Strategy and Tasks

In a sense, the South African revolution has begun. We have now entered upon (in Trotsky’s words) “a series of battles, disturbances, changing situation, abrupt turns, constituting in their entirety the different stages in the proletarian revolution.”

But that does not mean we are in a ‘revolutionary situation’ – i.e., that the objective conditions have matured for the victory of the revolution, or that the overthrow of the regime is imminent. On the contrary. The state is still immensely strong. Only the first real cracks are appearing in the foundations of the racist system. The forces of bourgeois reaction have by no means yet been fully mobilised, let alone tested and exhausted.

It will require years of drawn-out, tenacious struggles, in which millions of oppressed people rise to their feet – where there will be defeats as well as victories, retreats as well as advances, bloody clashes and mighty shocks – before the way will have been prepared for the collapse and overthrow of the regime.

This process can extend over five, ten or even more years.

The strategy of the black working class movement in SA must, on the one hand, be based on the fact that we are now in the epoch of the revolution; that tens-of-thousands are already locked in daily battle with the ruling class and the state; that the task of conquering state power now looms over everything.

On the other hand, however, strategy has to take account of the fact that state power cannot be conquered in SA through one or a few cataclysmic blows. This situation gives rise to many contradictions and poses tremendous difficulties in front of the movement.

International Experience

It is necessary, if we are to find the way forward in South Africa, to make a careful study of other revolutions, insurrections and civil wars. From them we must glean all possible theoretical insights and practical experiences to apply to the SA situation. But historical examples and parallels must not be taken one-sidedly, or applied mechanically.

There is no general blueprint for revolution; everywhere and at every time it is necessary to make a concrete analysis of the fundamental processes and the relation of forces between the classes in struggle, while taking account also of peculiar and exceptional circumstances that may arise.

In 1895 old Engels wrote an introduction to Marx’s work, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50, in which he explained how the changes which had taken place in Europe after 1850 necessitated careful reappraisal of the strategy of proletarian revolution there and of the preparations necessary for a victorious insurrection.

Through a long period of relatively peaceful development of capitalist industry, the bourgeoisie had been able to consolidate a formidable state power, and much more reliable military means for the suppression of insurrection.

What Engels termed “the unprepared onslaught” was no longer a means of gaining victory, as it had been in the past. “Rebellion in the old style, the street fight with barricades, which up to 1848 gave everywhere the final decision, was to a considerable extent obsolete.”

This did not mean that street-fighting, barricades, etc., would have no role to play in the proletarian revolution. But they would not suffice, as in the past, to win over the troops and thus bring down the government.

Need for Preparation

It was now necessary for revolution to be more thoroughly and consciously prepared.

The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul… But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required…

This would require a combination of tactics, depending upon the circumstances: the building of powerful trade unions, political organisation, propaganda work and parliamentary activity (where workers had the franchise).

Making full use of the sphere of legal activity permitted to it, the working class would strengthen its position, win the middle layers of society to its side, undermine the state and drive the bourgeoisie to ‘despair’. Instead of depending on the lightning revolts which in the past had characterised the movement of the revolutionary proletariat, it was necessary now to engage, in effect, in a protracted war of position against the bourgeoisie.

But the conscious purpose of these methods of struggle would be to prepare the ground for revolution – to lay the basis ultimately for an armed mass struggle which could succeed in breaking the loyalty of the troops and winning them to the side of the working class in action.

Engels, having set out in detail the military difficulties of overthrowing a powerfully armed industrial state, posed this question:

Does that mean that in the future the street fight will play no further role? Certainly not. It only means that the conditions since 1848 have become far more unfavourable for civil fights, far more favourable for the military. A future street fight can therefore only be victorious when this unfavourable situation is compensated by other factors. Accordingly, it will occur more seldom in the beginning of a great revolution than in its further progress, and will have to be undertaken with greater forces. (Our emphasis.)

It is the lesson of revolution everywhere that so long as the armed forces of the state remain basically intact; so long as the ruling class retains an effective monopoly of armed force; so long, in other words, as it can rely on its troops and so exercise military superiority – the revolution cannot triumph.

In purely material terms, the ruling class and the state possess overwhelming advantages militarily. A strategy for defeating the state involves first and foremost crippling the ability of the ruling class to use its military forces against the revolution – by rendering the troops politically unreliable.

This general point applies just as much in a country like South Africa where the troops, overwhelmingly, are drawn from and led by a racial group separate from the revolutionary masses.

That is why a victorious revolution – and even insurrection itself – is nine-tenths a question of the political preparations and only one-tenth a military question. But, at the same time, the military element remains absolutely decisive also.

Troops – who face the threat of being shot by their officers for mutiny – can only be infected by revolution to the point of deserting en masse or turning their guns against their own commanders and going over to the ‘people’ once the revolution shows that it has the strength to win and the will to go through to the end.

Revolutions in Europe

The great revolutionary upheavals which swept over Europe at the end of the First World War demonstrated that even the strongest bourgeois states could be brought to the verge of collapse by a mass working class movement, once fully mobilised and seeking a revolutionary way out of the nightmare of capitalism.

But this revolutionary wave was defeated – mainly because the workers were held back from decisively conquering power by reformist leaders of the mass organisations! At the same time, young and undeveloped revolutionary organisations proved unable to lead the working class to take or hold power.

In the long decades of relatively ‘peaceful’ capitalist development prior to the First World War, the labour leaders had used trade unionism, parliamentary activity, etc., not as a means of consciously preparing the working class for revolution, but as a means of reconciling the proletariat with the bourgeoisie in the name of an imaginary step-by-step transition through reforms to ultimate ‘socialism’.

Instead of seeing reforms, as Marxists see them, as the by-product of the workers’ revolutionary struggle, the leaders of the labour-bureaucracy promoted reforms as the be-all and end-all of the movement.

Thus, when it came to revolution, they were found wanting, and in many notorious cases crossed-over blatantly to the side of the ruling class. They split the workers’ organisations, crippled them and demoralised the masses, preparing the way for vicious counter-revolution.

It was only in Russia that there had been built a revolutionary party and cadre – the Bolsheviks – sufficiently strongly rooted in the workers’ movement to succeed on the basis of Marxist ideas in defeating the influence of the reformists and so decisively affect the outcome of the struggle.

But the Russian Revolution – the ‘classic’ proletarian revolution as far as Marxists are concerned – nevertheless took place in highly unusual, indeed exceptional circumstances. Trotsky has explained (see, for example, Lessons of October) that the actual course of the Russian Revolution, far from providing an exact pattern of other revolutions in future, could not be replicated elsewhere.

In February 1917 the Tsar was overthrown by a virtually peaceful and practically unarmed mass uprising, led by the workers. The ruling class could not immediately resort to civil war against the proletariat because it lacked the weapon with which to do so. This was despite the colossal size of the Russian army.

The Russian army was, in composition, essentially a peasant army. The terrible conditions which had developed in the course of the First World War, the horrific slaughter and stalemate in the trenches, and the suffering of the oppressed, landless and indebted peasants, combined to shatter the cohesion and discipline of the army and drive it to revolt. The Russian soldiers participated in the forefront of the revolution, elected delegates to the soviets, etc., alongside the working class.

At the same time, the bourgeoisie could manoeuvre, leaning on the reformist leaders, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, who were raised to power by the mass movement in the first period of the revolution. Thus they could gain time while preparing for counter-revolution.

