In recent months the Marxist Workers Party has taken part in a series of discussions with activists from eSwatini. The comrades are at the forefront of the struggle against the Mswati-dictatorship which erupted in a fresh wave of protests in the course of last year (see here). We have welcomed the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the situation on the ground these engagements have afforded us. We also hope that the analysis and experiences of the MWP and the CWI that we have shared with comrades has contributed towards clarifying some of the issues confronting the emaSwati movement.
The Southern African region has been fused together as a single capitalist economic unit. The relations between the ruling classes of the region, as they are everywhere under capitalism, are characterised by inequality and relations of dominance and subordination. The South African ruling class especially, based on its economic domination of the region, has established itself as a regional imperialism. Despite the ‘democratic’ face-lift given to relations with its neighbours after 1994, the ANC-government, the latest management-team for South African capitalism, has made no fundamental change to its apartheid and British colonial inheritance. The ANC-government has effortlessly assumed the role of a conservative defender of the capitalist status quo in the region – a status quo that benefits SA capitalism above all else. The masses of the region suffer while the SA ruling class consciously turns a blind-eye and helps maintain in power, for example, the brutal regimes in eSwatini, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.
From the capitalist ruling classes we can expect nothing else. But in taking steps toward building a united revolutionary movement in the region, the working classes, the youth and the poor will organise their relations on entirely different foundations – the foundations of genuine proletarian internationalism. Relations between the working classes will be organised on the basis of complete equality and respect for the independence of the movement in each country and the defence of each movement’s right to decide itself on all issues confronting it in the struggle against capitalism. The working classes of the bigger capitalist countries, especially the South African, must consciously reject the chauvinism of the ruling class, currently reflected in its whipping-up of xenophobia. It confirms that its antagonism towards the working class in Southern Africa is merely the external expression of its antagonism towards the working class in SA itself.
The starting point of the MWP’s position in the establishment of relations with the working classes in the region is our commitment to the overthrow of capitalism in SA itself and our uncompromising opposition to its sub-imperialist domination of the region. We further more have an obligation to separate ourselves from the organisations from SA, like the EFF and the SACP, that have intervened in eSwatini to promote the export of the failed post-apartheid model of democracy that, understandably, despite its glaring failures in SA, may be seen as at least the first step towards clearing the way to the social and economic emancipation of the masses in eSwatini. We have a duty to warn against illusions in bourgeois democracy especially because of our nearly three-decade experience of it in SA.
Such fraternal relations anticipate the only political basis upon which relations between the working classes can and must be established. The future socialist federation of the region, based on a completely voluntary union in which the right of peoples to withdraw (or secede) is scrupulously protected and upheld must be reflected in the building of relations between the working classes in the course of the struggle against capitalism.
At the same time it is essential that activists in each country recognise that the class struggle at home is but one front in the battlefield of a worldwide class-war against a capitalist system that is itself organised internationally. In other words, a regional, continental and world perspective is essential to waging an effective struggle in each country. It is ruled-out that such perspectives can be developed in national isolation. They can only be developed in debates and discussions between the working classes of the world. Open, honest and frank discussion and debate amongst activists, including when necessary fraternal criticism, is an indispensable tool for clarifying the way forward.
We publish below an edited version of a letter written by the MWP following discussions with emaSwati socialist activists we were honoured to recently host in person. The letter arose from an agreement on the need to summarise in writing the issues discussed in the meeting. In making the letter more widely available we offer it as a contribution to the discussions on strategy, tactics and programme that are currently gripping emaSwati activists about the way forward for the struggle. We hope this can stimulate wider discussion and debate, both in eSwatini and South Africa, but also across the region, about what will be required to build a united Southern Africa revolutionary socialist movement.
The Marxist Workers Party was honoured to host a visit by a delegation of socialist activists from eSwatini to discuss the movement struggling to remove the corrupt and dictatorial Mswati-regime. The uprising has attracted enormous support across Southern Africa, the continent and the world. The emaSwati masses have taken their place proudly alongside the masses of Sudan, Lebanon, Ecuador, Chile and Myanmar who have waged struggles over recent months to put an end to the miseries of dictatorship, poverty, mass unemployment, inequality and war.
