority of whites sensed the unviability of the old system in the face of the rising movement of the blacks. On the other hand, they were reluctant to weaken the government in the face of this challenge and were prepared to give an opportunity to Botha to test-out the programme to which he had committed the government.

However, at the same time, most whites (including all sections of the bourgeoisie and probably even Botha himself) had no genuine faith in the long-term viability of the new scheme either. To get the necessary support Botha had to present the constitution to the whites as an effective guarantee against having to make concessions to African political demands. Now already, this is shown to be nonsense. The discrediting of Botha’s ‘reform’ programme – including its rejection by the blacks – now repels increasing numbers of former government supporters towards the right.

Depth of Revolt

The depth of the revolt now beginning in the subsoil of white society is shown in the rough reception given to NP politicians in the white working class and lower-middle class constituencies. It is shown also in the desperate tones in which these politicians appeal for continued support.

A report in the Rand Daily Mail[9] illustrates what is taking place:

Addressing a rowdy meeting in Mayfair, Mr Meyer [National Party MP for Johannesburg West] … said South Africa was becoming more and more difficult to govern.

“It is the responsibility of every person to remember that. If we are not going to solve the problems of this country, fires are going to start that we won’t be able to put out.”

“We all know the explosiveness of the situation, even in this suburb, as a result of the tension between races. This is true for all of South Africa.”

“The tension in black areas is high, the economy is at a low point… It is the responsibility of the government to see that we have the maximum chance of stability and peace.”

“Don’t set things alight when we will all burn,” he said.

It is in areas such as this that the erosion of the Group Areas Act is beginning to take place. The white workers and lower-middle class have long accepted the argument of the ultra-right (formerly used by the Nats) – an argument couched cynically in pseudo-class terms – that the liberals only oppose apartheid because they do not need it. They have the money to buy their separation. Instead of catching buses, they ride to work in limousines. If they had to rub shoulders with the blacks, they would see things differently… etc.

Now the worthy citizens of Sea Point, well-to-do English-speaking liberals in the main, who elect a PFP MP and councillors, have demonstrated the correctness of this argument to the white workers. When blacks began to ignore beach apartheid and came in busloads to use the beaches of Sea Point, a flood of protests from the white residents ensued.

Letters to the Cape Times complained of blacks urinating in the sand, running about naked, smoking dagga, drinking and vomiting, and of women swimming in bras and panties.

The few ‘saner’ voices were swamped. A PFP councillor commented: “We whites finally got a chance to see how the other half lives, and it’s been a shock.”

More of the reality of South Africa’s race- and class-divided society is summed up in these events than in all the preachings of the liberal politicians, academics and clergy. As Boraine, the PFP MP admitted, for whites “going into the township situation is like going into a foreign country.”

The transformation of South Africa into a non-racial society, democratically governed and controlled by its people, cannot take place peacefully or ‘under anaesthetic’ – the patient will be fully awake, kicking and screaming throughout the operation.

Because, when it comes down to it, the class issues are so inseparably bound-up with the race issues, the great majority of whites will inevitably recoil from the implications of real change and try to cling onto their present privileges so long as it is at all possible to do so.

Trying to Avoid and Delay

Most of those who support ‘reform’ today do so mainly to avoid and delay the advent of fundamental change. A similar thing motivates those who believe that ‘reform’ is but a slippery slope to disaster. Surveys have shown that a majority even of HNP supporters believe that South Africa will have a black government in their lifetime. But they want to put off the evil day as long as they can, hoping that perhaps it will not come!

It is because ‘reform’ will fail and turn into chaos that the prospect of an increasing swing from the NP towards the Conservative Party becomes a virtual certainty. This will take place among English as well as Afrikaans-speaking whites.

At some point the revolt of the whites is likely to induce a revolt among the backbench NP politicians. While Botha may manoeuvre to the right to head this off, a further split of the National Party is entirely possible – which could put Treurnicht in a position to capture a majority in the white parliament.

Fearing electoral setbacks which would suggest a weakening of the government, Botha has used the introduction of the new constitution as a pretext for extending the life of the parliament to 1989. The last white elections were in 1981. Now the English press has mooted the possibility that each further stage of ‘constitutional reform’ could provide an opportunity to defer elections even further.

