Originally published as the editorial of Inqaba ya Basebenzi No. 9 (February-April 1983).
The slaughter by the SADF in Maseru follows the killing of black miners in July and more murders of detainees.
For all the talk of ‘power-sharing’ and ‘reform’, it is these continued horrors which show the real nature of the apartheid state.
The ‘liberal’ PFP’s response to Maseru was support for the SADF’s “pre-emptive strike”. The Financial Mail, paper of the ‘progressive’ businessmen, demanded that the ANC be “hunted down” and “eliminated”.
Whatever their differences, every section of the capitalist class is united against challenges to the ‘law and order’ of the state which protects their property and privilege.
In all comrades of the ANC, as among the oppressed and exploited people generally, there is a burning urge to avenge these atrocities.
But the real question is: what strategy of struggle can provide the way to overthrow the regime and liberate our people? This needs to be frankly and soberly re-examined in our movement.
The Maseru massacre has demonstrated again the immense military might of the Pretoria regime, greater by far than all the surrounding countries combined. This power is based on SA’s industrial strength, which dominates the whole sub-continent.
MK’s reply has been further guerrilla actions – most strikingly the bombing of the Koeberg nuclear power station. But can these commando-style raids, however sophisticated and frequent they may become, lead to the overthrow of the regime?
In fact, in SA the necessary conditions do not exist for a guerrilla war to defeat the regime.
In a number of underdeveloped colonial countries, where the social basis of the oppressor regime has been weak, and where peasants make up the mass of the population, rural guerrilla armies have succeeded in coming to power.
Not one of these conditions applies to SA.
Never has guerrilla struggle succeeded in toppling the state in an industrially developed country.
But this does not make the SA regime invincible.
Industrialisation has itself created the force with the power to destroy the regime – the working class.
Concentrated in large numbers at the strategic centres of production, the working class has the capacity to paralyse the system.
A strong united workers movement is a magnetic force that can draw all classes of the oppressed behind it. By confronting the ruling class as a united movement, it demoralises and splits the social forces on which the regime rests.
Offering the alternative of a secure future for all working people through the socialist transformation of society, the working class movement can win to its side many of the white youth and workers who now bear arms for the regime.
With mass organisation and under a revolutionary leadership, the working class will finally defeat and dismantle the state by means of an armed insurrection.
Guerrilla struggle, in contrast, serves neither to divide and weaken the regime and its supporters nor to strengthen and unite our own ranks.
In fact the consequences are the opposite of those intended by the guerrilla fighters themselves.
Rather than neutralising the poison of white racism, splitting the whites along class lines, and isolating the regime, guerrilla struggle can only lead to a closing of white ranks and the whipping up of racist reaction to new frenzies.
Stepping-up attacks on the white population is now being threatened again in the wake of the Maseru horrors. This will stampede the whites even more rapidly in this direction.
The response of the state to guerrilla activities will be not only more and more repression in SA, but more and more frequent murderous reprisals against neighbouring countries.
Clearly these countries cannot serve as secure launching bases for an escalating guerrilla war in SA.
The result of pursuing a guerrilla strategy would be to turn Southern Africa increasingly into a Lebanon, as pointed out in Inqaba before the Maseru attack.
From this could come a terrible racial civil war that, whatever its outcome, would devastate the region and consume millions of lives.
Some argue that guerrilla action serves to back-up and encourage the development of the workers’ movement.
Such comrades are repeating the mistake of the 19th century anarchist revolutionaries, who believed that “propaganda by the deed” – bombings and assassinations by small groups of heroes – would inspire the workers to revolution.
In reality the opposite is the case, however much the oppressed people may sympathise with bombings. The escalation of armed incidents outside the control of the workers’ movement serves to diminish workers’ recognition of their role as the class which must organise itself consciously to transform society.
Guerrilla struggle appears to offer a shortcut to victory. In fact it is a path to frustration and disaster.
To defeat the regime the task is to build a mass revolutionary workers’ movement.
This may seem a long and round-about road. As yet, the vast majority of workers remain to be organised. Only a tiny minority, even among the organised workers themselves, yet sense the full power and historic mission of the class.
Yet the mobilisation of the workers’ movement, preparing the way to smash national oppression and capitalism through an eventual armed insurrection, is the only way to freedom.
In contributing to this task, every activist can most effectively serve the memory of the murdered comrades and all those slaughtered by the regime.
The ANC leadership, instead of encouraging illusions in guerrilla struggle, must throw all its resources into building the workers’ movement, as a magnet for all the oppressed.
That would enormously shorten the road to victory – to majority rule and socialism.
© Transcribed from the original by the Marxist Workers Party (2022).