Never having recovered from the 2008 world economic crisis the Covid-19 pandemic has enormously accelerated capitalism’s global crisis. The system is in its deepest crisis since the 1930s Great Depression. Sharpened imperialist tensions and rival ambitions have now exploded in war in Ukraine. NATO, led by the war-mongering United States, its hands dripping with the blood of the people of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan, has collided with the corrupt Russian oligarchy led by Putin. The choice facing humanity has again been underlined: socialism or barbarism.
We warmly applaud the comrades’ recognition of the fact that the struggle for socialism is international, that the struggle of the working class and the rural masses worldwide is intertwined and can only be fought to a conclusion on the basis of international solidarity and organisation. We extend our greetings and solidarity to the activists in the movements of youth, workers, women and rural people to whom the comrades are reporting back.
We accept this responsibility with revolutionary modesty as part of our internationalist socialist duty. We also offer for the comrades’ consideration the conclusions we have drawn from the experience of the South African working class struggle and that of the working class and poor masses worldwide that the Committee for a Workers International, to which we are affiliated, has been involved in for decades.
The comrades confirmed the utter ruthlessness of the Mswati-regime in eSwatini. The state forces use arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and murder. The comrades believe some of the ‘disappeared’ will never be found because their bodies have been burned. Political parties are banned alongside severe restrictions on freedoms of assembly and speech. The police openly take ‘minutes’ in any public meeting as a method of intimidation.
The attempt of the regime to legitimise itself by wearing the clothes of ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ is false to the core. There is no precedent in pre-capitalist African societies for a ruler who enjoyed the ‘right’ to use mass terror against his own subjects unfettered by obligations and responsibility for their welfare. Mswati is maintained in power not by the consent of the people as in the pre-capitalist past but by a modern police force and army. But even the state forces’ loyalty must be bought. The comrades described how Mswati has intentionally elevated them above the poverty-stricken majority through higher salaries and other privileges. To the extent that the ruling elite have found it useful to maintain an appearance of continuity with the past, this is a thinly veiled disguise for an all-too-modern capitalist regime.
This apparatus of repression is not an aberration explained by the ‘madness’ of the King however. It serves a definite class purpose – to maintain the super-exploitation of the masses to the benefit of the ruling elite. Again, the comrades painted us a vivid picture of the conditions faced by the working class, the youth, rural people and women. Workers are paid poverty wages pitiful even by the standards of South Africa’s low-wage economy. In the Matsapha factories, the comrades reported, wages are as low as R1,600 per month. Huge numbers of young people are denied work and education opportunities. The rural people are subject to forced-labour on Mswati’s land with the threat of arbitrary eviction permanently hanging over their heads. Women’s rights are severely restricted, especially in the rural areas. They are denied property rights and widows are refused entry into state buildings to avoid ‘offending’ the King. It is this choke-grip around the neck of the masses that explains the regime’s brutality and its total resistance to any democratic reform. The smallest concession would threaten this entire edifice of exploitation.
What the comrades have described confirms again the inseparability of the democratic and social problems in eSwatini. The ruling class recognises this. But the masses sense it too. The Mswati-regime is the focus of the masses’ anger and the call for ‘democracy’ the central demand of the movement. But for the masses, fighting to end the arbitrary abuses of power, and struggling for a say in how society is run, is inseparable from the burning desire to transform their desperate living conditions. The masses demand ‘democracy’ to arm themselves with a weapon to do this.
Our discussions are taking place at a time when worldwide, including in the advanced capitalist countries, there is a growing disillusionment with ‘democracy’. In South Africa millions stayed away from the polls in November’s local government elections – a protest against a democracy under which the country has become the most unequal in the world. In reality the question that the eSwatini uprising poses is what kind of democracy, i.e., a democracy of what class character, must replace the dictatorship. It can only be a workers’ democracy.
In the neo-colonial world especially, the full solving of the democratic and social problems requires the socialist transformation of society. A capitalist democracy in eSwatini that preserves the capitalist class’s dictatorship over the economy will be incapable of satisfying the masses’ expectations. It is necessary to end capitalist private ownership of the banks, the factories, and the multinationals, alongside capitalist control of the land. Society’s wealth must be placed under the democratic control of the working class. Only this can allow a fundamental transformation of living standards.