As previously explained, the tasks of the revolution were bourgeois-democratic and it was only through experience that the mass of the proletariat could realise the necessity of itself taking state power in order to carry-out these tasks. Not through experience alone, however, but with the help of patient explanation by the Marxist cadres.

Only when the workers were clear as to the tasks could they in turn win the support of the poor peasants for the conquest of power. The role of the party was to raise and organise the consciousness of the working class. Had there not been a strong Bolshevik party, with the clear political leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, then the Russian Revolution would have been defeated.

As it was, the revolutionary turmoil, and the groping of the working class towards power, propelled the ruling class to the premature adventure of General Kornilov’s revolt in August 1917 – an attempt at a counter-revolutionary military coup and overthrow of the reformist Kerensky regime. Kornilov’s attack collapsed. His forces disintegrated or were won over by the armed workers, led by the Bolsheviks. This prepared the way for the victorious workers’ insurrection in October.

Almost Without Bloodshed

By that stage, such was the weakness and virtual collapse of bourgeois resistance, as well as the discrediting and disarray of the reformists, that the October insurrection itself was accomplished almost without bloodshed – at least in Petrograd, where it began, and which was the epicentre of the revolution.

It was only after the workers were in power that the civil war opened in earnest. Again, the First World War decisively affected events. Only after the victory of the Allied imperialist powers in the world war could they organise intervention by 21 foreign armies against the revolution in Russia. Had it not been for the existence and strength of the Bolshevik party and the conquest of power by the working class, the giving of the land to the peasants, etc., there could have been no question of revolutionary victory in the civil war.

Trotsky pointed out that the peculiar combination of circumstances surrounding the Russian Revolution of 1917 could not be repeated, and that in all likelihood serious armed clashes would occur between the ruling class and the mass movement well before the victory of the workers’ revolution in most developed countries in future. This was because the bourgeoisie would probably have more favourable conditions and initially more reliable armed forces at its command, and would use them all the more vigorously in civil war against the proletariat – not least because of the lessons it had learned from the Russian Revolution.

Civil War Developing in SA

It is obvious that, in South Africa, peaceful or even relatively peaceful conquest of state power is out of the question, and that, with elements of civil war already developing in the country, conditions for eventual armed insurrection will only develop out of civil war. All the powers of resistance of capitalist society, all the forces of the white reaction, will have to be overcome in struggle before the conquest of state power is completed.

The strategic task is to turn what will otherwise become a barbarous racial war into a revolutionary class war. That will demand tremendous capacities of organisation and leadership.

The example of the Spanish Revolution of the 1930s is instructive. There the mere election of the Popular Front in 1936 was enough to propel the ruling class to civil war. They had the opportunity to use the army against the workers and poor peasants, and they did so ruthlessly. The landlords and capitalists sided overwhelmingly with Franco’s military rebellion against the Republic. This was despite the fact that bourgeois Republican ‘democrats’ filled the seats in the first Popular Front government, while the Socialist and Communist Parties were not included in the Cabinet at that stage.

The reason the ruling class resorted to armed counter-revolution was that even the most tame ‘democratic’ and reformist programme endorsed by the labour leaders in the Popular Front could not disguise the reality that a proletarian revolution was inevitably taking place. The class questions were to the fore; the issue of property was starkly posed in the movement of the workers in the towns and of the agricultural labourers and poor peasants on the land.

In South Africa even genuine democratic elections are ruled-out this side of the victory of the workers’ revolution, for reasons we analysed earlier.

In Spain, the refusal of the Socialist and Communist leaders to recognise that a socialist revolution was involved, and the vicious measures especially of the latter to forcibly hold back the working class in the name of a ‘democratic’ class-compromise with the bourgeoisie and landowners, led to the revolution’s defeat and the crushing by Franco of the Spanish proletariat for a whole generation.

In South Africa the movement must be organised and led on a clear policy of preparing the forces for socialist revolution, if there is to be a victory of the working class in the civil war which looms ahead.

Problem of Leadership

The success of the proletarian revolution internationally depends above all on solving the problem of leadership. This was shown in all the great inter-war revolutions which were defeated; again in the aftermath of the Second World War; again in all the capitalist countries today.

In Europe, the end of the Second World War provided exceptional objective opportunities for the victory of the working class.

The troops who had come through that terrible slaughter, and had seen the near-barbarism to which capitalism had reduced much of the world, wanted to change society. The workers had training in arms, were battle-hardened, and in many cases had arms in hand; the bourgeoisie could not wield the state power effectively against them. In fact in several European countries, capitalism was only rescued, and the masses disarmed, by the combined intervention of the Communist Party leaders (carrying out Stalin’s policy of agreement with imperialism to maintain capitalism in Western Europe) and the reformist leaders of the old Social Democratic mass parties.

This, together with the ensuing long post-War economic upswing, is what stabilised capitalism in the West for a whole historical period.

Now, as the advanced capitalist countries enter a new epoch of crisis, the proletariat there has such an overwhelming weight in society that even the peaceful conquest of power and transformation of society would in theory be entirely possible.

But again, the hold of reformism and Stalinism in the bureaucracy of the labour movement means that the awakening working class, as it moves beyond reformism, first has to clear out of its path these entrenched and complicated obstacles before it can unite its forces for the socialist revolution.

In order to transform society, the working class first has to transform its own organisations into conscious instruments of revolutionary struggle. Thus the process of the revolution will inevitably be long drawn-out and confused, and therefore it will inevitably be bloody. The bourgeoisie in the advanced ‘democratic’ capitalist countries will have the opportunity to, and will, resort to methods of civil war against the working class in years to come despite the enormous risks for capitalism in doing so.

In these countries, as much as anywhere, the proletariat can come to power only when it succeeds, by virtue of its social power, unity in action, and conscious socialist leadership and programme, in winning over the bulk of the armed forces and police to the side of the revolution.

Without such leadership and programme, victorious insurrection will prove to be the exception rather than the rule in any of the more or less industrialised countries.

Insurrection in Iran

A brilliant – though quite exceptional – example of a victorious insurrection in recent years was Iran, with the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Let us remember that the Shah’s army was the fourth most powerful military machine in the world. Yet, the Shah, a stooge of imperialism, who attempting to ‘modernise’ Iran on the basis of a diseased capitalist system and under a degenerate and viciously repressive dictatorship, succeeded in alienating completely not only the working class and the urban middle class, but the mass of the peasants as well.

Eventually, through tremendously heroic, sustained urban uprisings, in which the masses endured massacres from ground troops and from helicopter gun-ships again and again but refused to give way, conditions were prepared for the collapse of the state itself. The army finally disintegrated and the troops went over to the revolution when the workers themselves moved decisively, notably with the strike of the oil workers.

Once the army broke in the Shah’s hands, his entire regime collapsed like a house of cards.

However, tragically, because of the perfidious role played by the Iranian Communist (Tudeh) Party (which on the dictates of Moscow had given only formal opposition to the Shah), the mullahs were able to place themselves at the head of the revolution and mix, in the minds of the masses, anti-imperialist revolutionary sentiments with the intoxicating fumes of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism.

Thus the lack of Marxist leadership has led the revolution into the dreadful impasse of the last five years. (Now, at last, there are signs of the Iranian proletariat beginning to move again onto the road of struggle.)

It would be completely incorrect to take the Iranian insurrection without further ado as a simple ‘model’ for the coming revolution and insurrection in South Africa. The Iranian workers, youth and peasants had the difficult enough task of winning over troops who could at least identify with them in class and national terms. In SA the problem is obviously a hundred-times more difficult.