If a white election were held under the present constitution, the governing party need lose only 35 seats in order to forfeit its outright majority. Recent by-election results have suggested that at least 50 NP-held seats are vulnerable to the Conservatives.

Such a situation could lead to the PFP holding the balance of power in the white parliament. Already there are marked signs of a trend in the right-wing of the PFP towards coalition with the left-wing of the Nationalists. A coalition strategy has been in Slabbert’s mind already for several years. If coalition became a real prospect, however, the PFP would almost certainly split.

Moreover, a split in the Nationalist Party would not necessarily depend upon an election or a move by the ‘verligtes’ towards a deal with the PFP right. In perspectives, it is necessary to guard against what Marx termed ‘parliamentary cretinism’. Even if Botha could contrive by re-delimitation or other legislative manoeuvre to forestall a Treurnicht electoral victory, once the right-wing backlash among the whites reached sufficient proportions and became a powerful extra-parliamentary revolt, large numbers of Nationalist politicians would go over. A series of fiascos in the government’s ‘reform’ programme could easily lead to such a situation.

The bourgeoisie would fear a Treurnicht government, mainly because of the provocative signal this would give to the blacks, and because there would be correspondingly less control over the white reaction. It would lay in ruins all present plans for further ‘reform’, and increase the tendencies towards racial civil war.

They would therefore manoeuvre furiously to prevent Treurnicht coming to power. But would they go over to a direct military government as a means of forestalling this? That cannot be ruled-out, but it is not the most likely perspective.

When faced with the situation concretely, the capitalists would realise that Treurnicht himself would not be able to proceed on an uncontrolled course of reaction. After all, what further repressive power would be at his disposal than the government possesses now? A Treurnicht regime would still, in the final analysis, have to defend capitalism and respond to the almighty pressures of the world economy and the SA economy in the grip of crisis. It is impossible in this epoch for any bourgeois government to achieve real autonomy from the dictates of finance capital.

In fact, even a Treurnicht government would probably have to employ many of the same devices of ‘reform’ and operate within the framework of the existing constitution. But it would be even more ludicrous and unworkable as a result.

At the same time, to resort to military dictatorship against the will of the whites – to prevent the replacement of a failed NP government with one further to the right when this was demanded by a clear majority of whites – would be a course fraught with immense dangers for the bourgeoisie. Even if all the senior officers could be relied on, their power would prove to be a phantom if they were unable to rely on the loyalty of the rank-and-file troops and police.

The army is a reflection of society – in SA’s case a reflection mainly of white society. To use the state against the whites would be impossible except within very narrow limits.

Thus such an adventure could lead to crippling splits in the apparatus of the state itself. That in turn would spur forward the revolutionary movement. For these reasons it is unlikely that the bourgeoisie would attempt to keep Treurnicht out by means of a military coup.

In a serious constitutional crisis affecting the whites, the first concern of all the bourgeois politicians will be not to open the door to the black revolution. Thus, if the parliamentary road is denied to Treurnicht by the NP regime’s manoeuvres, it would not follow automatically – indeed it is unlikely – that he would lead an extra-parliamentary bid for power.

More likely, he would try instead to control his own ranks and manoeuvre behind the scenes for a deal. But in that event a split of the Conservative Party, with a section moving further to the right, would become a distinct possibility.

It could not be ruled-out that, at some stage, possibly even with the agreement of the Conservatives, the bourgeoisie might have to turn to a military regime – in an attempt to combine repression and ‘reform’ more effectively against the blacks, while trying to hold the whites together through military discipline. But it would lead eventually to the same inevitable splits, and begin to affect the army itself.

State as instrument of change?

If the state machine cannot be used effectively against reaction, conversely it cannot be used as an effective instrument of reform. Yet this is precisely the idea put forward by such luminaries as Van Zyl Slabbert of the PFP, and his echoes among the academics. Apparently a “strong Defence Force” etc. is needed for the very purpose of bringing about “peaceful change”! This hypocritical nonsense of the liberal bourgeois is really nauseating.

The Afrikaans academic, Hermann Giliomee, has become an interesting writer to watch as a weather-vane of the ideas of the left-wing of bourgeois society. Having had the courage to break with Afrikaner orthodoxy, he often expresses matters in terms of their fundamentals to a greater extent than the woolly English liberals.

