The Struggle for Power
There is no country where/the movement of the oppressed working people to transform society faces more formidable obstacles, or a more vicious and entrenched enemy, than is the case in South Africa. That the struggle for liberation has proceeded thus far—that the regime and the ruling class already face so serious a political crisis at so early a stage in the decay of their system—is testimony to a resilience, courage and fighting capacity of the workers and youth that can seldom have been equalled anywhere.
The growth of the independent unions, the efforts towards trade union unity, the drawing of the youth towards the forces of organised labour, and the raising of the banner of the ANC in the ranks of the mass movement, are all indications of the growing clarity of political consciousness and purpose among the oppressed. Also indicative is the overwhelming recognition, particularly by the younger generation, that armed force is an unavoidable necessity in the struggle to overthrow the regime.
The developing awareness in the ranks of the workers and youth—now ever more openly expressed—that the capitalist system lies at the root of oppression, marks an immense stride forward in the clarity of understanding of our revolutionary tasks. Yet this also raises more sharply than ever in our movement the need to clarify a range of questions of programme and strategy in order that the forces of the struggle may be united for the overthrow both of the racist regime and the system of exploitation which has created it.
The Struggle for Democracy
The demand for a democratic system of government stands at the forefront of the struggle of all the oppressed. It is written in the boldest letters on the banner of the black working-class movement, and in any revolutionary programme must be first on the order of business.
Yet it is not separate from the essential social tasks of the revolution. It does not stand apart from the pressing urgency to end unemployment, low wages, poverty, hunger and homelessness.
As explained in previous chapters, a democratic society cannot arise and survive in South Africa on the foundations of capitalism. There can be no genuinely democratic state in our country unless the state of the racist and capitalist dictatorship is dismantled, shattered, “smashed”—to use the term of Marx—and the economic basis of society transformed. A ‘democratic state’ in SA can be none other than a state in transition to socialism—a state of workers’ democracy.
For all the efforts of middle-class theoreticians, the democratic aspirations of the working people cannot be accommodated in a separate historical ‘stage’ of ‘national democracy’, leaving the socialist tasks of the revolution unfulfilled.
This reality of our struggle is inescapable and does not depend on the willingness of political leaders to recognise it. It follows from the inner laws of the productive system—capitalism in its epoch of senile decay. It rests on the class structure of our society and the relentless action of class forces upon each, other, which can no more be ordered to halt than the wind and tile waves.
The general’ historical explanation for this reality has been most brilliantly set Out, many years ago, in the Works of Trotsky on the, theory of permanent revolution. In these works he expounded, not only the essential ideas and method of Marx, but also that of Lenin in the Russian Revolution of 1917.
As explained in previous chapters, these ideas provide the key to all the processes of world history in the modern epoch. They are an annihilating answer to the Menshevik and modern-day Stalinist theory of revolutionary ‘stages’.
But the same Trotsky, in his book The Permanent Revolution, stated that “every attempt to skip over real, that is, objectively conditioned stages in the development of the masses, is political adventurism.”
In this there is no contradiction. The mass of working people learn from the experience of life and struggle. It is through struggle that all illusions in alternatives to the socialist revolution are stripped away. It is through patient and persistent work in every struggle of the workers and of all the oppressed that a revolutionary tendency can gain majority support for its ideas.
Thus, in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the central task set Out by Lenin for the cadres of Bolshevism was to “patiently explain” to the working class in action the need to prepare their forces for the seizure of state power.
A democratic system of government in Russia on the basis of capitalism was historically ruled Out, for the reasons summarised in Chapter 2. Yet the masses did not enter the revolution with this understanding.
After February 1917 the reformist leaders—the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries—hoped to “stabilise democracy” without the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The masses trusted these leaders; and the latter entered into coalition with the capitalists.
The struggle of the workers and peasants had begun a process of democratic revolution in Russia—which would not be successfully completed until the working class took power. By striving to halt this process at a ‘democratic stage’ the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaders in effect were willing to leave the fate of the revolution at the mercy of a capitalist class that could in no way live with democracy.
Bankrupt through and through, this policy could not halt the struggle of the classes or reconcile their conflicting interests. The illusions, and indeed treachery, of the Menshevik and SR leaders could not impose ‘stages’ on the revolution which were objectively impossible. Yet their policies brought a crisis in the revolution itself—to the extent that the masses had not yet passed beyond the “stage” of trusting them.
Had it not been for the existence of the Bolsheviks, their correct policies and tireless work, the poor peasants and working class of Russia would inevitably have suffered a bloody, counter-revolutionary defeat.