The SA armed state apparatus is so formidable because it is rigidly cemented together on a foundation of racial privilege. Resting on a substantial one-sixth of the population – the five million whites totally separated in material life and conscious identity from the revolutionary black masses – it cannot be cracked easily or taken by mere frontal assault.

The more stretched the state forces become, and the more successful the masses are in arming themselves, the more viciously unrestrained the army and police will become. Moreover – to the extent that the armed masses succeed in rendering the state, albeit partially and for brief periods, impotent – the more open and ugly will become the armed mobilisation of the white civil reaction, with features of inter-racial communal fighting and barbarities entering into the picture.

But if power cannot be taken simply by frontal attack, in one or a few titanic blows, there are also immense barriers in SA in the way of a long drawn-out semi-peaceful ‘war of position’ and of slow accumulation of organised strength on the part of the working class.

The situation which has existed for the rising trade union movement over the past decade cannot continue indefinitely into the future, as the system is convulsed by crisis and as the room for capitalist reforms is narrowed or turned into its opposite with ever more savage attacks on the working class. This is the essential predicament facing the trade unions, and goes against the unspoken long-term strategy which has guided many of the union leaders.

Social-democratic Misconception

Within many of the biggest independent unions there has been the misconception that it would be possible in South Africa indefinitely to construct the union movement on similar lines to Western European Social Democracy in the past, with a stable official apparatus, a long and largely peaceful struggle for step-by-step reforms, in the hope of solving the workers’ problems without a decisive struggle for state power.

Even in the advanced capitalist countries the steady advance in the position of the working class was sustained only by the peculiar interlude of the twenty-five year post-war upswing of capitalism. Now the basis for it is crumbling away, with the sustained attacks on living standards and trade union rights, and the big movements of the proletariat which have begun in Western Europe. These movements enter at once into bitter conflict with the reformist bureaucrats who have become entrenched at the head of the labour movement over the past decades of compromise with capitalism.

Far from modelling themselves in any way whatever on the labour bureaucracy of the West, all leaders of democratic unions in SA should be vigorously pursuing direct links of solidarity with the militant ranks of the international labour movement as they enter into struggle against capitalism and reformism. They should be carrying out a concerted campaign among SA workers to expose the role the Social-Democratic and Stalinist leaders have played in the defeats of the working class.

Also mistaken in South Africa has been the idea that the unions could limit themselves to maintaining organisational independence from the liberation movement in the hope of protecting the position of the workers ‘under a future black government’. The reality is that the black majority will not be able to elect a government in SA until the working class succeeds in taking power. That process will necessitate the unions moving into the front ranks of the liberation struggle, and being consciously developed into effective instruments, not only of ‘economic’ struggle, but of the workers’ revolutionary struggle for power.

The struggle for the political independence of the working class can be won only by the working class taking the lead of the whole movement in an organised and conscious way.

In South Africa we have entered inescapably into a period of revolution and counter-revolution, of enormous battles, shocks, advances and setbacks, in which all the best-laid plans for ‘peaceful’ advance will be ruined. This despite the fact that there will be semi-peaceful interludes and contradictory phases when the tendency of events appears to be in the opposite direction.

Nevertheless, the harsh process of the struggle itself will inevitably sort out within the trade unions the revolutionaries from the reformists, with many of the latter going into early retirement or, finding employment elsewhere, rather than face up to the tasks.

The gains of the independent unions over the past twelve years can be defended and consolidated only by preparing them consciously for revolution, and not for any length of time by adapting them or containing them within bounds presently ‘tolerable’ to even the most ‘liberal’ section of the capitalists. That would lead only to eventual defeat.

It is only through a revolutionary-strategic conception of trade union work that these vital organs of the SA proletariat – embryonic organs of a future workers’ democracy in fact – will be able to survive and surmount the inevitable attacks of the state and the bourgeoisie in the coming years.

In saying this, we fully recognise that trade unions are inherently conceived as organisations for the economic struggle, for improvements of the workers’ material conditions under capitalism; that they are by nature organs suited to a long drawn-out ‘war of position’ and gradual accumulation of strength. Many thousands, perhaps the majority, of the rank-and-file naturally still see them in that light.

The sober-minded workers can also see that there is no quick victory possible against the state. Therefore, they are usually reluctant to commit their organisations to what may turn-out to be costly adventures, perhaps destroying the gains so painstakingly made.

This is one of the most important factors which has operated to keep major unions out of the UDF, reinforcing the position of union leaders who have failed to give a clear political lead on this issue.

Unions have to Struggle Politically

However, revolution in SA is not a matter of choice for these or any other workers. Workers who have built a basis of power in the mines and factories, and through the unions, inevitably have to use these organisations to struggle politically, to meet the attacks and provocations of the state. Thus there are repeated convulsive movements in which the trade union activists, responding to the pressures of the rank-and-file, try to work-out ways of steering their organisations into the forefront of political struggle.

On the one hand, therefore, the organised workers come up against the limitations of a slow ‘war of position’, and of unions simply as trade unions.

On the other hand, the youth movement, volatile, impatient, and ready for the most heroic actions, comes up against the limitations of the spontaneous and ‘unprepared onslaughts’ of the past period.

As illusions in the possibility of a quick victory against the regime have been dashed, the youth have turned to seek a stable organisational basis by linking up with the big battalions of the movement – the organisations constructed in the factories, the mines, etc. – the unions.

Passing into the UDF, the youth find the big unions have no organised presence and are providing no leadership there, while the present middle class leaders offer no coherent action programme or strategy for power. Those sections of the youth who have been repelled by this and drawn instead to the radical ‘socialist’ rhetoric of the National Forum and Azapo, find there some well-developed vocal chords but no bones, muscles or sinews.

What is the way out of this predicament, which increasingly tears the movement with sterile splits and even disgraceful physical fighting between the contending factions and organisations?

It is impossible, by constructing ‘ideological’ models and trying to impose them on the living movement, to develop a coherent revolutionary strategy. Strategy consists in drawing out the apparently contradictory threads of the real processes going on in the movement of the masses themselves, and weaving these together into a scientific conception.

Objective Basis of Strategy

We have in SA a rising black workers’ movement which must inevitably flow through the channels provided by the unions, and which must take those organisations and turn them onto the road of revolutionary political struggle. And on the other hand we have a revolutionary movement of the black working class youth which, for effectiveness, must find a way of fighting in harness together with the power of labour.

These objective tendencies and needs found their clearest expression so far in the organisation of the Transvaal general strike last November. There the youth organisations, wishing to initiate action, came together with the most advanced trade union militants of different sections, drawing in outstanding community leaders together with them. The UDF leaders followed and endorsed the action. The Azapo leaders, for their part, denounced it.

What gave the strike its tremendous force was precisely this combined action of the youth and the workers, in which the power of the big organisations of labour was supplemented by the energy, drive and organising initiatives of the young militants themselves.

But the ultimate test of the success of actions of this kind is the role they play in building the movement in conscious preparation for the struggle for power.

The best way of moving forward from that strike would have been to prepare, vigorously but carefully, a subsequent two-day national general strike, as we have argued in other material. However, neither the trade union nor youth leaders approached the problem with a sufficiently clearly worked out strategic framework.

The conservatives among the union officials quickly manoeuvred to obstruct any tendency towards further general strike action at that time. The rank-and-file, they said, were ‘not willing’ to repeat the Transvaal general strike. Of course they were not willing to do that! – what would have been the point? Similarly, an unlimited general strike would have been an adventure, leading to a big defeat at that stage. The workers could sense that.