Thus, in an article in the Rand Daily Mail,[10] he sets out a list of sound reasons showing that the basis for viable political reform in South Africa has been destroyed. But when he approaches the awful implications of this fact, suddenly he can go no further. He springs back. He must find some “solution to gloom at the top”! Thus he offers a conclusion in complete contradiction to what he has just proved:

It is silly to suggest that any attempt to reform South Africa will be ‘too little, too late’. The basic structures of the South African state are still stable. (Our emphasis.)

But the stability of the SA state is precisely the result of the cohesion built-up between the different classes of white society over the past decades. The basis of that cohesion is racial domination and privilege.

For the state to undertake reform, the state itself has to be reformed. Precisely because there is no objective scope for viable reform of South African society, attempts to reform the state can only render it unstable without any prospect of it regaining stability on a new basis. Stability of the South African state therefore stands in contradiction to reform.

But the bourgeoisie, for its survival, requires both stability and reform. In attempting to reconcile this contradiction, as it must, it will end up moving from ‘reform’ to counter-reforms and from a ‘stable’ to an unstable state.

The class struggle has an imperious logic. Radical critics of the bourgeoisie and of the regime, if they do not break decisively with bourgeois society and cross to the stand-point of the black working class, can only end up as abject apologists of the blood-soaked state machine itself.

Incipient Civil War

To a certain extent, the movement of the black working class has begun to make South Africa ‘ungovernable’ by the regime. But it would be totally naive to conclude from this that conditions are emerging for a negotiated ‘settlement’ of the question of power.

The reality of the matter is that South Africa has entered a period of incipient civil war. At the present time, however – and it may appear strange to say this in a country notorious for violence and massacre – we are still in a relatively peaceful period compared with what lies ahead.

Although the situation is characterised by vicious violence of the state against the black working people, it has not so far been characterised by direct inter-racial violence between the white and black communities themselves. This is mainly because the whites can still look with confidence to the state to subjugate and repress the blacks on their behalf. So far the violence of the system remains ‘institutionalised’.

But once the mass movement of the black people begins to overwhelm the capacities of the state forces – and already troops and even railway police have to be used to reinforce the police in the townships – this situation will begin to change. It will change all the more with the splits of the bourgeoisie and in the camp of the whites generally, resulting divisions within the state, and the partial paralysis of its striking power.

This will be a situation on which the ultra-right reaction feeds.

After the November general strike, the right-wing spread rumours among the white communities that blacks were planning to embark on a campaign of terror and violence directed against them. Stickers and leaflets forged to appear as though they emanated from the movement, declared: “Rape a white woman; kill a white child!” and called for armed attacks on white schools and the firebombing of white homes.

“The result of these damn rumours,” wrote Percy Qoboza in the Johannesburg City Press, “is that many white people, particularly in this town, were moving around the streets with loaded guns.”

A gun dealer in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs told the press that there had been an upsurge in orders, especially during the previous two weeks. “Usually people want handguns,” he said, observing that pistols are as commonplace in white homes as toasters. “But all of a sudden we have customers wanting shotguns, pump-action shotguns. That’s how I know people are scared.”[11]

During the recent unrest at Vaal Reefs Mine, NUM general secretary Cyril Ramaphosa reported that white miners were going underground with loaded pistols and pointing them at the black mineworkers. Most probably, black mineworkers in this period will be discussing measures of self-defence against the police and racist white miners – measures which will eventually have to involve obtaining and using arms.

The whole logic of the developing situation will lead inevitably to the arming of the revolutionary movement of the black workers and youth for their defence. That in turn will precipitate more vicious state attacks and so add to the spiral of civil war.

Already the fascist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB – Afrikaner Resistance Movement) leader, Terreblanche, has seized the opportunity to announce that his white storm-troopers will be available to act alongside the state in murderously repressing the blacks. At this stage, of course, that would not be permitted by the regime, because it would lead to the blacks arming themselves even more rapidly. Nor is there any question in SA of the fascist forces ever obtaining state power. But we can certainly envisage, over the next five or ten years, situations in which they will act, as in Chile and other countries, as jackals running at the heels of the army and police. Already they have penetrated significantly into the lower ranks of these state organs.