Especially in a small country such as eSwatini, which is utterly dependent economically on its neighbours, who are themselves utterly dependent on world capitalism, understanding the international character of the socialist revolution is crucial. The overthrow of the dictatorship and capitalism in eSwatini will make possible an immediate and rapid improvement in the lives of the emaSwati masses. But it will not be possible to build socialism within the borders of eSwatini. Therefore the movement must base itself on a regional, continental and world perspective. We hope to develop what this means practically in future material and discussions.
Role of the Working Class
The struggle to end Mswati’s dictatorship cannot be separated from the struggle to end the capitalist economic system upon which it rests. This of course poses the question of the socialist revolution and its “motor force”. The only social force capable of the socialist transformation of society is the working class. Unlike other classes in society the working class, which produces society’s wealth, has everything to gain and nothing to lose with the overthrow of capitalism. It therefore has the potential of being the only consistently revolutionary class under capitalism as well as the only consistently democratic class. Because of its role in production, the working class has the power to both bring down capitalism and build socialism in its place. This is the case even in neo-colonial countries where the working class is a minority in society, or where the majority of the population lives in rural areas as is the case in eSwatini today.
What the comrades described about the protests in eSwatini further confirms the central role of the working class. The struggle shares features with the other mass movements that have emerged in recent months. Protests have been driven by the youth, who, no longer fearing the regime that oppresses them, are prepared to risk their lives in head-on confrontations with state forces. There is a large element of spontaneity with protests lacking clear leaders and organisation. Social media is key to mobilisation and established political parties are left playing ‘catch-up’ with a movement they cannot control. However, enormous determination and heroism alone has been insufficient to overthrow entrenched regimes. This inevitably leads to a pause in the struggle at a certain stage.
The movement in eSwatini appears to have reached such an impasse. The way forward is not clear. This is reflected in a lull in protests since the end of last year. Ebbs and flows are inevitable in every struggle. They should not be a source of demoralisation but seized as an opportunity for clarification. It is necessary to identify and understand the obstacles preventing the movement from developing further in order to overcome them.
In future discussions we would welcome hearing the comrades’ assessment of the reasons for what appears to us as an ebb in the movement this year, or certainly a slower tempo. But from what the comrades have explained about the character of the protests we believe the impasse is ultimately explained by the absence of the working class as an independent force. Although workers have participated in protests, only in isolated and episodic cases have they used their defining weapon – the ability to withdraw their labour. In our recent meeting one comrade contrasted today’s movement with the 1996 general strike. Then the workers had been able to totally shut down eSwatini. In the latest wave of protests, despite disruptions caused by blocking roads or burning Mswati-linked businesses, nothing comparable has been achieved as a demonstration of the movement’s power. This reveals the limits of a mass movement without clear working class leadership and not firmly based on the weapons of the class struggle.
The youth driving the protests are united in their desire to free society from Mswati’s tyranny. But eSwatini, like every capitalist country, is divided into classes. The outlook of the different classes, shaped by the position they occupy in the structure of emaSwati capitalism, also shapes their understanding of what ‘freedom from Mswati’ should look like in practise. But ‘the youth’ are not a class. They come from different class backgrounds, and to the extent that their futures are not yet set in stone, they have different class aspirations.
Some youth are risking their lives to free their families from oppression and poverty, expecting that the downfall of Mswati will guarantee them a job with a decent wage or salary, a secure place to live, access to high-quality services, healthcare etc. But other youth are risking their lives to remove the stifling weight of the dictatorship from the economy to open-up ‘business opportunities’ allowing their entry into society’s elite. Therefore the logic of their position despite their burning desire to overthrow the monarchy, nonetheless implies the preservation of capitalism. The consciousness of those at the universities in particular who dominate the youth movement, and have not yet been conscripted into the working class, has not been shaped by the class struggle at its coal face in the workplace. Consequently the potential power of the working class is outside their experience. This is the reason that some youth are attracted to the idea of an armed struggle. But even the realisation of their aspirations as they understand them, and which have propelled them into struggle, can only be realised through the overthrow of Mswati and capitalism itself.
This outlook is reinforced by the fact that the working class has not yet placed itself at the forefront of the struggle. However the comrades explained that the turmoil in society has given a fresh stimulus to trade union organisation. This has included building unions independent of the existing political parties. This is an extremely significant development and reflects an understanding amongst a layer of the working class that it has distinct interests in society which cannot be satisfied by the existing political parties. Again, the best youth need to encourage and support these developments.