But had there been a clearly explained and well-organised plan to extend the movement nationally by means of a two-day strike, maintaining the momentum already built-up, bringing in the mineworkers (who were by then ready to move), fighting on a clear issue (such as Sasol), using the full authority of the unions and the UDF, and the energies of the youth organisations, to raise the conflict with the state to a higher step, a tremendous response would have been forthcoming from the proletariat – in the Transvaal, in the Eastern Cape, and throughout the country.

Sensing the danger in the situation, the regime moved quickly to arrest the participants in the organising committee of the Transvaal general strike, and made it clear that in any similar action that might be organised in future, the leadership would be arrested before, not after, the event. This has highlighted the necessity for the militant leadership of the workers’ and youth movement to develop more effective underground methods of work, together with open organisation, in the struggle.

Revolutionary Workers’ Party

But above all, these circumstances bring out clearly the need for a revolutionary workers’ party if the struggle is to be led in a clear and decisive manner.

However, how is such a thing to arise? The situation in South Africa will prove merciless to half-baked organisational as well as political conceptions. The idea that the unions themselves, through some kind of conference decision in future, can simply launch a workers’ party in SA is naive wishful thinking, as we have explained in Inqaba (e.g. No. 11) before.

In the first place, a revolutionary workers’ party (if it was genuinely that) would be illegal from the beginning. That has to be acknowledged.

Secondly, the mass of the workers already look to the ANC. They obviously do not have need of a reformist party. A viable alternative to the ANC would have to grip the imagination of the mass of the workers as being a more effective instrument for the revolutionary achievement of national liberation and workers’ power than they have already.

Even assuming that a majority of trade union members would agree to launch a ‘workers’ party’ in competition with the ANC, how would it go about establishing its credibility among the unorganised masses and among the youth who look to Congress? How would it avoid merely causing further confusion and splits of the movement at this stage?

The closer loom the revolutionary tasks, the less can the awakening mass of the workers afford to abandon the traditional mass political organisation of the past, which signifies to them unity of the oppressed people in the struggle for power.

It is enough to pose the question in this way for the general outlines of a solution to the problem to appear. The revolutionary workers’ party and workers’ leadership which is needed in South Africa can be created successfully in a struggle of organised workers and youth to build and transform for their purpose the ANC itself.

Understanding this task and how to carry it out constitutes the core of a revolutionary strategy in South Africa.

Rooted in Working Class Organisations

Clearly, there can be no effective revolutionary leadership of the struggle which is not rooted in the existing organisations in the factories, mines, etc., and the grassroots organisations of the working class youth.

The first step in a battle for a clear strategy, programme and leadership of revolution is to win the support of the advanced workers and youth for Marxist ideas. This must take place with the utmost urgency, by the method of honest fraternal discussion, with the weapons of facts, figures and reasoned argument, within the trade unions, the factory- and shop-stewards’ committees, and the youth and community organisations of the black working class throughout South Africa.

Every committed socialist is urged to join with Inqaba and the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC in this task.

For the advanced workers and youth to carry clear revolutionary ideas to the masses – and also learn from the masses at the same time – it is necessary to put aside all sectarian notions. Marxists must go where the mass movement goes as it arises and in its millions moves into action.

These millions will inevitably move, on the one hand, towards the new union federation, where industrial organisation and struggle is concerned, and on the other hand, towards the banner of the ANC (in all its forms) for the struggle to overthrow the state.

Therefore all revolutionary activists have as their duty to orient, on the one hand to the new federation, and on the other to the ANC banner in order to reach the ear and understanding of the masses.

That is the basis of our whole orientation as the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC. That has been the foundation also of our policy of urging the unions to make a conscious, organised turn into the UDF on a clear programme of action, so that the working class can rapidly take the leadership of the whole political struggle into its hands.

By systematic activity within the mass organisations it would be possible – without in any way endangering the unity of the mass struggle itself – for Marxists to win overwhelming support for their ideas and policies.

We denounce all sectarian splitting of the mass organisations. The struggle is to build and (whenever necessary) transform these organisations through bringing them under the democratic control of their working class ranks and winning the argument for Marxist ideas and policies.

The movement has need both of unity and clarity; the one cannot be achieved by destroying the other. The rise to revolutionary struggle of millions of workers and youth provides the path to unify the movement under the leadership of Marxism in the coming years.

Once the new trade union federation is launched, combining the strength of some three-hundred thousand union members, and including the big battalions of mining and industry, hundreds of thousands of so far unorganised workers will rally to it. Within the federation inevitably a struggle of ideas and tendencies will take place. The organised workers will be looking for political answers from the federation leaders, even while looking to the ANC at the same time.

Question of UDF

The question of the unions’ involvement in the UDF, and ultimately in the movement headed openly by the ANC itself, will not go away but will more and more become a focus of debate and absorb the attention of the union militants.

What is of key importance is that the matter should not be argued out in abstract or purely ‘organisational’ terms. The need is for the union militants to agree on a comprehensive action programme around specific demands, on the basis of which organised as well as unorganised workers, women and youth can be mobilised in united action.

Then, once there is a clear plan of campaign and support has been won for this within the unions, it will make practical sense to draw the organisations of the UDF round the organised workers. The need for a concerted turn by the unions into the UDF to bring it under workers’ control would then follow logically and would be seen as quite simple to achieve.

The development within the new federation of a more or less distinct ANC current, committed to the present ANC, Sactu and SACP leadership, seems inevitable in the next period – even though some of the most prominently identified pro-Congress union leaders are likely to keep their organisations out of the federation, at least initially. The policies and arguments of the Stalinists will thus need to be answered clearly and systematically by Marxists within the federation if tremendous confusion of the political issues is to be avoided.

Probably, inside the new federation, a black consciousness current will also take shape. This is likely to gain an echo among the workers only to the extent that the policy of non-racialism appears to provide a screen for conservatism in the leadership (especially where this is manifested in white officials) and a tendency to draw back from politics.

At the same time, attempts to draw workers in any significant numbers towards the National Forum and Azapo will fail, or fairly quickly rebound, even as these essentially petty-bourgeois bodies will tend to repel in time the youth who have gravitated towards them.

Black consciousness played an enormously progressive role in the revolutionary awakening of the black youth in South Africa. But things can turn into their opposites. Unclear thinking becomes a terrible barrier on the road to revolution. It is necessary for the whole of the youth movement to move beyond black consciousness to a fully-formed class consciousness – to Marxist ideas. By dressing up nationalist ideas in pseudo-Marxist phraseology, the National Forum and Azapo intellectual leaders confuse and retard this process on the part of the working class youth.

We have to say frankly that, for all the radical ‘socialist’ rhetoric of these black consciousness leaders (put forward to outflank the ANC), they seem to us to be play-acting at revolution. That is shown above all in their sweeping dismissal of the white working class as inevitably part of the enemy camp. This may look very ‘r-r-r-revolutionary’ (to borrow Lenin’s term). But it shows that they entirely lack a serious attitude to the problem of overthrowing the state. For that, the winning over of the white troops will be absolutely indispensable. What is their policy for accomplishing that?

In their intellectual attack on ‘non-racialism’ they hopelessly muddle up liberal or petty-bourgeois ‘non-racialism’ with something completely different: an uncompromising revolutionary class approach on the part of the black workers to the white workers.

