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)