Originally published in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No.23 (April 1987)

by Richard Monroe

Many youth and workers look to the SACP to put forward in the ANC the standpoint of the working class for workers’ power and socialism. In our struggle to overthrow the SA apartheid state and end capitalism, many also count on full support from the ruling Communist Party in the Soviet Union, the ‘biggest socialist country’.

The capture of power by the working class in Russia in 1917 was the greatest event in human history and remains an inspiration for workers in struggle everywhere. The Soviet Union was the first workers’ state.

The Bolshevik Party which led the Russian working class to power always based itself on the internationalist perspective, method and programme of Marxism – of the common struggle of workers around the world against capitalism. After the 1917 revolution, it encouraged the formation of the Third (Communist) International, linking together mass workers’ parties in different countries, to take forward workers’ revolution everywhere.

Capitalism, they understood, is a system connected together worldwide. To achieve socialism and pave the way to communism – a classless society – the working class in each country needs to establish its own democratic rule and take control or the monopolies which rule the world economy.

The 1921 programme of the Young Communist League in the Soviet Union declared:

In the USSR state power is already in the hands of the working class, In the course of three years of heroic struggle against world capitalism, the proletariat has maintained and strengthened its Soviet government. Russia, though it possesses enormous natural resources, is, nevertheless, from an industrial point of view, a backward country, in which a petty bourgeois population predominates. It can arrive at socialism only through the world proletarian revolution, which epoch of development we have now entered.

Hundreds-of-thousands of youth and workers in our country are striving to build a mass ANC on a socialist programme – to carry through a workers’ revolution opening the way to socialism. But what policies does Gorbachev’s Russian Communist Party propose today for taking our movement forward?

Last year – as reported in the Weekly Mail[1] – Gleb Starushenko, of the USSR Academy of Sciences, made some suggestions for the ANCs programme in a paper to a Soviet-Africa conference.

Those workers and youth who read the Weekly Mail will have been surprised that Starushenko argues that the ANC should “not advance plans for a broad nationalisation of capitalist property” and should be “willing to give the bourgeoisie the corresponding guarantee”.

It is because capitalism was replaced after 1917 in Russia by a nationalised and planned economy, that the masses in the Soviet Union have made huge advances in seventy years from conditions of poverty and backwardness comparable with India. On this basis, Russia has become an industrial power second only to the United States.

Nationalisation

Yet Starushenko proposes that the ANC should abandon the demand of the Freedom Charter for nationalisation of the big mines, factories, and farms! In place of the Bolshevik programme for workers’ revolution, he puts forward: that the ANC leadership should guarantee to the capitalist enemy that their property will not be nationalised!

How does Starushenko justify this compromise with the capitalists? It is, he says, because the “white bourgeoisie are not tied to the ‘chariot of apartheid’ and appears to be inclined to enter into negotiations with the ANC”.

Does Starushenko then believe that, by offering these ‘guarantees’ to the bosses against nationalisation, they will in turn concede our demands for democratic rule in SA?

If the bosses are today ‘inclined’ to recognise the ANC and hold talks with our leadership, it is not because they have been converted to accept our demands for majority rule and a decent life. It is because they have seen, in the upsurge of 1984-86, the spectre of the revolution that is coming – of an unstoppable movement of the working class determined to achieve workers’ power, democracy and socialism.

Their system of capitalism is in crisis. It cannot afford to end poverty wages, or to provide jobs, homes and decent education for all. Because of this, every one of the bosses is terrified of the prospect of a democratic government committed to fulfilling the needs of the majority. They want to try to trap the ANC leaders into futile plans for compromising our programme.

Bosses’ Hostility

What then, is the point of offering them paper ‘guarantees’? Even were the ANC leadership to do so, how could this tame the bosses’ hostility to our demands? How could it make them better able to concede higher wages provide jobs, or live with majority rule?

Against our struggle for democracy and a decent life, the bosses depend utterly on the apartheid state machine. This is the only real guarantee for their property – and they know this full well. The ‘guarantee’ they want from the ANC leadership is to hold back workers and youth from seeing the need to overthrow by revolution this state, and capitalism with it.