Black workers in the unions, who experience the racist insults and kicks of the white workers every day, show a thousand-times more revolutionary intelligence than the black consciousness intellectuals, when they strive might and main to win white workers into the non-racial unions. They correctly persist in these efforts even when those few white workers who have joined, after a while leave these unions again under the pressure of white society.

There is not a trace of sentimentality or liberalism – or even class brotherhood in the naive sense – in these black workers’ approach to the white workers. They are simply preparing the ground for later smashing the state and overthrowing their class enemy: the bourgeoisie.

Must Persist

Let the black workers who have embarked on a conscious non-racial policy not be diverted from it even by the going-over of white workers to the most vicious right-wing reactionary parties – which is inevitable as a stage during the maturing of the revolutionary crisis. It is precisely these whites, stirred into a half-blind, semi-class revolt, rather than the ones who tail tamely after Botha, who can later be won directly to the workers’ revolution when all reactionary ways out of their nightmare have proved useless.

Let us not be deterred even by the horrors and atrocities committed by the whites in the course of racial civil war – for there is no basis but a class basis, class independence, uncompromising class strength and an ultimate class appeal to the interests of white workers, youth and petty-bourgeois against capitalism if the black workers’ revolution is to triumph.

We can take a leaf from the book of Thami Mali and Siphiwe Thusi in this respect. They amazed their Sunday Express interviewer (quoted earlier) when

Not once during the interview did either man use the word ‘whites’. The enemy, they said when asked why, was ‘the state’. When last inside, Mr Thusi tried to persuade his interrogators that they were oppressed. ‘I asked them if they owned any means of production, any land,’ he said. ‘I asked them who were they defending. They were also members of the working class. They owned nothing. I am also fighting to liberate them.’

Here is expressed, in language which no theory could better, an elemental strategic class sense as to what is involved in the coming workers’ revolution in SA. Yes, even this barbarous white racist state machine can be shattered by the political action of the black working class once it rises fully to its feet and marches forward with complete clarity as to the revolutionary tasks.

This is the understanding which Marxists must work to generalise throughout the workers’ movement and among the youth, helping to cement it with theory and perspectives into a firm and clear conception of the road to power.

Black Middle Class

Nor will there be any difficulty in drawing the weak black middle class – with exceptions, of course, but in the main – behind the workers and working class youth.

The Communist Party and ANC leaders have argued that it is wrong to put forward ideas of socialism and workers’ power in South Africa because this ‘frightens away the middle class’. Absolute nonsense! It is when a muddled, non-class, so-called ‘democratic’ revolution or rather compromise is put forward that the movement splits, the middle class wavers, and the ruling class is able to deal effective blows against the masses.

This lesson is written in the blood of many defeated revolutions in which the movement was led – or rather misled – on the basis of such false ideas.

The reality of the situation for the black middle class is summed up in an interview which Ellen Kuzwayo, who comes from an ex-landowning family, gave to the London Observer:[1]

“The days are gone when I could sit down and counsel anybody – even the twelve-year-olds. I worked with the black children of Soweto for years as a social worker – in youth clubs, weekend camps, discussion groups – and I was sure I knew them. But in 1976, in forty-eight hours, they were not the children I knew.

“They had become angry: and that angered me; and this has happened all over South Africa. I know that one side has more evil than the other, but when people are very angry they find themselves doing things they would never normally do. So you have a situation which is explosive on both sides: and it compels us to go with it, whether we like it or not.” (Our emphasis.)

Whether they like it or not, the oppressed middle class will follow the working class when it gives a decisive revolutionary lead. This is a fact which must be grasped by all the loyal young militants of the ANC and UDF so that they can sooner and more decisively break with the ideas of class-compromise which have been inculcated into the movement for so many years by the Stalinists.


Sectarians, on the other hand, stand aside from the ANC and UDF because the leaders of these organisations do not put forward ‘socialism’. As if that were the criterion! As if it were superfluous to undertake a systematic struggle for socialist ideas in the ranks of the working class movement! We must go where the masses go, regardless of the policies of the leaders and regardless of the stage in consciousness which the masses are passing through. That is the only way to work. For a Marxist, it is ABC.

Sectarians stand aside from the new trade union federation on grounds that its leadership will not be sufficiently revolutionary and its structures too ‘bureaucratic’, open to ‘manipulation’, etc. If that were true, it would not provide a shred of an excuse for staying out! What about the hundreds-of-thousands of union members who will be working day and night to build the new federation and turn it into an effective instrument for workers’ power?

The May Day meeting at Khotso House (and there were other similar meetings elsewhere) showed the ripeness of the whole organised workers’ movement for revolutionary socialist ideas. Most of the speeches brimmed over with ideas of revolutionary class struggle against capitalism – as even the SA capitalist press had to reflect.

A speaker from the Azanian Confederation of Trade Unions said:

“We are fighting against the forces of capitalism. We are not fighting to remove whites and replace them with blacks. We are fighting for a complete change in the political and economic spheres. We are fighting for the end of the system of exploitation based on capitalism.

“Workers have been divided by the different views of the union leadership, but workers’ demands and sentiments are the same and we must help formulate structures for the revolutionary change.”[2]

Splendid! But what on earth is the ‘Azanian Confederation of Trade Unions’?

We must say frankly to all committed socialists: you will “help formulate structures for the revolutionary change” only inside the new federation and inside the mass movement broadly gathering under the ANC banner. Inside you can build a real mass base for the ideas of Marxism, provided you yourselves have mastered these ideas. Outside you can only serve as a sterile, divisive irritant and frustrate the fulfilment of the very revolution which you proclaim.

Nor should you rest on the illusion that the workers, once they fail to find socialist leadership in the ANC, will swing over to following ‘you’. The history of revolutionary movements in all the industrialised countries shows that the main body of the proletariat returns again and again to its traditional organisations, despite even the worst defeats and betrayals by its leaders in the past.

In the case of the ANC, particularly the imprisoned and exiled leaders have an enormous accumulated capital of confidence among the workers based on decades of courageous endurance and dedication to the liberation struggle. This is enhanced by all those who have sacrificed their lives in the name of the ANC. It entirely over-shadows as far as the masses are concerned the leadership’s failings in policy and strategy which have, in any event, not yet been fully brought to light in action.

Again and again in the years ahead the workers will try to solve the problems of revolutionary leadership, strategy, action programme, etc., in and through the ANC. If they, together with the working class youth, fail despite all efforts to establish clear socialist leadership in the ANC, what will happen will be the terrible disintegration and demoralisation of the movement, and the smashing of the revolution by the armed forces of reaction.

In any event, the ANC leadership will inevitably tack to the left in the coming period under the pressure of events and of the masses. At a certain point they will even put forward ‘socialism’ in words, thus taking the ‘left’ sectarians’ clothes away from them. It would not be the first time such a thing happened in world history.

Communist Party’s ‘Left’ Turn

Already there are signs of it in the air. The SA Communist Party, which directs the policy of the ANC, is currently going through a ‘left’ phase. Obviously the ranks of the CP in exile are responding to the revolutionary ferment among the working class at home and in turn putting pressure on the party leaders.

The January 1985 statement by the CP central committee is full of left phraseology about the crisis of capitalism, about the SA state being an organ “for the defence of bourgeois rule”, about the need to “destroy” or “render ineffective” the army and police in order “defeat the bourgeoisie”, etc.

It quotes Lenin’s dictum that the proletariat is the only class “capable of being revolutionary to the very end”. It says: “To be revolutionary to the very end means to fight for the victory of the socialist revolution, for the defeat of the bourgeoisie as a class, for the passing of power into the hands of the proletariat so that it becomes the ruling class. This is an historic task which faces the working class of our country, as it confronts the proletariat of all capitalist countries.”

