Originally published in Inqaba Ya Basebenzi No.24/25 (October 1987)

by Gavin Jantjies

In the last issue of Inqaba we criticised proposals put forward by Gleb Starushenko, a Soviet ‘expert’ on Southern Africa.

He said 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”. Also that, to sooth white anxieties, the ANC should accept a constitutional settlement on the basis of a “two-chamber parliament”, in which the white minority would essentially have a veto![1]

These proposals would throw away not just the socialist tasks of our struggle: they would fatally compromise the democratic demands of the black majority as well. Nevertheless, we explained, they are consistent with the whole policy of the Soviet bureaucracy, which fears working class revolution not only in SA but throughout the world.

Since then Starushenko has amplified his views. In an interview with the West German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung[2] he said he “would like to see a pink and not a red South Africa”; that “negotiations for a settlement in South Africa should be broadly based, and that Inkatha leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and other homeland leaders should not be written out of them.”

Charming. As well as the white veto, vigilante-in-chief Gatsha and the other Bantustan puppets should be regarded as among the “democratic” representatives of the people. If workers and youth were asked to guess where such statements come from, most would answer: ‘from the bosses or from Botha!’

Embarrassed by the initial press revelations of Starushenko’s openly reactionary proposals, the SA Communist Party hurried to the Moscow bureaucracy’s defence. In the African Communist (2nd Quarter, 1987), they referred to the Soviet academic having made “a few controversial points” about guarantees to the whites, and declared:

Starushenko does not represent or claim to represent the views of the CPSU or of the Soviet government. Like other academics in the West he is entitled to express his views, on the developing revolutionary process in our country…

From our experience we know that the Soviet Union and the countries of the socialist [?] community are our most consistent allies… Those who seek to undermine the life-giving alliance between our revolutionary movements and the Soviet Union will no doubt continue to indulge in mischief making, mud-raking, lies and distortions” such as the claim that Starushenko’s ideas reflected official Soviet positions.

A convincing reply? Well, wait a moment comrades.

Not Permitted

One just has to be a genuine socialist or even an honest democrat – not at all an admirer of ‘the West’ – to recognise that freedom of opinion and expression is not permitted by the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, or its official academies, except within narrow limits tolerable to the reigning bureaucracy.

What is more, if we look a little closer, it turns out that Starushenko is not some eccentric professor, but one of the five deputy directors of the Institute of African Studies of the Academy of Science – a pillar of the bureaucracy and guardian of orthodoxy!

But, be that as it may. Let’s concede that, on this occasion, the luckless Starushenko over-stepped somewhat the bounds of official policy. Does that justify the wounded indignation of the SACP?

Unhappily for them, and for their rosy effusions about the “life-giving” alliance with the Soviet regime, comrade Starushenko was soon to be replaced in the attention of the media by a weightier figure: that of comrade Goncharov. Nominally of the same rank as Starushenko, Goncharov made it clear he spoke for “the Soviet Union”.[3]

While dismissing Starushenko’s ‘two-chamber’ and ‘white veto’ ideas as “personal”, Goncharov raised no objection to his other proposals. In fact Goncharov went on to reveal even more completely how anti-revolutionary the policy of the Soviet bureaucracy really is.

The Soviet Union “is not interested in the undermining of world economic relations” (that is to say, the undermining of world capitalism), he said.

In approaching the question of the national liberation struggle in SA, the Soviet ‘Union “does not seek to infringe upon somebody’s legitimate [!] interests, including the interests of the Western countries in the region.” As far as the Soviet bureaucracy is concerned, imperialism can continue to hold sway over the lives of the Southern African peoples!

“When I say that we are not going to infringe on somebody’s interests and that we are not going to interrupt international trade and economic relations, we are pursuing our own interests also” – the interests of the bureaucracy being to maintain its own rule over the working class, while trying to reach a stable accommodation, economically and diplomatically with the imperialist powers of the West.

This is exactly what Inqaba has all along explained: that the conservative national self-interest of the Soviet bureaucracy, which also governs all those linked to it, is threatened by revolution, above all by workers’ revolution, in the West.

Because the democratic power achieved by the working class in the Russian Revolution in 1917 was usurped and eliminated by a bureaucratic caste, the internationalist traditions on which the Soviet Union was founded have been trampled underfoot. The bureaucracy is not a revolutionary force in the world, as imperialist propaganda continues to insist, but has become a powerful factor for frustrating revolution where it can.

Starushenko and Goncharov, like the rest of the bureaucracy, are parasites on the nationalised and planned economy of the Soviet Union and the other deformed workers’ states where capitalism has been overthrown. The ‘Communist’ Parties linked to them no longer stand for workers’ revolution, but for the preservation of bureaucratic rule and compromise agreements with the capitalists.

Bureaucratic Regimes

What the SACP misleadingly describes as a “socialist community” is not socialist but a collection of bureaucratic regimes. Genuine socialism would require workers’ democracy, fundamental equality, and a withering away of class divisions and of the state.

That is not happening in those countries, but will require a political revolution by the working class to bring about.

Imperialism – world capitalism – forged the chains of exploitation and oppression tying-down the black working class of-South Africa. The imperialist powers help sustain the SA state; their support of ‘reforms’ to apartheid is subordinated to the need to keep power in capitalist hands.