The apartheid state depends on the political privilege of the white minority. All the schemes for political ‘reform’ and ‘negotiated solutions’ put forward by Botha’s government or the ‘liberal’ bosses, seek to preserve capitalist power by preserving its basis in white privilege.

To achieve democracy, and open the way to socialism, what is required is policies which will split the whites on class lines, and undermine the state.

But what does Starushenko propose instead? The ANC “might work out comprehensive guarantees for the white population which could be implemented after the elimination of the regime of apartheid.” This is necessary, he says, because “the white middle and lower strata of the white community facing the possibility of losing their privileges tend to support the more reactionary parties, more rightist than even the ruling National Party.”

To reassure such whites, the guarantees that Starushenko proposes are for a two-chamber parliament – in which the second chamber operates on the basis of “equal representation of the four communities” and has “the right of minority veto”. ‘Equal representation’ of the African majority and the white minority, in other words – with a veto for the white minority.

For the black majority in SA liberation from national oppression means not constitutional tinkering, not ‘power-sharing’, not fancy federal schemes, but majority rule – one-person-one-vote in an undivided South Africa.

Yet – in the name of reassuring the white minority – Starushenko suggests that our movement accept a constitution barely distinguishable from the Natal Indaba plans cobbled together by the NRP, PFP, Buthelezi and their cronies to try to entrench capitalist power!

Nor would such guarantees reassure whites turning towards reaction. Already, in the constitutional tinkering that is taking place, whites sense that parliament is becoming more and more a rubber-stamp for executive dictatorship. If insecure and anxious white workers were led to believe that the ANC and the big capitalists were conspiring together this, it would only drive them further under the influence of reactionary ultra-right demagogues. Our movement should make not the slightest concession to white privilege. But, to the white workers and middle class, we can guarantee a future secure from the ravages of capitalism and racial division – if they join with us in struggle for workers democracy and socialism. Nothing short of this will ever win whites in significant numbers away from reaction, and serve to undermine the state.

Chasm

Starushenko’s proposals compromise not merely the socialist, but democratic aims of our revolution. But they are, unfortunately, not those of an eccentric Soviet academic. They are consistent with the whole foreign policy of the Soviet leadership. They are a small reflection of the chasm that separates the internationalist programme of Bolshevism from the policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy that now rules in Russia.

Internationalism is inseparable from socialism. But the Soviet Union is not a ‘socialist country’. Genuine socialism cannot be built unless the working people themselves directly and democratically run and control the state and the economy.

In the Soviet Union in the 1920s this power was stolen from the working class by a bureaucratic elite headed by Stalin. Over time this bureaucracy has consciously abandoned and turned its back on the programme of Bolshevism – to protect its own power and privilege.

The basis of the Soviet economy has continued to be state ownership and planning. But all elements of workers’ democracy have been ruthlessly destroyed. Gorbachev and the ‘tops’ of the bureaucracy live off the labour of the workers at the standards of capitalists in the West – in a different world from workers in Russia or anywhere else.

More and more, bureaucratic rule has put a brake on growth. Without democratic checks and controls, waste and corruption multiply like huge cancers, devouring what should be reinvested or consumed by the masses.

The Soviet working class, now the strongest and most cultured in the world, is increasingly discontented. What the parasitic Russian bureaucracy fears above all else is that this working class will rise up, overthrow it and re-establish workers’ democratic rule. This is what the working class was trying to do in Poland in 1980-81.

Gorbachev and his supporters in the bureaucracy are far-sighted enough to see the need to do something. But his reforms can only temporarily alleviate the situation. The one solution is the only thing the bureaucracy cannot do – give up its privilege and get off the backs of the workers.

Because of the example that it would provide at home, the bureaucracy is terrified of workers’ revolution anywhere in the world. This is what underlies the foreign policy of the Russian bureaucracy everywhere.

In this they have a common interest with the capitalists in the West. This is what explains Starushenko’s incredible proposals.

Planned Economy

Russia’s state-owned and planned economy remains in fundamental conflict with Western capitalism. Thus the imperialist powers hate and denounce Russia – and Botha tries to prove to them that the SACP is a ‘tool of the Kremlin’ trying to destroy ‘free enterprise’ in SA.