The comrades report that some youth, frustrated by the fact that the regime has survived the uprising, are attracted to the idea of an armed struggle. The burning of businesses linked to Mswati, and other symbols of the regime, has been a feature of the protests from the start. By continuing these during the lull it appears as though some youth hope to act as a detonator, exploding the movement back into action. We are sympathetic to the anger and frustration driving some down this road. But they must be warned that these methods are a total dead-end. It is not a sign of the movement achieving a new and higher-level of militancy, but a sign of desperation borne from feelings of powerlessness against the regime.
Others are looking towards the armed guerrilla struggles of the past, in Cuba, Zimbabwe, Mozambique etc., hoping these offer a model to terrorise the regime into submission. This too is understandable but is also a serious mistake. At the most practical level, eSwatini is a tiny country. It will not be possible to ‘melt away’ into the bush. There is simply nowhere to hide, especially from modern military surveillance technology, drones etc. There is no peasantry capable of providing protection and support to a guerrilla army in eSwatini. The rural people, despite comprising 70% of the population, has been degraded to subsistence farming, necessarily supplemented by wage-work and remittances from family members who have moved to the cities and towns. An armed struggle would necessarily be urban.
In addition, eSwatini is landlocked. The capitalist governments of its two neighbours, South Africa and Mozambique, headed by the ANC and Frelimo respectively, will not support a guerrilla struggle against Mswati. They will not provide a safe-haven for bases from which to launch attacks across the border, as several governments in the region did in the past. Indeed the ANC and Frelimo governments are highly likely to assist Mswati to suppress such a struggle just as they are now cooperating via SADC to suppress the insurgency in the north of Mozambique. Finally, and as important, in all countries where armed struggle has ‘succeeded’ the regimes created were not regimes of workers’ democracy and socialism, even in those countries where capitalism collapsed, as in Cuba and China. In Southern Africa, the post-liberation governments that came to power against the background of an armed struggle, from Namibia and Zimbabwe, to Angola and Mozambique, are corrupt crisis-ridden capitalist regimes that remain in power by crushing democracy.
Any doomed attempt to start an armed guerrilla struggle, or even a more limited escalation of ‘hits’ against the regime, will reinforce the fundamental weaknesses of the movement. The necessary reliance on clandestine underground organisation would separate the armed activists from the mass of the working class. This cannot contribute to the organisation of the working class or raise its confidence in its own power to transform society. At best these methods reduce the working class to spectators in their own liberation and encourage the idea that a force other than the working class will liberate society. At worst they can alienate and disorganise the very workers it is essential to win over. We should have further discussion on this issue to help arm the comrades with the arguments needed to sympathetically answer the youth attracted to these ideas, including looking at the real history of South Africa’s armed struggle.
The questions of how Mswati should be removed and who should lead the building of a post-Mswati eSwatini are class questions. It is not possible for ‘the youth’ on their own to pose these questions clearly, let alone answer them decisively. To do this the youth need to take their stand upon the outlook of a definite class. This means either the working class or the capitalist class. There is no other option. The best youth must consciously embrace the traditions of the revolutionary working class generalised in the ideas of Marxism. We realise that neither the mass of the working class in eSwatini, nor even a majority of worker-activists, fully grasp yet their decisive power to change society. Nevertheless, it is only the working class that does have that power. The best youth need to turn to the working class and assist its independent organisation around a clear socialist programme, placing the working class in the leadership of the movement. The energy of the youth must be married to the social power of the working class.
We believe that everything in the situation points to the urgent need to organise a revolutionary Marxist tendency, or party, in eSwatini based upon the ideas outlined so far in this letter. Upon these foundations a clear revolutionary programme can be developed with which to intervene in the movement and point the way forward. Such a programme must answer how eSwatini can move from Mswati’s dictatorship to a new democratic dispensation in which the aspirations of the working class and rural poor majority shapes the character of the new social order. It must show the working class and rural poor what will be required in that transition to meet their expectations for a total transformation of their living standards. The democratic and social problems must be fused together in a revolutionary programme that would not simply be a list of demands but a programme of action.