Perspectives always have to be very conditional, and all the more so in the extremely complex situation of South Africa. We have to be especially cautious on questions of timing, for it is impossible to forecast the precise conjunctures of all the factors and events that will occur. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to draw-out in perspectives the basic lines of development which are inherent in the South African situation.

There will inevitably be a serious further development in the direction of racial civil war. It will not be a war fought by great armies from opposing territories (as, e.g., in the American Civil War), or between opposing regimes (as, e.g., between Republican and Nationalist Spain), but rather the development of a state of ‘siege’, of armed camps and no-go areas, of street fighting, of massacres, of reprisals, of bloody inter-racial clashes, of chaos, decay and disintegration.

In all this the main bulwark of the bourgeoisie will continue to be the state, the organising force of capitalist reaction.

Once the real issues and interests at stake in the SA revolution are starkly posed, the main body of the bourgeoisie will resort to the most extreme measures of counter-revolution. At the same time, because that reaction will inevitably be racist in character, the big bourgeoisie will manoeuvre in order to disclaim direct responsibility for it.

But the full force of the state – including its massive armoury of aircraft, bombs, tanks, artillery, machine-guns, etc. – will when necessary be wheeled into action. We should be under no illusion that the ruling class will shrink from slaughtering hundreds-of-thousands, and even millions, once the chips are down.

The horrors we have seen in the civil war in the Lebanon will seem like a picnic in comparison with what can happen in South Africa.

Nor will the ‘opposition’ of US imperialism to the methods of the SA regime continue on their present course indefinitely and under all circumstances. In the final analysis, it is the threat of the black workers gaining power – the spectre of communism – which will dictate the policy of imperialism.

The SA ruling class will say, “We tried to reform, but the blacks want communism!” Inevitably the United States will find ways, mainly underhand ways, short of direct intervention, of materially assisting and reinforcing the SA state.

The Soviet bureaucracy, fearing a healthy proletarian revolution anywhere in the world (and particularly in this decisive industrialised country of Africa), and fearing to complicate its search for ‘peaceful coexistence’ with US imperialism, will hold back from direct involvement while urging the leaders of the movement in SA to find a compromise settlement with the capitalist class and with the whites.

Negotiated settlement?

Already a section of the capitalist class has moved to the position of advocating ‘talks’ with the ANC. Recently Afrikaans journalists and academics have gone on safari, to Lusaka to test the ground for possible future negotiation. Although Botha has repudiated these initiatives, it is probable that he gave at least tacit approval beforehand. Meanwhile, Anglo American bosses have been eagerly keeping up their contacts with ANC exiled leaders abroad.

Tony Bloom, chairman of Premier Group, argues that “our new dispensation” will not achieve credibility unless credible black leaders like Mandela and Tambo can be brought into it.

A dramatic move towards the establishment of credibility would undoubtedly be the opening of tentative dialogue, on the proviso (and I stress this proviso most strongly) that it renounces violence as an instrument of policy, with the African National Congress. It is difficult to establish just how great the support for the ANC is among the blacks in SA, but I venture to suggest that it is very, very substantial…

There is an historical inevitability about talking to the ANC – it is not a question of if, but rather when.[12]

What Bloom’s ‘proviso’ in reality means is that the ANC must openly renounce the revolutionary overthrow of the state and agree to knuckle down under a system in which the capitalist class retains the monopoly of power defended by the present state monopoly of armed force.

This no black leadership could possibly accept without immediately appearing as sell-outs before the people. It is noteworthy that Botha’s manoeuvre in offering to release Mandela was made conditional on a similar ‘renunciation of violence’. Quite correctly, Mandela rejected it decisively.

It is not ‘violence’ which is at stake, in reality, but power. No ruling class surrenders its historical position of power without a fight. The ANC leadership cannot yield to the bourgeoisie’s claims without losing its own mass base of support and rendering itself impotent.

Because a transfer of power to the black majority cannot take place without the revolutionary overthrow of the state in SA, it will be impossible for talks to succeed. That will remain the case even if the ANC leadership, on the one hand, and the SA regime on the other, wished to achieve a negotiated settlement with each other. Quite probably Botha himself – even while he puts the UDF leaders on trial for treason – dreams of reaching such a settlement eventually!