But the Russian bureaucracy has no such intention. More and more, as growth slows down, their interest lies in achieving ‘peaceful co-existence’, ‘détente’ and so on, with the big imperialist powers. They hope through such agreements to be able to import technology, cut arms spending, etc. – and thus quicken economic growth, trying to delay their overthrow by the Russian working class.

This is why they encourage our movement to compromise with the capitalist enemy. They make this clear to representatives of imperialism themselves.

Thus – as reported in the Guardian, Botswana[2] – Dr Winrich Kuhne, a West German ‘expert’ on Soviet Africa policy, recently visited Russia. Before his visit, he “shared a Western belief that SA must be the greatest Soviet hope for socialism in Africa because of its degree of industrialisation.” He returned reassured.

“What they are hoping for” in SA, he said, “is some sort of socialist orientation with a mixed economy”.

A ‘mixed economy’ is the term that reformist ‘socialists’ in the West use to describe an economy with some state participation, but which remains dominated by capitalism – an economy, as Starushenko puts it, where the capitalists are ‘guaranteed’ their property. With such an economy ‘socialist orientation’ of the government amounts to nothing more than words to try to lull the masses.

“I was surprised”, continues Kuhne, “to find out how much understanding they had for white minority rights… If the West starts an initiative to bring black and white to the negotiating table the Soviets will insist that the ANC is given an important role. But the people I spoke to concede that Inkatha should be included too.”

These views Kuhne found to be held, “not just among academics” (like Starushenko) “but in the international department or the central committee and other decision-making bodies.”

“Apart from economic factors, the Soviets are wary of pinning hope on South African socialism because they feel the black opposition is too spontaneous and unorganised… They are suspicious of the young comrades in, the township” says Kuhne. “They do not want the situation to get too much cut of control. This is because it would make it more difficult to talk to the US on global relations.”

Wanting deals with imperialism and with SA capitalists – while suspicious of the heroic township youth! The counter-revolutionary murderer Buthelezi welcomed to negotiate on SA’s future – together with fears that the struggles of the masses might get ‘out of control’!

The Soviet bureaucracy follows these reactionary policies because they base themselves, not on workers’ revolution internationally, but on the protection of their own narrow national interests and privileges.

Kuhne’s article, reprinted in the Botswana Guardian, was widely distributed by a British news agency. His interpretations and conclusions are very damaging to the reputation of the Soviet leadership. But has the Soviet Embassy in Botswana or anywhere else denounced them as false? Have they anywhere repudiated the proposals put forward by Starushenko?

Anti-revolutionary

Capitalists like Kuhne feel reassured by the anti-revolutionary attitudes of the Soviet bureaucracy. But they will not be able to save capitalism in South Africa. In reality, it is completely utopian for imperialism, or for the Soviet bureaucracy, to believe that the mighty clash of classes in SA can be solved by deals at a negotiating table.

It is impossible for the mass of workers and youth in struggle to ‘guarantee’ capitalist property – because crisis-ridden capitalism cannot guarantee to provide our needs. Yet, unless the ranks of the whites are offered by our movement the alternative of a socialist future, they will inevitably become the tools of the most vicious racist reaction.

The real choices before SA are the nightmare of a racial civil war, or a workers’ revolution.

If the Soviet bureaucracy, rather than supporting our workers’ revolution, stands for futile deals with the capitalist class, this will only strengthen our determination to build the ANC as a mass organisation, controlled by the working class, with a programme for ending capitalism and achieving workers’ rule.

We must demand that the leadership of the SACP sever completely their ties to the Soviet bureaucracy, and join this struggle for the transformation of the ANC, if they are to serve the interests of the working class.

Our movement’s only reliable allies are the working class and rural poor in the Third World; the working class in the advanced capitalist countries struggling against capitalism; and the working class in the Stalinist states struggling against bureaucratic rule.

Together with them we will resurrect the programme of Bolshevism and achieve the international socialist revolution.

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

Continue to Part Two


[1] 9-15 January 1987

[2] 19 December 1986