A demand for the convening of a Constituent Assembly that would democratically decide all questions about a post-Mswati eSwatini, including a future constitution and economic dispensation, would need to have a central place in the revolutionary programme. It would be the role of the Marxist tendency to campaign for this demand to be adopted by the broader-movement.
Historically the demand for a Constituent Assembly belongs to the era of the bourgeois revolutions, especially of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe. Then the capitalist class, to the extent that it was struggling against the outmoded form of social, economic and political organisation of society that feudalism was, was a revolutionary class. It fought for the unification of the ‘nation’ in order to consolidate an internal capitalist market and create a favourable terrain for the development of modern industry. This required sweeping away the remnants of pre-capitalist social relations, especially by resolving the land question. Tribal land customs and feudal land obligations were transformed into capitalist private property. This ‘freed’ the majority of the population from the land and forced them into capitalist wage-work and dependence on the capitalist market.
For the capitalists to realise their economic interests it was necessary to create a democratic political order responsive, and committed to, the pursuit of its class interests – a bourgeois democracy. For this reason, it was initially restricted to a democracy of property-owners. The bourgeois had no intention of extending the democratic right to elect representative government to all of society. More far-sweeping democratic concessions, e.g., a universal franchise, trade union rights etc., had to be fought for by the working class and poor.
Despite the world having now entered the era of the proletarian (or socialist) revolution the demand for a Constituent Assembly has remained relevant. In capitalist societies following periods of dictatorship, it can answer the question of how society moves from dictatorship to democracy, even if only democracy on a capitalist basis. It also remains relevant in the neo-colonial world where the bourgeois-democratic revolution has only been partially carried through, and, often directly as a result of this, the masses suffer under dictatorships of one form or another. This of course describes the situation in eSwatini.
It is important to be clear that in and of itself the demand for a Constituent Assembly is not a socialist demand. Lenin described the Constituent Assembly as “the highest form of democracy” possible under capitalism. A Constituent Assembly is a multi-class institution. Its delegates would not automatically be workers but could be drawn from any section of the population. It would be convened with the votes of the working class and poor, but also the rural population, the middle class and even the capitalist class.
However, society has been transformed since the revolutionary capitalist class used the Constituent Assembly to rally ‘the nation’ behind it in the struggle against feudalism. On the basis of monopoly capitalism, the capitalist class is now a tiny minority in every society, separated from the majority by a chasm of inequality. The claim that they, as a class, represent ‘the nation’, credible up to a point in capitalism’s pre-monopoly past, is today utterly laughable. The middle classes they could previously rely on for support have also shrunk and changed. The working class and poor have a crushing majority in almost every country even where a majority of the population is rural. Everywhere the working class has some tradition of independent self-organisation, at least in trade unions etc., plus nearly two centuries of an international revolutionary working class tradition to draw from. This was not the case in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries where the working class had not yet accumulated the experience to stand independently as a class.
In the past the demand for a Constituent Assembly was embraced by the capitalist class as crucial to consolidating its rule. Today, on the basis of the changed balance of class forces, it would be a potential threat to it. The capitalist class will do anything to avoid a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly. It would be the role of a Marxist tendency to campaign for the masses’, using their overwhelming numbers in society, to use a Constituent Assembly to fight for the creation of a government of workers and the poor armed with its own socialist programme. The nation must be reconstructed under the leadership of the working class, the only class capable of solving the democratic and social problems. The creation of such a government will pose the need to break with capitalism and begin the socialist revolution.
The Marxist tendency would have to make definite proposals on what should be included in a programme for government. Central will be the demand for the confiscation of the royal family’s economic interests and the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control. This should be made concrete by naming the specific banks and big businesses. Taking control of eSwatini’s wealth should be linked to specific measures to raise the living standards of the working class and poor, the rural population, women and the youth. For example
- a minimum wage to end workers’ poverty;
- job creation to end unemployment;
- investment in health, education, housing, roads and other basic services;
- cancellation of personal debt and the abolition of garnishee orders.
We should have further discussion on the programme necessary to address the specific problems faced by the rural people, both in terms of demands for the ownership and control of the land and the position of the chiefs and other tribal institutions and customs, which are also tied together with the specific problems facing women.