However, as is typical of Stalinism, for every step they manage to take onto firm ground theoretically, they feel obliged to take at least one step back into the marsh. Instead of acknowledging that South Africa’s revolution is a proletarian socialist revolution which has, first and foremost, to carry-out national-democratic tasks, they try to cling on to the old false conceptions.

They still insist on the idea of two distinct revolutions: one ‘national-democratic’, the other ‘socialist’.

Nor is this a matter of semantics. For the ‘first’ revolution, a regime of “popular democracy” and not workers’ power is required. Only in the ‘second’ revolution are we to expect “proletarian rule”. Instead of the “democratic revolution” necessitating the overthrow of capitalism, it must merely “go as far as possible in undermining [!] the positions of the monopoly bourgeoisie” – the Freedom Charter itself goes further than that by proclaiming expropriation! – “and bringing the maximum benefits to the working class and the oppressed and exploited rural masses.”

Thus they are in reality still in a complete fog. And the matter is not helped by the statement that the working class – the overwhelming majority of society (and the only consistently revolutionary class, don’t forget!) – should make its “imprint” (merely its imprint!) upon the democratic revolution and “prepare the conditions for an uninterrupted advance from popular democracy to proletarian rule.” The “conditions”, needless to say, are not spelled-out.

This piously expressed hope of “uninterrupted advance” is merely the CP leaders’ attempt to have it both ways. In practice, while even a membrane separates their ‘national-democratic’ from their ‘socialist’ revolutions, this serves as a screen for the ideas of class-compromise with capitalism. It gives them a pretext for continuing to put-off the fundamental tasks facing the working class, and continuing to seek a settlement with the bourgeoisie.

It is not accidental that, coinciding with this verbal ‘left’ turn, the ANC leadership has stated that the question of nationalisation in South Africa will only be considered after the election of a ‘democratic government’. Thus, under the influence of ‘democratic’ petty-bourgeois and Stalinist illusions in class-compromise, they casually abandon a fundamental pillar of the Freedom Charter which is absolutely essential to mobilise the working class effectively and give clear direction in the struggle for power.

Significantly, not a peep of protest is uttered by the South African ‘Communist’ Party leaders. Far from opposing such a retreat from the revolutionary content of the Freedom Charter, they are fully behind the revision and ‘inspire’ it theoretically.

Tailing Behind Events

Such ideas and such leadership place the success of our struggle in great danger. The CP leaders’ policy is to tail behind events and adapt their formal position, when necessary, sufficiently to the ‘left’ to prevent their rank-and-file revolting against the leadership, while at the same time not departing in essence from the old Stalinist class-collaboration policies.

Let us not forget that after the Soweto uprising of 1976, the CP leadership also began to toy with left-wing formulas. But when the movement cooled temporarily and a lull set in, they quickly swung back again to the old bald two-stage dogma. In 1979 they were organising the permanent ‘suspension’ of Marxists from the ANC for the crime of putting forward the idea of workers’ revolution in SA!

In periods when the working class is establishing its dominance in action at the forefront of the whole movement, then all the catchphrases about the ‘leading role’ of the working class are dusted-off and wheeled out for ceremonial purposes by the CP. But as soon as the working class lapses into passivity, or suffers defeats – or, on the other hand, as we shall see when the task of taking power is posed before the working class in practice – the CP leaders will rediscover all the points about the necessary ‘broadness’ of the democratic struggle including all classes, about how the workers should not ‘frighten off’ the middle class by trying to go too far, etc., etc.

The policy of the SACP is fundamentally determined by the line of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, on which it depends. Far from this representing a threat to capitalism in SA – far from there being any basis for Botha’s hysterics about ‘Soviet intervention’ endangering capitalism in Southern Africa as a whole – the policy of the Kremlin is to try to reach a compromise with imperialism over this explosive region, and particularly over South Africa itself. Promoting workers’ power is absolutely against their interests.

This is what prevents the SACP from correcting its false policy and going-over genuinely to a position of workers’ revolution. The CP’s ‘mistakes’ are therefore not essentially theoretical, but derive from the material self-interest of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

The CP has never been able to sustain a consistent position on perspectives, strategy or tasks of the SA revolution. In 1959, as we pointed out before, they insisted that the democratic transformation of SA could be peaceful. Then, reeling from Sharpeville and the subsequent state crackdown, they swung over to the idea of the ‘South African Reich’, a fascist dictatorship under which nothing could be done. (Inqaba No. 3 dealt with the fallacies in their theory of SA ‘fascism’, so we need not repeat the arguments here.)

Without thinking the problem through, the CP leaders jumped over to the ideas of ‘armed struggle’ and peddled for twenty years a barren strategy of guerrilla warfare against the SA regime. With this, they continued to combine hopes of a ‘democratic’ compromise with the big bourgeoisie, thus showing that guerrillaism was in reality always seen by the leadership as a way of exercising ‘pressure’ and never as a way of overthrowing the regime. In fact it could do neither.

Now they are swinging over empirically again, under the impact of events, to pay respects to the ideas of the mass movement and of armed insurrection.

New Errors

In doing so, however, they merely manage to move from one set of mistakes to another, or to combine old mistakes in a new way. Before examining these, it is necessary to set out some details of the recent public policy shift by the ANC on the question of insurrection.

In two NEC statements (which we have already cited) issued in Lusaka on 25 April and 9 May, the ANC leadership makes plain its view that:

…the conditions for a revolutionary leap forward are beginning to mature.

The oppressed and exploited people of our country are thus placed, more now than ever before, in a favourable position as revolutionary conditions mature to deliver the final death blow on the apartheid regime.

We have already explained that a drawn-out period of years of intense revolutionary struggles in SA will be necessary before the conditions will have been prepared for the overthrow of the regime. Just how “mature” are the revolutionary conditions now, in the eyes of the ANC leadership? Just how imminent is the “final death blow” believed to be? In questions such as this – the actual tactics of revolution and their timing – the whole test of a revolutionary leadership is concentrated.

The thinking of the ANC leadership is revealed in a report on these public statements written for the London Guardian[3] by David Rabkin (the former political prisoner jailed by the Pretoria regime for ANC activities). He writes:

The new ‘call to the nation’ by the exiled nationalist movement represents an important shift of tactics towards a popular Iran-type insurrection rather than a protracted people’s war.

He makes clear that this turn in the ANC’s policy is primarily a response to the power of the mass revolt within SA over the past few months, but that it is also an acknowledgement that the guerrilla strategy pursued by the ANC in the past has failed. Let us take-up this latter point first.

Marxist Policy

In 1979, Marxists were ‘suspended’ from the ANC for arguing against the leadership’s guerrilla strategy and in favour of a strategy based on preparing for armed insurrection by the mass of the black working class. Since its inception in 1980, Inqaba has consistently put forward the same ideas.

Without acknowledging this, and unfortunately in a mangled way, the new turn by the ANC leadership nevertheless vindicates, rather belatedly, this criticism of its policy which the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC alone has put forward within the movement.

Summing up our position on armed struggle in South Africa’s Impending Socialist Revolution (March 1982), we wrote:

Lacking any basis for a peasant war, guerrilla struggle in our country can only take the form of urban guerrilla action – which cannot overthrow the regime. It is, quite simply, not a strategy for power…

There is no force which can make the revolution for the SA workers. The revolution will be a workers’ revolution or it will be no revolution at all. If the approach of our movement to armed struggle is to confine it within the limits of armed action by guerrilla detachments, this will prove totally insufficient to bring down the regime.