The patience of the Bolsheviks had nothing in common with passivity. They did not tail behind the consciousness of the masses; they did not suspend criticism of. the liberals and the reformists; they did not tamely wait for the illusions of the workers in the latter to ‘spontaneously’ disappear. They explored and exploited every opportunity, in action with the workers, to explain the tasks, to strip away illusions and expose the danger in every false idea.
Thus they succeeded in arming the proletarian vanguard, and through it the wider masses of the people, with a clarity of purpose, programme and strategy to save the revolution from defeat.
In our movement in South Africa, these same lessons are vital to absorb, if the ANC is to succeed in leading the people to victory in the struggle for the democratic transformation of our society.
Those who follow the political method of Menshevism—such as the ‘Communist’ leaders today—have never accepted these lessons of the Russian Revolution, and so fail to apply them to the SA situation. Since the myth of “two stages” has been imposed as a dogma of Stalinism, the inheritors of that tradition have found it impossible to discard.
Underpinning the ‘stages’ approach is the assumption that the black working class in South Africa cannot rise to class consciousness—cannot comprehend the need to overthrow capitalism—until after racial oppression has been eliminated. In the literature of the SACP this is seldom openly asserted—but the real views of writers are often more plainly revealed in those moments when the pen ‘slips’ than in slicker passages.
“Can the black workers realise their class aims, when the society rubs their faces so deeply in their national oppression that their eyes are blinded?” writes the well-known ‘Toussaint’ (The African Communist, No. 72, 1978, p30), and vigorously shakes his head.
His idea is false to the marrow. It ignores the inseparable connection between racism and capitalism in our country. It displays quite a bit of contempt for the black working class and, if we may say so, a certain distance from the workers’ actual life which may itself contribute to a certain … ‘blindness’.
As even the bourgeois writers are now forced to recognise, conditions in SA are irresistibly drawing black workers and youth towards socialist ideas.
So the Johannesburg Star (4/5/79) laments:
“The steady drift towards communism/Marxism/socialism on the part of South Africa’s blacks is an ominous one. In the long term it poses a greater threat to peace and prosperity in South Africa than does black nationalism, black consciousness or the black battle for political and economic equality. This trend has been confirmed by three major surveys which show that the majority of urban blacks prefer to call themselves communists, Marxists or socialists rather than capitalists…”
Nevertheless, the maturing of class-consciousness among the masses is not something which can be left complacently to its spontaneous evolution. Consciousness is determined by conditions, by the experience of life—but consciousness also lags behind experience.
Engels emphasised that, in a time of revolution, the working class learns more in the space of a few weeks than in decades of ‘normal’ life. Yet this process of learning is uneven. The most advanced layer of the class—those active in the organised-,,- movement in previous years—enter the revolution with a more developed understanding of the tasks than the broader, more passive layers who are flung into action in a revolutionary crisis for the first time.
The consciousness of the former may run ahead of the latter. At the same time the fresh contingents of the workers, new to battle, may leap ahead of their more experienced comrades in boldness and vigour in the eat of action. In the turmoil of a revolution all the forces in society shift and heave like volcanic lava in flux. A revolution is an extended process and sequence of engagements, clashes, tests of strength and tests of will between the opposing classes. But every process has its turning points, its moments on which the entire outcome may depend.
The victory or defeat of a revolution can depend—and in the case of the SA revolution will undoubtedly depend—on the ability of the mass of oppressed working people to draw clear conclusions out of the experience of struggle, and unite their forces for the overthrow of the state and the tasks of transforming society.
Precisely because of the accelerated pace of events; the inevitable turmoil and confusion; the unevenness of consciousness prevailing and its tendency to lag behind events—precisely for these reasons a correct leadership of the – whole movement with clear and scientific policies, becomes the indispensable key to rallying the forces of the struggle to carry through the revolution.
In South Africa, where the enemy is so formidably fortified and entrenched, the entire outcome will turn on the question of leadership.
Among our people there is a burning class hostility towards the capitalists. The daily struggle for survival; the conflict with the bosses in the factories, mines and on the farms; the obvious dependence of the bosses on the state; the direction of state repression more and more against the organisations of the workers; the stark gulf between rich and poor; the ostentation of the black business elite (whose wealth is no less conspicuous for being small); the growing awareness of revolutions in other countries and the rise of the workers’ movement of West and East—all these raise the consciousness of the SA working class of the need for socialist revolution, and give confidence in the possibility of its victory.
The mass of our people, including the overwhelming majority of workers, at the same time attach enormous importance to the struggle for the vote and other democratic rights, which have been gained in some form in many other capitalist countries.