It is impossible because the constituencies, the respective class bases, on which the two sides rest are irreconcilable, even temporarily, in South African conditions. However, that does not mean that talks at some future stage will not take place. The question of ‘talks’, the ‘urgency of talks’, the ‘imperative need for talks’, will hang like a ghostly light over all the successive phases, turns and zig-zags in the developing situation of civil war. Receding at times from sight, it will again and again reassert its presence.

The more the revolution clutches at the throat of the ruling class, the more desperate will they become to find a negotiated way out. But all the attempts will break down under the objective impossibility of reconciling even temporarily the real material class conflicts and racial antagonisms in this way.

It could not be ruled-out, at some future juncture, that right-wing elements will split off from the ANC in search of a compromise. Opportunities for negotiation may open-up also during the inevitable periods of lull, despair, and even severe partial defeats which will be suffered by the mass movement during the long struggle ahead.

At some stage, even semi-official and perhaps official talks directly between the regime and ANC leaders could not be ruled-out. But agreement could not be arrived at, or be made to stick.

Why not like Zimbabwe?

There is a prevalent myth in South Africa, which has a hold also within the workers’ movement, that this country can go the route of Zimbabwe – that there can be a negotiated settlement on the lines of Lancaster House.

But the objective conditions that made that possible in Zimbabwe are not present in South Africa; on the contrary SA conditions rule it out.

The vast majority of Zimbabwe’s population are peasants, scattered over the country, and not urban working class. Moreover, the independence war was fought as a rural guerrilla war, based on the peasantry. For this reason (and others which we have dealt with elsewhere – see, e.g., South Africa’s Impending Socialist Revolution), the proletariat remained passive during the decisive stages of the struggle leading up to independence. In the revolution so far it has played no role.

On the other hand, the Rhodesian state rested on a weak foundation of a white minority making up only one in twenty of the total population. Financially and industrially weak, it was crucially dependent upon South African backing, and the latter depended in turn upon the secret support of the imperialist powers (particularly the USA during the war itself) to sustain the Smith regime.

It was when Kissinger went to Vorster and together they threatened to pull the rug out from under Smith that he was compelled to give way to the Muzorewa government – a nominally ‘elected’, nominally ‘black’ government but on the basis of the old state remaining essentially intact.

The guerrilla war continued to the point where the state was stretched almost to the limit. Whites began to leave in significant numbers. South Africa would either have had to commit troops directly to the war, or accept the ultimate collapse of the Rhodesian state after perhaps another five or ten more years of attrition.

These were the main factors which provided the basis for the Lancaster House agreement.

Only by a Whisker

Even so, that agreement was achieved only by a whisker. The initiative, let us recall, was by that stage in the hands of South African and British imperialism (supported by the USA). Smith and Muzorewa, lacking real independent power, were forced to play along.

Even without a mass movement of the working class, the capitalists were afraid to concede majority rule and the transition of power into the hands of the Patriotic Front (Zanu and Zapu) because of the weak social base of capitalism in Zimbabwe. They feared that a mass movement could easily break out and, finding support among the guerrilla fighters, compel the nationalist leaders to carry through the overthrow of capitalism.

However the assurances of Mugabe and Nkomo that they would, if they won the independence election, maintain capitalism as the basis of the economy and state, eventually satisfied them. The main “assurance” in this respect, however, consisted in confining the guerrillas to ‘assembly points’ preparatory to disarming them. Thus the existing capitalist state apparatus could remain basically intact, at least as the skeleton for the post-independence state.

But had there been a revolutionary mass movement of the working class, it would have been absolutely ruled-out for the imperialists and capitalists to make this concession. On the other hand, had the guerrilla war continued to the end and resulted in the collapse of the Rhodesian state, Zimbabwe would have ended up in the same way as Mozambique and Angola – with capitalist property expropriated. This prospect, with all its likely repercussions internationally, was the main inducement to the bourgeois to settle.

So slender was their ‘success’ however that, if Mugabe had merely raised his little finger – had merely called, after his election victory, upon the workers and peasants to seize the factories and land, and defend the revolution arms in hand – capitalism would have been finished in Zimbabwe. Only an invasion by South Africa – a very risky venture – could have possibly rescued it, and then only temporarily.

Moreover, as transpired later, officers of the Rhodesian army, headed by General Walls, were conspiring before the elections to take power by means of a coup. Had they done so, it would have compelled a revolutionary response from the black nationalist leaders and probably led to the overthrow of capitalism.