For liberation we have to smash the racist state in SA, break the power of the capitalists, and free our country and the region from the domination of imperialism. To declare – as Goncharov does – imperialist interests “legitimate”, to stand for not “infringing” upon them, means quite simply to abandon the struggle of black workers and youth to destroy the chains which bind them.

How will the African Communist answer that?

Goncharov also says that the Soviet Union would like to see more “flexibility”, more “objectivity” and less use of ‘dogmatic formulations’ by the ANC. What does he mean by this?

He has been disturbed, he says, at attempts by some ANC members to “put before the national liberation movement now the tasks of the socialist revolution… …firstly it is necessary to settle the problems of the liberation struggle, and then to come to the next stage of the social revolution in South Africa”.

“Liberation” – but without a revolution to disturb imperialism and the capitalist system!? Then a “next stage” of the social revolution. How, and when precisely?

National liberation, Goncharov believes, may come in “not less than ten years… South Africa will become socialist, maybe not in twenty-five years but in a century… I am an optimist.”

The abolition of capitalism postponed for a century! This perspective will astound those workers and youth in South Africa who, through the experience of years of bitter and costly struggle have drawn the conclusion that the struggle for national liberation is inseparable from the struggle to end, capitalism, and  who do not intend to wait a century, or even twenty-five years, for that.

The apartheid dictatorship defends the bosses; to achieve national liberation it must be overthrown by working class revolution. Against this, Goncharov ‘warns’ that if the ANC were to put forward “the ideas and principles of the socialist revolution before the settlement of the problems of national liberation, they will lose their allies in the population.”

Which allies? Goncharov does not mean the worker next door, but ‘liberal bosses’ like Oppenheimer, Ackerman, and Bloom. These people are not our allies but our irreconcilable enemies. They have already declared their hostility to majority rule; and they will not surrender their state.

Does Goncharov, like Starushenko, want to offer them ‘guarantees’ of their property also? This will not appease them. To suggest these people are our “allies” is to consciously disarm our movement and make it vulnerable to future attacks.

The SACP proclaims the Soviet bureaucracy as the highest fount of revolutionary wisdom. What is their response to such statements?

And what about the fact, revealed by Starushenko, that Soviet officials have had ‘friendly discussions’ with the murderer Gatsha Buthelezi in Washington?[4]

The conservatism of the Soviet bureaucracy finds additional confirmation from a surprising source. Dr. Philip Nel, an academic from Stellenbosch University, visited Moscow in August. He met members of the Communist Party Central Committee and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Spokesmen of the SA ruling class usually attempt to terrify blacks and whites with ideas of the ‘red scare’, the ‘total onslaught’ and the ‘Kremlin conspiracy for world conquest’. But what Nel reports he heard were views essentially the same as those of Starushenko and Goncharov.

For example he says that those he met “were concerned that overhasty nationalisation in South Africa could ruin the economy.”[5]

The big capitalists like Gavin Relly, who have been telling the ANC leaders the same thing, will be pleased at this: no matter that it is their diseased capitalist system that is ruining the lives of millions.

The Soviet leaders, continues Nel, have “realised [!] that the white group would not be brought down by violence but that there would have to be [!] a negotiated settlement.” This position is absolutely false and defeatist.

Firstly, as to “violence”: If by this they mean the strategy of guerrilla struggle pursued by the ANC/SACP leadership since the 1960s (with the bureaucracy’s support), then Inqaba has consistently argued that it would prove impotent and actually counter-productive. Are they now conceding that?

But if they mean that an organised and armed movement of the great mass of the working class can never succeed in taking power in South Africa by insurrection, then workers and youth in their hundreds-of-thousands should and will repudiate this pessimism. It only confirms the opposition of the bureaucracy to workers’ revolution, and shows that, to arm the mass movement, we cannot depend on the Soviet bureaucracy for support.

Secondly, as to “negotiated settlement”: The whole experience of our movement teaches that the ruling class, the apartheid regime, and the monstrous armed state machine on which they rest, will not concede majority rule through negotiations. They must be overthrown, and those who spread illusions in “negotiated settlement” weaken and disarm the mass movement politically.

It is one thing to accept material aid where we can get it. It is another thing entirely to become politically obligated or dependent.

The leadership of the ANC should end any dependence upon the Soviet bureaucracy. Although the bureaucracy is different from the capitalist powers, and has no interest in dominating or exploiting South Africa, nevertheless it is interested, for its own protection, in frustrating the revolution here.

Our movement must be independent as much from the bureaucracies in the East as from the imperialist powers in the West. Alliance with them is not at all “life-giving”, but the exact opposite.

To strengthen our movement we must look to the working class, in the West and in the East, and the working class and rural poor in the Third World, as our only real allies.

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

Continue to Part Four


[1] Weekly Mail, 9-15 January 1987

[2] Reported in the Cape Times, 31 August 1987

[3] See articles by Howard Barrell , Weekly Mail 12-18 June 1987 and Work in Progress No. 48, July 1987

[4] Cape Times, 31 August 1987

[5] Cape Argus, 4 September 1987