This is not, as Stalinism asserts, because the workers cannot identify the capitalist enemy. The point is that most workers believe that the attainment of democratic rights will make it possible both to end racist oppression and to get rid of the tyranny and exploitation of the bosses—thus allowing the material conditions of life to be transformed.
If trust is now placed in too abstract a conception of ‘democracy’; if it is not yet clearly seen that for democracy to be made concrete the working class will have Co establish its own democratic state power—this is because direct experience of bourgeois democracy has been denied to the majority in South Africa.
The Mensheviks/Stalinists assert that the path to a revolutionary working-class consciousness requires that the workers should first achieve bourgeois-democratic rights, in order to discover the inadequacy of these in fullness of time.
But in South Africa the experience of the working class in action will be that such rights cannot be secured while the existing state remains undefeated, while the working class has not yet established its own state power, and while the capitalist class remain the owners of production.
It is unavoidable that the working class as a whole must pass through this experience of struggle in order to draw all the necessary conclusions. This process will be an “objectively conditioned stage in the development of the masses” (to use Trotsky’s expression). It is in this sense, and this sense alone, that our revolution will pass through ‘stages’—as the consciousness of the working class is clarified through the manifold experiences of battle.
Precisely as consciousness and confidence advance, the mass movement will rally country-wide in the effort to remove the regime of white domination. All the tasks of the revolution will at first be tied together in this knot.
Nine-tenths of a revolutionary consciousness is already provided in the experience of life of the oppressed working people. The remaining one-tenth—so far possessed by only fairly small forces of cadres in the movement—is a clear grasp of the necessity to dismantle the entire machinery of the capitalist state and replace it with democratic organs of a workers’ state, resting on the power of an armed people.
This understanding will become generalised in the mass movement in the coming period of revolution, only to the extent that it is systematically explained; to the extent that ideas are combined with experience, and theory shown in practice to be correct.
But the exponents of the ‘two-stage’ theory of revolution stand resolutely opposed to such development. They obscure with ‘theory’ the inescapable need for the working class to prepare for taking power in Order to secure a democratic society. Refusing to accept that democracy requires a workers’ state, they must lead the revolution up a’ blind alley if their ideas are followed.
Because the two-stage idea is put forward today in the name of ‘Communism’, it possesses an immense potential power to confuse and divide the working class. It inhibits the workers’ learning from experience and distracts them from their goal. Therefore it must be resolutely opposed, criticised, and defeated within our movement, by exposing it for the danger it represents.
At the same time, as Trotsky emphasised in his letter to South Africa back in 1935, nothing could be further from the policy of Marxism than to diminish the importance of the struggle for democracy, for national liberation and majority rule.
For the very reason that the capitalist class is compelled by its own needs to be the mortal enemy of democracy, of genuine liberation for the blacks, the mass struggle for democratic rights is charged with an explosive revolutionary force.
Carried consistently to its conclusion, clearly linked to the social demands of the working class and sustained in action by their organised power, it opens the bridge to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the carrying through of the socialist revolution.
Whatever awakens the consciousness of the working class, of their own power to change society is progressive; whatever dulls that consciousness is reactionary.
Thus the method of Marxism is not to posture, raising false hopes of liberation from above. Rather it is to strive among the working people in struggle for the taking of power into their own hands.
In the struggle for socialism, Marxism stands in the front rank of the democratic struggle. That is the bedrock of all our policies, strategy and tactics.
Against the nationalist rhetoric ‘which serves to blind workers to their class aims and dulls their sense of class power, Marxism stands uncompromisingly for the class-consciousness, class unity and internationalism of the proletariat. But it is only as the most resolute tendency struggling for national liberation and democracy that Marxism will defeat the influence of petty-bourgeois nationalism and Stalinism within our movement.
The ‘Alliance of Democrats’
It follows that Marxists take an approach to the building of the. forces of revolution which is different from the approach of the exponents of the ‘two-stage’ theory.
We must oppose any attempt to separate the struggle – for democracy from the struggle for workers’ power. It is the task of the working class to unite all the oppressed around its own organised strength and action.
It is the task of all comrades of the ANC, and of all revolutionaries in the ranks of the trade unions and the youth and community organisations, to work to build the forces of the working class as the conscious basis of the democratic movement against the regime. The key question is working class leadership of the struggle, the power of its organisations, and the programme on which it carries on the, fight.
We are in favour of the broadest possible alliance of all who are prepared to unite in action against the state. If there existed a mass peasantry in SA, we would champion its demands and support every effort to link its forces to the fullest extent to the struggle of the working class. As it is, we strive to gather the black working people of town and country together into a single movement.