Thus we can see that even in the conditions of Zimbabwe, the Lancaster House agreement was possible only by virtue of a peculiar conjuncture of circumstances. That conjuncture was in turn only possible because, in Zimbabwe, the proletariat remained passive and allowed the social or class issues at stake in the struggle to be separated, partially and temporarily, from the political issue of ‘majority rule’.

This is what has allowed the establishment of a black government on a capitalist basis. Now, having reconsolidated the capitalist state, the ‘Marxist’ Mugabe finds himself obliged to attack the rights and standards of the working class, preside over a process of counter-reforms, and move towards a viciously repressive one-party dictatorship.

SA Conditions Different

In South Africa the whole situation is and will be completely different. The SA revolution is from beginning to end a proletarian revolution. Every advance in the struggle is achieved through the rising strength and mass action of the black working class. Reformist leaders, anxious to compromise with capitalism, are not a sufficient guarantee to the ruling class that the masses can be held back.

On the other hand, the white minority, making up just less than one-fifth of the population, is a much stronger basis for the state than was the case in Rhodesia. Moreover the SA state is less directly reliant on outside imperialist support.

Although significant numbers of middle class and bourgeois elements will leave South Africa when the struggle really heats up (thus reducing, incidentally, the number of white ‘democrats’ in SA), the majority of working class and lower-middle class whites who provide the fighting forces of the bourgeois state will have nowhere else to go.

So long as the SA bourgeoisie has the weapon of a formidable state power to lean on, it cannot resort to gambling with its own fate. At the same time, for the reasons explained, the forces of white reaction will be strong enough to prevent any concession of real power to the black majority – until the movement of the black majority (the working class movement) is strong enough to take power by force.

No ‘Popular Front’ Government

It is for these reasons that we would go so far as to say that there could never in South Africa be a coalition government between the ANC and the bourgeoisie – though many ANC leaders might earnestly desire it. Put another way, we cannot conceive of conditions which would permit the creation of an ANC government on a bourgeois basis.

Because the capitalist state in SA cannot be transformed into a democratic non-racial state, but will remain a state of white domination and reaction, it follows that there can be no ANC or any other genuinely ‘popular’ government ruling on the basis of this state. An ANC government would first necessitate the dismantling and replacement of this state.

But capitalist reaction centres upon the state. While the whites will be split and thrown into turmoil, and while the state will thereby be weakened to its foundations and tend to disintegrate, it will be the army and white police apparatus which retains cohesion longest.

Because the state is ‘armed bodies of men’ in the final analysis, this means that the SA state will remain fundamentally intact until the armed forces have been defeated or shattered. If that can be achieved, it will mean that the power of the bourgeoisie will have been completely broken; unrestricted power will have passed into the hands of a victorious and armed revolution.

By breaking the main barrier to the democratic transformation of society – the state – the main barrier preventing the overthrow of capitalism would also have been broken.

What would be the situation then? It would depend on the route by which the victory was achieved.

If the struggle in SA is fought out to the end purely as a black-white conflict – as a racial civil war – there is no certainty whatsoever that the blacks would win. The probability is otherwise. The wealth, technology, modern arms and destructive power which the state, capitalists and white minority have at their disposal is a formidable advantage. If the reaction is not defeated politically and these destructive powers rendered unusable, they will be used to the full.

In the event that the blacks, fighting on this basis through a long war of mutual destruction, were able ultimately to defeat the state nonetheless, what would be the situation faced by the leadership? The victory would have been gained at the cost literally of millions of (mainly black) lives, and of laying waste the productive forces – the basis of civilised existence which has been created by the labour of the working class. On a mountain of corpses, on the ashes of industry, an ANC leadership could not then, even if it wished, establish a coalition with the defeated bourgeoisie or maintain capitalism as the basis for a new regime under such circumstances.

Even if, as in Eastern Europe after World War Two, or in China after the victory of the Red Army, a nominal ‘Popular Front’ with the defeated or fleeing capitalist class was put forward, in reality the leadership would rule by means of its own military forces, and would be compelled to move to nationalising the main means of production and distribution, thus snuffing out capitalism.

