The Marxist Workers Tendency (MWT) was an organised revolutionary Marxist/Trotskyist group that operated inside the ANC. Active both in exile and within South Africa the MWT was an affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) participating with them in the struggle for socialism worldwide. This included fighting for direct links between the international labour movement and South Africa’s emerging independent trade unions that later formed Cosatu. The MWT published the journal Inqaba Ya Basebenzi in exile for circulation underground between 1981 and 1990 and later the newspaper Congress Militant published inside the country.
The MWT oriented toward the ANC because at that stage the mass of the working class looked toward the ANC for unity in the struggle against apartheid. But the MWT explained to the masses that the only way genuine national liberation and economic freedom for the black working class majority could be achieved, including the Freedom Charter’s demands for free education, free healthcare, welfare and workers’ rights, was on the basis of the socialist revolution and the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic working class control.
The MWT raised the slogan “For a mass ANC on a socialist programme” with no illusions that the ANC was a working class organisation or that the pro-capitalist ANC leadership would ever commit to a socialist programme. The MWT worked for the independent organisation of the working class within the ANC and openly criticised the leadership. This principled approach stood in stark contrast to the South African Communist Party (SACP) who worked to dress-up the ANC leadership’s pro-capitalist outlook with revolutionary rhetoric, just as they continue to do today. The MWT earned the hatred of the ANC leadership resulting in four of its leading members’ suspension in1979 and expulsion from the ANC without a hearing in 1985.
In 1996 the MWT left the ANC with its adoption in government of the neo-liberal Growth Employment and Redistribution policy (GEAR). This followed quickly on the 1994 negotiated settlement that agreed to maintain the capitalist economic foundations of apartheid which could only result in continued inequality and poverty for the majority. It was clear that the working class would increasingly come into conflict with an ANC whose leadership embraced the maintenance of capitalism and who worked to demobilise the mass movement that had forced the end of apartheid by roping Cosatu into the Tripartite Alliance with the SACP.
Developments toward independent working class organisation would increasingly take place outside of the ANC in direct opposition to it. In recognition of this changed situation, in 1996, the MWT, after briefly reconstituting itself outside the ANC as Socialist Alternative, became the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). At the end of 2012 the DSM founded the Workers and Socialist Party alongside the mineworkers’ strike committees that emerged during the historic 2012 mineworkers’ strikes. In 2015 the DSM led the reorganisation of WASP as a revolutionary party and its affiliation to the CWI. Today, following the 2019 split in the CWI and WASP, the Marxist Workers Party is the inheritor of the MWT.
We are re-issuing key documents from our MWT history to help arm those coming to our ideas for the first time, especially the new generation who have grown up since 1994. Studying and understanding the development of our perspectives and tactics over the past 35 years is vital work to absorb the genuine method of Marxism which remains our most vital tool in the struggle to build a mass revolutionary party to lead the struggle for a socialist society.
Forward to Freedom
– United Under Workers Leadership
Editorial from Inqaba Ya Basebenzi, No. 1 (January 1981)
A storm of struggles has engulfed South Africa, much bigger and more widespread than anything yet seen. The workers’ head-on collision with the bosses of industry had already sent 50,000 workers on strike in the first three months of 1980. In the months that followed new struggles have erupted. In Durban, Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage, Cape Town, Secunda, Johannesburg, and elsewhere, the townships have been drawn into a whirlwind of battles against increased bus fares, rents, passes, etc.
The black youth who had joined the fighting ranks of their worker parents already during the epic struggles of 1976 have deepened their involvement in the present period. The 1980 youth movement, like the 1976 movement, fuels up the workers’ movement with selfless leadership. The road upon which the youth have entered is the correct road. Only when workers’ rule is established can education serving the interests of a parasitic minority, the bosses, be brought to an end and education put into the service of the producing majority, the workers.
The forward surge of the workers’ movement has drawn elements of the black middle class into the struggle through the community organisations. While some of these elements may lapse back into their old ways as the current struggles temporarily recede, only workers’ victory can end the second class status of the black middle class. No longer then will they need to return to the humiliating routine imposed by the present system, of following the approved leaders of ‘moderation and restraint’.
The pressure of the workers’ movement has flushed out of their false comfort some who have persisted in the incorrect policy of trying to ‘fight within the system’. Pressed by the forward rush of the mass movement (for which they vainly try to substitute caricatures) they are having to protect their policy by first defending the system itself.
This has been the sad fate of Gatsha who has been forced by the logic of his false position to defend ‘law and order’ (i.e. the system) and has called openly for the training of Inkatha impis for use against the youth movement in Kwazulu.
Others are getting stricken by an inability to decide which to support, the Oppenheimers or the workers’ movement – because it is becoming increasingly difficult to support both at the same time. The growing mass movement draws more and more ground from under the feet of vacillators, threatening to precipitate them into the camp of the enemy.