However, demographics are not destiny. For the working class and poor to use a Constituent Assembly as a step toward the creation of their own government they will need to be organised independently as a class – this requires the establishment of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
The Capitalist Parties
Up to now the rising tide of struggle has lifted the boats of all the established political parties. Pudemo and the NNLC have, for example, seen a growth in their youth-wings. But these are capitalist parties. Although they are opposed to the dictatorship, they are explicit in their support for a “mixed economy”, i.e., a capitalist economy. They sell the utopia that capitalism in eSwatini, minus the dictatorship, can fundamentally solve the problems of the masses. This same tide of struggle has also called into existence Swalimo and the EFFSWA and various political party umbrella organisations. But these are politically and ideologically indistinguishable from their predecessors.
The EFF’s South African leader, Julius Malema, at a press conference in November 2021 said, “We don’t have a problem with royalty in Swaziland but let it assume the role of the Zulu royalty or any other royalty in South Africa”. Those in South Africa living under “traditional authority”, especially women, do not enjoy full democratic rights or control over the land. Moreover, the Zulu monarchy is a staunch supporter of capitalism and funded by the state. It has clashed with Malema over the EFF’s “expropriation of land without compensation” policy. Malema capitulated to its pressure, reassuring the monarchy that royal land, for example that controlled by the Ingonyama Trust, would be exempt.
Yet this land was handed over to the trusteeship of Zulu King Zwelithini by the apartheid-regime in the run-up to the 1994 elections in exchange for the participation of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party in the election. Guarantees were made to preserve the privileges of traditional leaders and provide opportunities for self-enrichment on a capitalist basis through deals with multinationals. The proposal for a separate ‘traditional’ legal system, which preserves the oppression of women, remains on the table – a caricature of even bourgeois democracy in its modern form. Today Ingonyama Trust land is run as the private property of the Zulu King making deals with multinationals and subjugating residents with oppressive administrative instruments carried-over from the apartheid-era. In eSwatini this attitude to royalty would set-up the EFFSWA to play the role of defenders of Mswati and his capitalist economic interests. At best the EFFSWA’s position would amount to support for a constitutional monarchy. This places them to the right, for example, of even Pudemo.
The strategic thinking in the leaderships of the capitalist parties is dominated by the idea that Mswati can be pressured to accept an end to his dictatorship. Their model is the negotiated settlement of South Africa that ended white-minority rule. However, it is important to understand that the central aim of the negotiations in South Africa was to preserve capitalism and effect a transfer of power between elites. The exclusion of the masses from this process was conscious and necessary.
In South Africa the demand for a National Convention – a Constituent Assembly under another name – recurred at different points in the struggle against white-minority rule. However, once negotiations with the apartheid regime began, the pro-capitalist ANC leadership manoeuvred to exclude its own mass base given the widespread support for socialism that existed. The mass organisations of the workers, poor communities and the youth were excluded from the negotiations process. The United Democratic Front of community and youth organisations was dissolved early in the negotiations process. The Cosatu trade union federation was denied an independent seat at the table on the grounds of its ‘Tripartite’ Alliance with the ANC and SA Communist Party in which the ANC played the “leading role”. Throughout the four years of negotiation the role of mass action was limited by the ANC leadership to exerting pressure only.
Ultimately, the entire post-apartheid constitutional order was stitched-up behind the backs of the masses. The final (capitalist) constitution was adopted in a series of joint sittings of the two houses of the newly elected parliament. This was composed almost entirely of parties that had already agreed on all the key political and economic questions of post-apartheid South Africa. Incredibly these joint sittings were dubbed a “Constituent Assembly”! But it was not a sovereign-body of the people. Elevated above it was a list of Constitutional Principles that had already been agreed between the elites. Any amendments to the Constitution emerging from the so-called “Constituent Assembly” would be evaluated for judgement by a Constitutional Court for their compliance with these Principles. Those that did not comply would be rejected. The role of South Africa’s “Constituent Assembly” was to rubber-stamp a Constitution that the masses played no role in drafting and were denied a right to fundamentally change. These manoeuvres and slights-of-hand confirm the capitalist class’s terror in this era of a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly.