Leaning on a war-shattered and prostrated proletariat, what would come into existence would be a deformed workers’ state – a regime of proletarian bonapartism on Stalinist lines. That would not be a rosy ‘democracy’ in which all live happily ever after, but a new form of enslavement of the working class under a privileged bureaucratic dictatorship – on ruined productive foundations, but nevertheless on a higher level historically than capitalism and apartheid.

However, let us repeat, the prospect of a ‘victory’ on such lines is very remote indeed.

Victory of Class-conscious Proletariat

Let us consider, on the other hand, the more real prospect: a victory of the revolution under the class-conscious leadership of the black working class, which proves able to split the whites decisively on class lines, ultimately cripple the army, and carry through the defeat of the state by means of an organised and armed mass insurrection.

In that event, a coalition with the bourgeoisie would be absolutely ruled-out. Nor could any leaders of the movement, even if they wished, sustain capitalism in South Africa then.

Power would in reality be in the hands of the black working class; all leaders would in the first instance have to reckon with that – or be pushed aside. The immediate material demands of the working people would demand satisfaction – something possible only through the expropriation of the means of production.

The factories, mines and big farms would already be in the hands of the proletariat, through armed seizures and occupations carried out in the course of overthrowing the state. It would be impossible to displace the armed proletariat from its conquests save by means of armed counter-revolution – but the state, the only possible instrument for such a counter-revolution, would have been destroyed.

Thus all the prerequisites for the revolutionary achievement of national liberation and democracy are at the same time the prerequisites for the overthrow of capitalism.

In fact, however, it will not be possible to defeat the SA state in this way unless the revolutionary working class movement fights on a clear programme for the socialist transformation of society, and with a conscious Marxist leadership.

“The perspectives of our revolutionary struggle must never be blurred,” says the ANC NEC in a statement of 9 May this year. Quite so. But a hopeless blurring of perspectives – a complete failure to appreciate the class issues and real dynamics involved in the South African revolution – is shown in their very next words:

We are determined to destroy the criminal apartheid system, root-and-branch, and on its ruins build a true non-racial democracy. To reach this goal we must attract into the arena of struggle all democratic forces drawn from all racial and class sections of our population. On this principle there can be no compromise.

In a statement of 25 April this year, the ANC NEC wrote:

We call on the white community in whose name racist barbarities are being perpetrated daily against the black majority, to move away from its support of apartheid and to increase the ranks of the growing number of democratic whites who are participating in our liberation struggle.

It would be difficult to compound more confusion and error within a few sentences. In these statements there is not a word about the need to overthrow capitalism; to break the power of the bourgeoisie; to prepare the conquest of power by the black working class; to win over whites on a class basis in order to cripple and eventually smash the state. All the words that are here point in exactly the opposite direction – the direction of complete muddle and wishful delusions.

The apartheid system is treated as a thing-in-itself quite independent of capitalism. It is something that can be destroyed “root-and-branch” – without overthrowing capitalism! “On its ruins” a beautiful “true non-racial democracy” is to be built – without bothering for a moment about the nature of the socio-economic or class foundation on which ‘democracy’ is to be erected!

The “forces” for this revolutionary struggle are to be drawn from all “class sections” of our population – including the bourgeoisie!? We are to have one happy family of “democratic” South Africans of all classes and races, in a liberation struggle which whites will join in a “growing number” (now that they have been “called on” to do so) regardless of the material self-interest they may have in the present system!

On this basis the lion will lie down with the lamb, the capitalist with the worker, the white with the black, and make a new start upon “the ruins”! Compared with this, the miracle of the loaves and fishes was mere child’s play.

This would all be laughable if it wasn’t tragic – tragic that such nonsense is put forward by the leadership of a great and heroic revolutionary movement; tragic that such ideas today can claim the backing of so-called ‘Marxism’ or ‘Communism’.

The approach necessary to win over whites in significant numbers to the side of the revolution in South Africa is a deadly serious matter. It requires a scientific understanding and not ‘democratic’ wishful thinking if it is to be successful.

Realities Must be Faced

The white bourgeois class is fundamentally hostile to genuine democracy, however much its liberal representatives may pretend. Above all, it is hostile to revolution.

As we have shown, too, the political evolution of the vast majority of whites – the workers and lower-middle class – will initially be, not “away from” apartheid, but further to the right. These whites will have to be won to the side of the black masses in the course of a civil war developing inevitably on racial lines at the outset.

