Originally appeared in Inqaba ya Basebenzi No. 18-19 (February 1986)

A broadcast by the ANC’s Radio Freedom has called on workers to “intensify their strike actions by sabotaging machinery, destroying documents, and making sure that commodities coming off assembly lines are useless…”[1]

“By so doing we will force the capitalists to realise that ours is a country at war, and that their profits are in danger,” the broadcast said.

Nimrod Sejake, a founder member of Sactu, secretary of the Transvaal Iron and Steel Workers’ Union and an ANC Treason Trialist in the 1950s, explains why this call by the ANC leadership is wrong and cannot advance the liberation struggle of the working people.

It is dangerous to the revolution, self-defeating and an act of desperation for the ANC leadership in exile to exhort the working class in South Africa to “sabotage industry”. Destruction of machinery is not the working class method of combat against the capitalists who exploit them.

Sabotaging machinery was a method of resistance attempted by workers against their employers in Europe when the workers’ movement was in its infancy and workers lacked a sense of their collective power to take strike action. Machine-breaking (e.g. by the ‘Luddites’ in England) died out well over a century ago because it was ineffective.

Engels explained that such actions were inevitably isolated and, “When the momentary end was attained, the whole weight of social power fell upon the unprotected evil-doers and punished them to its heart’s content…”[2]

In Capital[3] Marx wrote: “Time and experience were needed before the workers could come to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production (machines), but against the particular social form in which these instruments are used” – namely capitalist exploitation itself.

Strike Action

The classic method of such a struggle, developed by the working class, is to combine in large numbers and use their power as the producers of wealth to halt production through strike action.

When workers doing forced labour under fascist regimes in the past have smashed machinery, this was in a situation where their organisations had been destroyed and they could not take collective action.

Does anyone still think that is the situation in South Africa – after more than a decade of successfully rebuilding strong democratic organisations in the factories and townships, and after the launch of Cosatu uniting half a million workers? Does “sabotaging machinery” or “making sure that commodities coming off assembly lines are useless” in any way add to or “intensify” strike action, as the ANC broadcast claimed? The answer is no.

The very moment that strike action is effectively mounted there is an absolute cessation of production. Absolutely nothing is produced through the assembly lines at that point in time and for so long as the condition lasts. How can “commodities” be “coming off assembly lines” when labour is at a standstill?

Sabotaging machinery, rendering commodities “useless” etc., would be a sign of the weakness or ineffectiveness of strike action – of the inability of workers in that place or at that time to unite and use their collective power. Far from “intensifying” strike action, sabotage is the method of individuals or isolated groups who divert attention away from the real task – which is to organise and mobilise the working class to use its full social power in mass actions.

Once that mass power is asserted, once labour is withheld by the workers as in the case of strike action, sabotage of factories only introduces confusion and division into the ranks of the workers because it adds nothing to the strength of the action while threatening the very existence of the workers’ jobs.

If machines are damaged, obviously the employers would be given the excuse of simply calling in the police to arrest the workers nearest to the broken machinery. The workers involved would easily be replaced and production soon continued.

The aim of sabotaging machinery, according to the broadcast, would be to “force the capitalists to realise … that their profits are in danger.” Effective strike action forces the capitalists to realise precisely that. Mass action is what terrifies them. Why should industrial sabotage, which has historically proved ineffective, achieve more than that?

Besides, the point is not to frighten the capitalists but to prepare the working class to take power and end both apartheid and capitalism. Sabotage of machinery etc. does not advance but obstructs that struggle.

The capitalists are rich and own factories because they exploit the working class. They pay the workers less than the value which the workers’ labour produces. Their profits are the unpaid labour of the working class.

When they accumulate capital, investing profits in factories and machinery, they are accumulating value stolen from the working class. This they use to sustain their power and exploit the workers further. The workers’ task is to organise to take power and seize the means of production.

Unfortunately, over the years, the ANC leadership has failed to understand the enormous power of the working class and its tasks in the struggle for national and social liberation in South Africa.

Hence the leadership, backed up by the so-called ‘Communist’ Party, clings with amazing bulldog tenacity to the erroneous two-stage theory of struggle. They believe it will be possible to “achieve national liberation first” while postponing a workers’ revolution and socialism to some unknown future period.

State Power

That is a wrong approach to revolution flowing from ignorance of the science of Marxism. The nature of our struggle in South Africa is unequivocally a class struggle – a struggle that must be led by the working class for the conquest of state power, the elimination of apartheid, the achievement of democracy and national liberation by the black majority, and the overthrow of capitalism.

National liberation will only be won by using the method of class struggle.

Since the dissolution of the primeval communistic (early tribal) society, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. (Marx)

If one advocates the destruction of machinery, that can only amount to a senseless act of vandalism. It is a blow against the working class itself, devastating their property, namely, the means of production: factory plants, machines, etc., which are absolutely necessary for the production of the means of consumption to sustain the people – without which any “liberation” would be meaningless.

They are the very foundation on which a healthy, well-planned socialist economy must be constructed.

The means of production are the workers’ inalienable legitimate property, which they and they alone have created and must retrieve intact. They have been stolen by the capitalist ruling class through exploiting workers. The need therefore arises for a socialist revolution spearheaded by the working class, in the period ahead to recover their property.

The speech delivered on the occasion of the launching of Cosatu by its first President, comrade Elijah Barayi, that “Cosatu will nationalise the mines and even take over some of the big businesses,” has a mighty echo in the ranks of the revolutionary working class of the world, who are flexing their muscles to retrieve their stolen property. Comrade Barayi’s speech is a barometer indicating the unfolding events of the new era of socialist ideas.

The launching of Cosatu is the crossing of the Rubicon. The way forward now is through a clear direction of Marxism, the building of direct links on an ever increasing international scale to overthrow world capitalism and all the evils of apartheid starting with the immoral pass laws.

Forward to Socialism!

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

[1] Quoted in Anti-Apartheid News, September 1985

[2] Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 503

[3] Vol. 1, Ch. XIII