Despite the heroism and self-sacrifice of the comrades in the ranks of MK, this will not be sufficient to produce the result for which they are prepared to die. Unless armed struggle is developed as the struggle of the working masses, as an expression and extension of their organised strength, their social aims, and their need to change society, it will not rise above an impotent method of exerting ‘pressure’ on the ruling class…

Contrary to the popular myth, guerrilla action does not demoralise the whites – on the contrary, it usually tends to harden reaction. But when the mass movement has gained the capacity to use armed force, its effects will be profoundly demoralising upon all the forces of reaction…

The basis of our military policy in SA must be to prepare the forces for the future armed insurrection against the state.

This would not imply reckless and adventurist policies in the mass movement, immediately provoking massive military retaliation against the black working class and youth, still in a relatively early stage of mobilising their forces. The point is to prepare with the eventual aim of insurrection in mind…

Within the ANC we must urge a turn towards the preparation of methods and tactics in the realm of armed struggle which will lead to the eventual armed insurrection of the mass of working people against the state.

Effective preparations are needed for the arming of the workers and youth; importing and stock-piling the necessary arms as well as acquiring and making arms from all possible sources within the country; carrying on military training in SA in conjunction with the building of the underground political networks of the ANC; and so on.

These ideas were further developed, for example, in Arming the Workers’ Movement – a Reply to Comrade Tambo (Inqaba No. 11, August-October 1983). There we also specifically answered the false charge of the Stalinists that we were advocating “suicidal missions based on a ‘trained workers’ militia’.” They scoffed that our material would lie unread in damp or dusty cellars. Now it is amusing to see ideas of Inqaba surfacing unacknowledged in official policy statements of the CP and ANC – or rather, it would be amusing if these were not distorted and turned into a new source of error for the movement.

Unfortunately, a leadership which fails to carry-out an open and honest examination of why its previous policy was incorrect, cannot arrive at a clear and correct new policy either. Rabkin’s interview in the Guardian with a leading member of the ANC’s Political Military Council shows that they have not fundamentally understood the reasons for the failure of guerrillaism. They attribute it entirely to the lack of bases (something which, incidentally, a few months ago, they claimed would make no real difference because all the necessary bases were ‘inside’ South Africa!).

Now the PMC spokesman says:

We have been trying to engage in armed activities under conditions which are unique in Africa. We are at a terrible disadvantage because we don’t have and never will have the kind of rear base that others have – a neighbouring country with enough strength and power to accept it being used in the way Tanzania was used by Frelimo.

Thus the leadership still does not see, or will not admit, that the main barrier to successful guerrilla war is the fact that SA is an industrialised country, with no peasantry, and therefore entirely, inappropriate to guerrilla war. It is the methods of proletarian class struggle which alone can lead to a victorious insurrection.

Victory Not Possible Yet

But a victorious insurrection is not possible immediately or even in the relatively short term. To conceive of seizing power in South Africa by ‘Iran-type’ tactics of mere frontal assault against this formidable apartheid military machine is, as we have pointed out, dangerously mistaken.

The youth especially are quite capable of taking this idea of an “Iran-type insurrection” seriously, at face value, and launching an heroic adventure in which they would certainly break their necks.

If that occurs the whole movement may be set back for a temporary period, before it recovers again. In that event, ANC policy would probably once again swing to the right. If such a defeat is suffered, no-one should blame the youth for their confusion. The confusion lies at the top. It is demonstrated in this passage in the interview with the ANC’s PMC spokesman:

It remains true that the idea of a general insurrection as an immediate way forward cannot replace the long-term perspective we have of protracted people’s war. But we know that history sometimes has a funny way of departing from blueprints. We should certainly keep the lines open to other possibilities which the situation is opening up…

I believe the possibility of bringing about the collapse of the existing set-up in South Africa through the build-up of insurrectionary factors has never been as great as it is today.

Here we have every possible confusion rolled into one. Insurrection is “an immediate way forward” (which it is not). Nevertheless it “cannot replace” in the “long term” the old idea of a guerrilla war (which is what they mean by “protracted people’s war”) – although this has just been confessed a failure, for lack of bases or what-have-you. And if neither of these strategies work, then we should “certainly” be “open to other possibilities”!

What this means is that the leadership has no conception of the stage the movement is passing through or the real tasks involved in preparing for power. It is incapable, as Marx put it, of telling the first or third month of pregnancy from the ninth – and consequently will produce an abortion.

It is jumping about empirically from one superficial idea to another, reacting to events without systematically thinking anything through. Thus guerrilla bombings by Umkhonto we Sizwe are continuing even while these are (half) conceded to reflect an unworkable strategy. The plan now, it seems, is to combine impotent guerrillaism with unprepared and premature insurrection!

Organs of Popular Power

The NEC statement of 9 May says: “The road now lies open for people to seize the initiative and build their own organs of popular power which must be the only authority in the townships, directly accountable to the people.” Rabkin, from his discussions with the ANC leadership, interprets this as follows: “The statement calls for people’s committees to be set up as alternative administration in black townships.”

The formation of ‘peoples’ committees’ as organising nuclei of revolutionary leadership in the townships is absolutely correct. But, at this stage, these would have to be based on relatively small areas or blocks within the townships, or on factories, compounds, schools, etc., kept largely secret, and only emerging as a combined body to give open leadership at township or regional level for temporary periods, and in ways which prevent their easy arrest and crushing by the regime.

It is simply ludicrous to suggest that ‘people’s committees’ can take over “administration in black townships” at this stage.

The ANC’s statement distinctly implies that the situation is ripe for the public emergence of popular organs of power within the townships – along the lines of soviets (workers’ and soldiers’ councils) in the Russian Revolution. But the emergence of such bodies on a sustainable basis will be possible only as real conditions of dual power emerge in SA – when the state can no longer enter the black areas safely even with huge police and troop contingents, when its own forces are in disarray, and when an armed mass movement is moving towards a direct fight for power.

Wrong View of General Strike

The NEC statement of April is likewise entirely misconceived in its call for all-out general strike action at the present time. “A long-lasting national work stoppage, backed by our oppressed communities and supported by armed activity, can break the backbone of the apartheid system and bring the regime to its knees.” That light-minded formula is nothing short of a recipe for a severe defeat. It shows no comprehension of the immense forces and scale of the fighting which will be involved in “bringing the regime to its knees,” let alone overthrowing it. A national work stoppage “supported by armed activity” – apparently intended to mean isolated guerrilla activity and hastily armed groups of youth – can achieve nothing of the kind.

Instead of tossing around half-baked conceptions of this kind, it is necessary to think through seriously to a conclusion the problems of general strike action on the one hand, and armed mass insurrection on the other – and to work out a properly prepared strategy for both.

An effective general strike which paralyses the country inevitably poses the question of power – of who rules society – but it cannot resolve that question. To resolve the question of power, it will not be enough to render the country “ungovernable”, whether “supported by armed activity” or not – it will be necessary to establish new organs of revolutionary state power in the place of the old.

The question of power can thus be resolved only by an armed insurrection establishing the rule of the working class. If the conditions for successful insurrection are not present, a “long-lasting national work stoppage” called under illusions of easy victory can only end in demoralising defeat.