Only by grasping all this firmly, and not shrinking from its implications, can we find the key to success.

It is because the mighty struggles opening up in South Africa hold out the prospect of appalling destruction and attrition – it is because they will cast in doubt all security, all privileges, all benefits that the whites have hitherto enjoyed – that the mass of whites will recoil and seek an alternative way out instead of a racial war to the bitter end. But they can do so only if a real alternative is shown.

That alternative does not lie in sugary phrases about ‘democracy’, or in appeals to their moral sense. Nor does it lie in the making of any concession to white privilege, property, power – to so-called ‘group rights’.

There should be the protection, on a basis of majority rule, of the rights of all individuals and of all minority groups to their language, culture, etc., and against discrimination. But an undertaking to protect ‘group rights’, in the sense in which that is put forward today by middle class politicians, journalists and academics, means the protection of special minority privileges. It means, moreover, the maintenance of capitalism.

That is not only an intolerable retreat from the democratic demand for the national liberation of the majority – it will also be completely futile in its intention of ‘winning over’ whites to democracy.

All the verbal ‘guarantees’ would not persuade the capitalists or the whites generally to concede majority rule as long as power remains in their hands. Indeed, the search for compromise with capitalism and with white privilege is precisely what will guarantee their intransigence and lead to the certainty of a bloodbath of racial war.

Vision of Future Society

If the only vision of a future ‘liberated South Africa’ which is presented to the whites is the nightmare that they can see in the African continent to the north – poverty, starvation, one-party military-police dictatorships, corruption, stagnation and decline (examples of the ‘national democracy’ beloved of the Stalinists?) – then the whites will undoubtedly fight to the end for what they have. And, we should make no mistake about it, they have an immense amount for which to fight.

But, on the other hand, if the black working class can show by its enormous physical power and courage, by its democratic organisation and unity, and by the clarity of its revolutionary programme, that it is determined to fight to the end to change society; if it can show, together with the working class internationally, that workers’ power will lay the foundations of a new socialist civilisation, capable of giving a decent life to all, free of the horrors of capitalism – then and then alone will it be possible to win over a significant body of the whites, to break the loyalty of the white troops, to defeat the state power politically so that it can be forcibly overthrown.

A programme of workers’ socialist revolution is the only way to achieve the national liberation of the black people; it is also the only possible way out of the horror of a full-scale racial civil war.

Double Danger

Popular Frontist ideas – ideas of the ‘unity’ of all classes under the banner of ‘democracy’; ideas of subordinating the revolutionary class movement of the black workers and youth to a hoped-for compromise with capitalism – serve as a double danger to our liberation struggle.

While they guarantee the intransigence of the mass of whites against the liberation movement of the blacks, at the same time they prevent the full and conscious mobilisation of black working class power. These two aspects are closely interlinked.

There are millions of oppressed black working class people still to be roused to action if the revolution is to succeed. Yet passivity and backwardness is engendered among the people by the idea that revolution is ‘impossible’ – that the white regime is too powerful to overthrow. Buthelezi, for example, cultivates this paralysing idea when he points out – correctly in the context of a purely black-white struggle – that the whites will “scorch the earth” rather than concede power. Therefore, he argues, don’t fight but negotiate for whatever paltry deal you can get. It is the task of revolutionaries to put forward a clear and convincing answer to this.

It is when the masses as a whole see, by the example of the most advanced among their number marking out the road in action, that the movement has the power, has the policy, has the methods, and has the leadership to divide the whites and then smash the oppressor’s power, that the full flood of the revolution will begin. Thus it is of absolute importance that the activists of the movement arm themselves and then arm their fellow strugglers with a clear, scientific conception of the perspectives and tasks of the revolution, and a coherent strategy for the victory of the working class.

© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2020).

Continue to Chapter Four


[1] Africa South, January-March 1959

[2] Sunday Express, 11 November 1984

[3] Rand Daily Mail, 26 November 1984

[4] 12 May 1985

[5] 10 May 1985

[6] 21 September 1984

[7] All these quotations from Financial Mail, 21 September 1984; our emphasis throughout

[8] 12 February 1985

[9] 28 February 1985

[10] 16 April 1985

[11]  Guardian, 28 November 1984

[12] Article by Bloom in Financial Mail, 16 November 1984