Whilst Pudemo’s programme includes the demand for a Constituent Assembly it is also clearly not seen as a sovereign body in which the working class and poor will wield their majority to advance their class interests. In Pudemo’s Strategy and Tactics document from their 8th General Congress a Constituent Assembly comes only after the culmination of negotiations (i.e. the reaching of a compromise between the dictatorship and the capitalist parties, perhaps facilitated by the regional elites and the imperialist powers), a National Convention (presumably composed of the parties that have agreed this compromise) and the adoption of an Interim Constitution (the translation of the compromise into a legal framework). A Constituent Assembly will be ‘allowed’ only after the elites have settled everything amongst themselves, just as in South Africa.
The Communist Party of Swaziland has pledged itself to follow the leadership of Pudemo. Based on their anti-Marxist insistence on a ‘two-stage’ revolution they will support all the manoeuvres that will become necessary to exclude the masses. Their ‘democratic’ first-stage takes place explicitly on the basis of capitalism. They see their central task as helping the capitalist parties, and specifically Pudemo, into power. Despite its name and its use of revolutionary language the CPS must be counted as firmly in the camp of the capitalist political parties. It would arrive at a Constituent Assembly determined to block the masses from creating their own government.
The role of a Marxist tendency however would be to counterpose the demand for a Constituent Assembly to Mswati’s sham “dialogue”, to closed-door negotiations between the dictatorship and the capitalist parties, and to secret mediation by regional elites and imperialist powers. Against the elites’ attempts to exclude the masses from shaping a post-Mswati eSwatini must be raised the call: the people shall decide!
The revolutionary programme would need to make definite proposals about how a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly could be convened. These would include delegates elected on the basis of one-person-one-vote, or a universal franchise, recallable by their constituencies, and linked to the release of political prisoners, the unbanning of political parties, the lifting of restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly etc. The lessons of South Africa’s negotiated settlement would need to be translated into demands too. This might include raising the slogan “for the unlimited sovereignty of the Constitutional Assembly” linked to the rejection of any and all constitutions, interim or otherwise, that do not emerge directly from it, or structures set-up by and accountable to it.
There then remains the very practical issue of who could convene a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly if the Mswati-regime, the capitalist parties, the regional elites and imperialist powers cannot be trusted to. This points to another major weakness in the movement – the absence of even embryonic elements of dual power. In maturing revolutionary situations the masses improvise organisations that, whilst usually emerging from the need for leadership and coordination of struggle, begin to rival the functions of the capitalist state. In doing so they also pose a revolutionary alternative to it. The classic example is the soviets, or workers councils, of the Russian Revolution. But every revolution has seen its own version of this phenomenon. Such periods of dual power begin to answer how power can be transferred from one class to another by replacing capitalist state-forms with new institutions standing on socialist economic foundations.
A revolutionary programme in eSwatini must put forward a demand that points the movement in this direction. The call could be raised, for example, for the creation of Committees of Struggle. Initially these could bring together all the sections of the population active in the protests. It might be possible for the youth to take the initiative in beginning these, but it would be crucial for them to build their foundations on the working class. This could be achieved by campaigning for delegates from workplaces, working class and poor communities, learners from the schools, trade unions and possibly some of the NGOs. Whether or not these Committees of Struggle would develop in the direction of an embryonic dual power would be determined by the unfolding of the struggle. It they were to take on flesh it is to these Committees that the demand for the convening of a Constituent Assembly could be addressed.
The trade unions can potentially play a powerful role in ensuring the convening of a genuinely democratic Constituent Assembly and provide a strong backbone to the Committees of Struggle too. But this requires winning support in the trade unions for the revolutionary programme. A Marxist tendency would need to orientate towards the trade unions and make campaigning amongst their members a central part of its work. In time this can lead to a renewal of the trade unions’ leaderships. A clear strategy for how to approach workers in trade unions currently aligned with the capitalist parties and enter a dialogue with them about the way forward would also be crucial.
The winning of the trade unions, the basic organisations of the working class, to a revolutionary programme in eSwatini can open-up new possibilities for the struggle. It would concretely pose the possibility of removing Mswati’s dictatorship through the methods of the class struggle – in other words, through a general strike that leaves the regime totally paralysed and isolated. Especially if this was linked to an appeal to the rank-and-file of the police and army not to interfere in the strike, or even for them to actively support it, this could decisively clear the path for the convening of a Constituent Assembly.