General strike action requires great skill and foresight as a tactic, if the movement is to be taken forward and not subjected to unnecessary setbacks. An all-out indefinite general strike should not usually be resorted to on a major political issue which the regime cannot easily concede unless the preparations have been made to transform the general strike into an armed insurrection and all-out struggle for state power. Those preparations have hardly begun as yet in South Africa.

The way to proceed towards this goal is through the careful use of limited general strikes – which themselves cannot be successful if they are too frequently and lightly called, or ill prepared – and from these build towards the full mobilisation of the workers and youth country-wide. It will take an extended development to prepare the effective use of arms by the masses in conjunction with general strike action.

At the same time, however, the youth have been pioneering essentially correct tactics in fighting to drive-out from the black communities all elements of collaboration with the state – the councillors, black police who refuse to resign, etc. This is necessary not only for the purpose of uniting the blacks on the clear understanding that no compromise with the regime is possible. It is necessary also to give the whites a sense of their profound isolation, thus preparing the way for their future splitting and the winning-over of sections to the idea of a workers’ state.

Nevertheless, without a clear strategic framework – guided, on the contrary, by a confused adventurist perspective now made into official policy by the ANC – these efforts of the youth in the townships will come up against their inherent limits and open the possibility of serious setbacks.

Undoubtedly, very violent and even grisly methods have been and are being used by the youth in the struggle against the collaborators. We have no intention of pedantically ‘criticising’ these methods, which are used in a situation where the councillors and black police are armed to kill; where they are backed-up by white riot police and troops who are shooting down the black youth like flies.

Moreover, revolution (as Trotsky put it) is not performed ‘under a conductor’s baton’. Excesses are in the nature of revolution, and are absolutely unavoidable at times.

But that is no justification for a failure of leadership, theory, perspectives, strategy and tactics necessary to guide the movement. It is not solely on the two quoted ANC statements that we base this criticism. Those statements are typical of the confusion now reigning in the leading circles of the CP and ANC.

Attempt to Launch Insurrection

On 22 February, the ANC broadcast from Addis Ababa a call to the black masses in South Africa to take-up arms and use them against the state – a call which, in its totality, amounted to an attempt to launch insurrectionary action without preparation, without plan, without timing, without a mass political action programme to lay the basis first. Faith is placed totally in arms and immediate undirected armed action to smash the state.

The broadcast said:

And where are these arms? Where are the weapons to destroy this regime? They cannot be found anywhere else countrymen. They can only be found in our country itself. The weapons are there in front of you. They are in the hands of the policemen themselves. Some of these policemen are coming back to sleep within our midst in the townships. We know where they live. Let us break in their houses and take those guns that the apartheid regime gives them to kill us and turn those guns against them. Let us break into their barracks and take those guns and machine-guns.

We are now at war, countrymen, against a very vicious enemy and we have to use all methods to destroy it. We have not only to depend on the weapons of Umkhonto we Sizwe. As this is a people’s war we the people must now be armed. We should not only expect Umkhonto we Sizwe combatants to arm us…

We too [?] must eliminate their puppets who are roaming amongst us within. We should attack the police station and the army barracks and capture those weapons. [Words indistinct].

…This regime must find itself surrounded by a heavily armed nation out to engulf it and smash it to ruins… Now is the time to act. Now is the time to attack… Tens and thousands of fighting militants armed to the teeth must rise up.[4]

Here we have a few correct statements concerning the need to obtain arms from local sources; but instead of calling for their concealment and for systematic preparations, the broadcast shows the same light-mindedness over the formidably difficult task of overthrowing the SA regime by insurrection as was previously shown over the question of guerrilla war. Bravado, comrades of the ANC leadership in exile, is no substitute for intelligent strategy and tactics.

Courage Not Enough

The courageous black youth have shown in many incidents that they are ready to go to the end in this struggle. Take the example of Silvertown, near Brakpan, where, after the demolition of ‘squatter’ shacks by the authorities in February, 300 young people attacked and stoned the local police barracks. Similar examples are legion all over the country.

But this courage of the revolutionary youth must be consciously organised, and directed within the framework of a scientific perspective, and clear strategic and tactical planning.

If wild and undirected fighting, armed or unarmed, begins to characterise the struggle, if political ideas become subordinated to petrol fires, and organisation to mere mass frenzy, this will eventually lead to a revulsion and reaction also within the black proletarian communities themselves – and so lead to splits and open the way to serious defeats.

It is organised political mass action which must characterise the movement, in the eyes of the blacks and in the eyes of the whites – and that depends upon the big organisations of the working class, the trade unions, the youth organisations, community organisations, the UDF, coming together on a clear action programme.

But to make an action programme effective, organised class action must be to the forefront. Socialist ideas are necessary to mobilise the full force of the black working class. Non-racial ideas are necessary in order to make the class character of the movement clear. Non-racial and socialist ideas are necessary eventually to win over the white workers and middle class youth.

The movement has to prepare deliberately for armed insurrection. Weapons must be gathered and stored; tactics worked out; training accumulated and shared.

Initially, however, it will be through defensive tactics – using arms to defend townships, meetings, strikes, etc. – that the basis will be laid for passing-over to the offensive. Guerrilla-type actions by small armed bands of youth, etc., have a role to play, provided these are subordinated to an overall conception, political strategy, and finally an organised plan centred around the mobilisation of the big battalions of the organised workers.

Marxist Ideas Vital

To give the necessary political leadership to this struggle, the ANC needs above all to be freed of the hopelessly bankrupt Stalinist ideas which presently guide its leadership. Only on the basis of authentic Marxist ideas will it be possible to find the way forward.

Thus the essence of the struggle for political clarity in the movement in the coming period will be the struggle between Stalinism and Marxism, between middle class and working class leadership, in the ANC.

Through long drawn-out and bitter battles, the conditions necessary for revolution and insurrection will develop. In manifold forms the organised strength and confidence of the black proletariat will grow. It will gain the means, knowledge and experience to use arms.

The viciousness of the conflict with the whites will intensify, but in the camp of the whites and of bourgeois society, there will set in decay, demoralisation and tendencies towards disintegration and collapse.

The road to power will be opened to the degree that the organised black proletariat establishes its leadership in action and gives decisive direction to events with a clear democratic and socialist policy for workers’ power.

The titanic movement of the black proletariat in South Africa will awaken the whole of Africa to revolution. This is a continent crying-out for the leadership of the working class. It is a continent where annual production is now less than it was fifteen years ago; where one-fifth of the population are living on the edge of extinction, and where that proportion could rise to four-fifths by 1995.

The South African revolution is the key to the future salvation of Africa – to the socialist transformation of the continent. At the same time, advances in the world revolution, in Europe in particular, will immensely facilitate and clear the path for the revolutionary struggle in SA.

A regime of workers’ democracy in an important country anywhere in the world would provide a beacon which would enable Marxism to win not only the black people as a whole but the white workers and middle class as well to the idea of an alternative society.

In turn the SA revolution will have a worldwide impact. It will be fought out also on the television screens and on the front pages of the newspapers of the world. It will have an immense impact throughout the ex-colonial world, in the Middle East, among the blacks in America, and indeed upon the proletariat everywhere.

The South African revolution has all the grandeur and heroism of the greatest slave revolts in history. It has all the historic inevitability of the struggles for colonial liberation this century. And – provided the ideas of Marxism prevail within the movement – it will have all the power, direction and promise for a new society which the proletariat carries in its hands. Armed in this way, it will conquer.

May 1985

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

[1] 14 April 1985

[2]  The Star, 2 May 1985

[3] 10 May 1985

[4]  Quoted from Facts and Reports, vol. 15, No. F