Behind this movement must be drawn all those elements of the black middle class, as well as all those whites, who are willing to break decisively with the regime and with the pressures and interests of the ruling class. “Unity in Action”, the slogan of the ANC for 1982, is a slogan which every revolutionary would fully support.
To the above we would attach only one qualification by way of explanation. This is that the working class must not be hamstrung in its alliances; not curbed in advancing its own class interests and material demands; not held back from action for fear of “frightening away” the middle class; and not constrained by the leadership in the struggle against capitalism on the argument of observing “the limits” of the so-called “democratic stage”.
‘Democracy’ is a very wide term, and a very large sack into which many conflicting interests can be stuffed. On the part of the working class the greatest vigilance is necessary, because behind the cover of ‘democracy’ lurk cunning elements and agents of the capitalist class, who seek to use a ‘broad democratic alliance’ as a means to frustrate the struggle of the workers for democracy and socialism.
The ‘alliance of democrats’, much discussed in Smith Africa over the past year, is presented as a front of black workers, youth and middle class, together with democratic-minded whites. To such a combination of forces a number of workers’ organisations have readily given support. But is it only these forces which have been’ involved? It is necessary for all comrades to examine this front critically, and to make a sober assessment of its composition, policies; and direction of development.
Clearly its emergence has resulted from the crisis of the ruling class and the new. Mood of confidence among the oppressed masses, which has filtered through also to the middle class. Above all, the rise of the black youth movement and the impressive gains of the independent unions have cleared the way for this phenomenon.
Nevertheless, it is not working-class organisations and leaders who predominate in the ‘democratic alliance’, but leaders of the middle class.
Aided by platforms provided by the Church, the press, etc., they define the aims of the movement solely in ‘democratic’ terms. They assert the possibility of a negotiated settlement of the conflict in South Africa, and call for the support of the people solely to this end.
As long ago as 1852, writing on the defeated revolution in France at that time, Marx dealt with the character of the ‘democrats’ of that period. The sharpness of his language reflected the danger which their false approach represented to the workers’ struggle, and the vigour with which it needed to be exposed. It will be apparent that these remarks retain a considerable relevance to our situation today: –
…because the democrat represents the petty bourgeoisie, a transitional class in which the interests of two classes meet and become blurred, he imagines he is elevated above class antagonisms generally. The democrats admit that they are confronted with a privileged class, but assert that they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the right of the people; what interests them is the interest of the people. Therefore, when a struggle approaches, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the various classes. They do not need to weigh up the means at their disposal too critically. They have only to give the signal for the people, with all its inexhaustible resources, to fall upon the oppressors.
If in the sequel their interests turn out to be uninteresting and their power turns Out to be impotence, either this is the fault of dangerous sophists, who split the indivisible people into different hostile camps, or the army was too brutalised and deluded to understand that the pure goals of democracy were best for it too, or a mistake in one detail of implementation has wrecked the whole plan, or indeed an unforeseen accident has frustrated the game this time.
In each case the democrat emerges as spotless from the most shameful defeat as he was innocent when lie went into it, fresh in his conviction that he must inevitably be victorious, taking the view that conditions must ripen to meet his requirements, rather than that he and his party must abandon their old standpoint.”from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The “pure goals of democracy”, in Marx’s ironical phrase, are the very goals today espoused by the black middle-class leaders in the alliance of democrats in SA. Hoping in the name of “the people” to elevate these goals “above class antagonisms generally”, our democrats conjure with phrases and hope to evade the actual struggle of the classes which is sharpening all the time in the body of society.
Rather than “weigh up the means at their disposal too critically”, rather than confront the problem of how to shatter the extremely brutalised armed power in the hands of the oppressor class, they rest ‘their case on a general appeal to ‘principle’, and trust that the necessary conditions will ripen, that ‘reason will someday prevail’ in South Africa, to bring a non-racial and democratic society about.
The futility of these ideas, and the impotence of those who advance them, will be more and more revealed to the mass of the people who move into action and confront the forces of the state in the coming years. However, it would be a mistake to under-estimate the damage which these elements can do to the movement—especially as they are reinforced on the one hand by the uncritical endorsement of the Stalinists, and, on the other hand, by the assistance of the liberal bourgeoisie.
The utopian ideas of the middle-class democrats cannot liberate the workers, nor can they liberate the black middle class itself. They can only serve as a vehicle for transmitting the interests and the influence of capitalism into the ranks of the movement.