Marxists start from what is objectively required to overthrow Mswati and place the working class and poor in power. But how to translate this into a concrete programme and specific demands and slogans requires an assessment of the consciousness of the working class and youth. This of course changes as experience is acquired in the course of the struggle. The most appropriate demands and slogans will vary at each stage. As the struggle makes strides forward, or suffers temporary pauses, set-backs, or even defeats, different slogans would need to be pushed either into the foreground or into the background. Marxists must recognise changes in consciousness and how this alters the tempo of the struggle, changing gear accordingly. In all cases however, a Marxist tendency must have a consistent orientation to the working class and relentlessly campaign for its organisational and political independence.
The exact relationship between, for example, a Constituent Assembly, Committees of Struggle/potential organs of dual power, a workers party, the trade unions, not to mention the Marxist tendency itself, will be determined by the living struggle. In the Russian Revolution the demand for a Constituent Assembly, despite having been a core part of the programme of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, was rendered obsolete by the development of the soviets. But in Russia the working class also had their own parties. Ultimately the overwhelming majority swung over to the Bolshevik party clearing the way for the conquest of power.
In eSwatini, as the comrades reported, there are a range of parties with different variations of the same capitalist programme, competing for the allegiance of the masses. The working class needs its own party to represent its distinct class interests summarised in a socialist programme. Whether this will emerge as something distinct from the Marxist tendency, and for how long, will also be decided in the unfolding of the struggle. This depends on the development of the Marxist tendency and its ability to penetrate and win the support of the working class, which is itself linked to the speed at which workers’ consciousness develops to embrace the revolutionary programme. In striving to secure support for its own revolutionary programme, the Marxist tendency would be laying the groundwork for a mass party.
Finally, the exact role that the trade unions will play will also only become clearer as the struggle unfolds. In past revolutions and revolutionary situations trade union centres have sometimes played the role of a dual power partially, or even of a party, especially in dictatorships where political parties have been banned, as in eSwatini. The Cosatu trade union federation in South Africa acted as a political centre for the working class during the second half of the 1980s while the ANC and SACP were banned. Its locals united workers from different industries with community and youth organisations. Alongside the locals, working class communities also formed street committees which addressed, amongst other issues, crime. Although this did not develop, the locals and street committees certainly hinted at the possible emergence of a dual power.
In the current lull in protests, for example, the call for a Constituent Assembly might remain limited to a propaganda demand, albeit a crucial one. Likewise, in the absence of widespread and sustained protests, the call for the creation of Committees of Struggle is unlikely to be something that will find an echo immediately. Marxists would work to popularise the idea amongst activists so that it could be acted upon when a new wave of struggle breaks. Pushing forward demands for the building and strengthening of the trade unions might assume greater importance in an ebb. So too the demand for a workers’ party. For example, the demand for a new workers party could be addressed to the trade union leaders and linked to the need for the unions to break with the capitalist parties. This may be the best way to inject the idea of the working class’s political independence into the current situation.
Regardless of the stage of struggle, from the lowest ebb to the highest flow, a revolutionary Marxist tendency will be crucial to point the way forward. Every field of activity must be bound together by a definite programme, method and orientation. It must be united in an organisation with clear borders which the comrades both democratically control and are in turn accountable to. The comrades should not fear that this may mean parting company (hopefully temporarily) with some activists, even ones they have worked closely with, who cannot yet be convinced of the need for a clearer programme and more developed form of organisation. It is necessary to firmly plant the flag of Marxism in eSwatini.
We have definite views on what constitutes the genuine ideas of Marxism, especially in their application to the neo-colonial world. We would like to propose a programme of workshops where we can systematically place these ideas before the comrades. Based on the discussions at our recent meeting we believe it would benefit the comrades to be taken through, (1) the real lessons of the Russian Revolution, (2) the Marxist theory of imperialism, (3) the Marxist theory of Permanent Revolution (i.e. the struggle for socialism in the neo-colonial world), (4) the rise of Stalinism and the “two-stage” theory, (5) the Colonial Revolution of the 1940s-1970s, especially the lessons of the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions, including Pan-Africanism, Maoism, Castroism, armed struggle and guerrillaism, and (6) the lessons from the region, including the Angolan and Mozambican revolutions and the negotiated settlements in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The worldwide crisis of capitalism must be answered by the unity of the partisans of the working class upon the foundations of genuine Marxism.
The Executive Committee of the Marxist Workers Party