Even the fort of the white trade unions has not escaped the sweeping pressure of the movement of the black workers. Under the pressure from below, splits have begun to open up in this one time stable bastion of collaboration.
The white unions will split time and again as the black workers’ struggles pound their defences round after round in the coming period, exposing the bankruptcy of each false position the white workers take in their futile effort to defend their diminishing privilege. In the end they must go down with the ruling class or come to terms with the mass movement.
As always the ruling class refuses to identify its system as the real cause of all the misery and suffering of the oppressed. It answers the struggles of the oppressed with large scale detention of workers’ leaders in its chambers of torture. But the workers’ movement responds unfailingly with a prolific regeneration of fresh leaders.
The South African capitalist class who draw and can only draw their profits from cheap labour can have no intention of surrendering their profits just in order to assure a living wage for the black worker and his family.
This is their position even during periods of boom. Now that the world economic recession is posing a new threat to their profits, the bosses will be even less inclined to tinker with moral considerations. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the world our bosses will try to take back any gains that previous struggles of the workers may have won.
The bosses, of course, always have to hide their real schemes behind a smokescreen of impending ‘reforms’, ‘changes of heart’, ‘magnanimous concessions’ and other acts or promises of human kindness. Whenever they get compelled to give with the left hand the bosses take good care to take back much more with the right at the earliest opportunity. In the end the position of the workers only deteriorates still further.
It is this decline of the workers’ economic position for which the bosses have no remedy that drove the workers back on the road of struggle after the battles of 1973 and 1976 had died down – pushing into the battle arena of the 1980 movement far more numerous regiments than ever before.
This crisis, completely insoluble by any variant of the system of private profit, will drive the workers back on the road of struggle again and again in the coming period, drawing more and more sections of the oppressed people into the ambit of the workers’ movement.
As the workers return repeatedly into the battle-field they are compelled to develop more and more their organisations of combat. The process is already underway. Unregistered trade unions, strike action committees, community organisations: these are all products of the past and present period of struggle.
As the workers’ organisations of struggle develop their combativity they will increasingly take on the character of future organs of rule. No other force exists except the working class that can rule the new society when the present social order is overthrown. For this task the unfolding struggles will prepare the workers and their organisations.
Whatever the final outcome of the struggles that have started one thing is clear already. It is now impossible to assist the liberation movement to go forward while trying to prevent the working class from preparing to succeed the present ruling class. Those who do not actively support the struggle for workers’ rule will put themselves in conflict with the liberation struggle.
It is imperative that all comrades, whatever their present affiliations, carefully examine their position in the light of the new situation that has been created by the struggles of the present period. The urgent task which faces all comrades and indeed all organisations is to prepare the working class to take over from the present ruling class.
This task, thrust upon us all by the movement of the masses itself, puts all genuine strugglers at once in one camp. Differences of organisation, inherited from the past period, will linger for a while but must be overcome.
As the mass movement surges forward and subsides, only to rise again more furious and fierce, the workers and youth are discovering in action their unanimous determination to rise against the system that oppresses them.
The current struggles serve the workers also as a means of taking count of the forces that are ready for battle. As the count gets fuller, the workers and the youth will feel the need more and more for a nation-wide political organisation through which they can channel their will to fight to the finish.
As the regiments of the workers’ movement move separately into battle each develops its own leadership. It is through the vision of these leaders that the workers’ movement views problems and formulates solutions. The problem of finding a political organisation that can unite the movement as a whole is already engaging the minds of many involved in the struggle. There is no alternative in front of their leaders – many drawn from the post-Soweto youth – except the ANC.
The coming period will see the ANC transformed into a mass organisation of workers and youth. All comrades should be clear that once the workers’ movement reaches the stage of moving into the ANC, no-one will be able to avoid assisting the process because failure to do so will make them obstacles to liberation.
The ANC like all other organisations faces immediately the task of bringing its policies into line with the work of preparing the working class for rule. The method, perspectives and programme of Marxism, developed by the working class movement internationally, over many generations of struggle, will provide the indispensable guidelines for carrying this task into practice.
In particular it will be important to integrate the youth of Umkhonto we Sizwe into the workers’ movement, so that on that training ground they can receive the education which will develop them into cadres of the workers’ movement. When the mass movement reaches the final stage of armed insurrection their military skills will prove a great asset to the revolution.
This is the line of march of the present period. INQABA urges all genuine strugglers for national and social liberation to join it in waging the crucial fight for Marxist policies in the ANC in the present and coming period. We will do our utmost to build up the ANC as a mass revolutionary organisation of the working class that can show the way forward to the socialist revolution.
All those militants both inside and outside the ANC who agree with us will join us in this effort. Once that happens there will be only one road before us all and that will lead – FORWARD TO FREEDOM.