No matter how hard, or how sincerely, the middle-class leaders strive to present their ‘independence’ from the class antagonisms in society, in practice they cannot escape the class divide. Unwilling to break decisively with capitalism, they cannot avoid expressing the standpoint of the liberal bourgeoisie.
In so doing, they unavoidably, violate also the very democratic* principles which they proclaim.
So it is, for example, that Bishop’ Tutu, one of the foremost spokesmen of the ‘democrats’, has already hastened to assure the capitalists that it would be quite acceptable to merely, “phase out” the pass laws, in order to “avoid chaos”!
In other words, the working-class black majority must agree to submit itself to continued dompas inspections arrests, endorsement put, etc., for the sake of the stability and peace of mind of the bosses! One may ask which of “the people” gave Bishop Tutu the democratic mandate to make such a compromise.
This is only an early example of a trend that will become-much more pronounced later—the ‘readiness of the middle-class leaders- of this type to compromise the democratic struggle in order to satisfy the demands and pressures of the capitalist class.
TO take another example—that of Dr. Motlana: a man who himself has endured detention and banning as a result of his radical views. While proclaiming the unity of the people in the struggle for democracy, Motlana has not hesistated to use the platform of the bourgeois press to make a blatant attack on the aspirations of the working class for equality and socialism. (See Sunday Express, 5/10/80)
“Our blackness,” he correctly observed, “will not create housing, or efficiency. It will not answer the problems of food and jobs, or the needs of progress.”
The answer, he maintained, is for blacks to work harder within the capitalist system! The problem, apparently, is not capitalism itself, but too little of it; not competition, but merely unequal competition. “…For God’s sake, let there be real competition,” declares Motlana.
“Let those who have ambition”—individual, private, capitalist ambition—”work to fulfil it and not hold back because they do not want to wander top far ahead of the pack.”
“…In the cities the man who becomes a manager is jeered at,” complains the good Doctor. “…lt is false to opt out of the quest for personal improvement—in school, in university,- in the workplace–because this personal improvement means becoming part of the so-called unacceptable middle class.” (!!)
“…There are people who are waiting for a socialist regime to lead them to the land of milk and honey. To these people I say: You are idiots… .Too many of our people are simply bone lazy. Too often we blame the system for our own failures.-..” And so on and so forth.
Dr. Motlana’s complaint against the system in South Africa is essentially this: it bars, through race discrimination, the-advance of the individual black to levels of privilege, status and income equal. with the white establishment. One of his specific complaints, most often voiced, is that his children could not attend the best (white) private schools, nor his family take a house in the most opulent (white) suburbs, as would befit their -wealth and prestige. .
Of course racial discrimination’ of every kind is abominable. And if society is to be structured on privilege, privilege should at least, be ‘equal’!
But the whole point, for the working class, is not to abolish the present Inequalities of privilege only to reconstitute privilege on new foundations. It is to end the system of privilege entirely!
How far will the Doctor ally himself with the working class—with the black majority—in this democratic struggle?
We would not expect Dr. Motlana to forego his democratic right to express his own ideas, or articulate his own private interest—”uninteresting” as this undoubtedly is to the mass of the people. But nor should Dr. Motlana expect, in the name of a ‘broad democratic alliance’ that the working class must subordinate its interests,. its ideas, its demands, and its independent organisations to his heartfelt desire- to maintain the capitalist system.
For the majority of the black middle class, there is less and less room with every passing year for this kind of self-delusion with capitalist ideas. The majority, indeed, have become barely separable in salary, social position and social outlook from the proletariat itself.
For black teachers, nurses, social workers, university students, even small shopkeepers and many from the upper layers of the middle class as well, it-will become increasingly clear that there is no way out of their oppression on the basis of capitalism.
The assumption of the Stalinists—which, oddly enough, they share with the ultra-left—that the middle class cannot be won to a struggle for socialism, is false through and through. It is up to the working-class movement, to the workers’ organisations specifically, to champion the interests of all the oppressed classes and undertake their defence against the regime and the ruling class.
Unity in the struggle is not created by ‘agreements’, words, formal assurances, etc. It is created by the power and dynamism of forces in action. The workers’ movement, industrial and political, is the only force that can show the way forward in action to anew society free of racism and exploitation. The middle class can be won to the programme of proletarian revolution.
But the key condition for this is the rise of the workers’ movement to its full potential, the building of the workers’ organisations, and a clear and conscious programme linking the struggle for democracy to the socialist transformation of society.
The struggle for democracy is at root a struggle for workers’ organisation and for workers’ power. This road offers the only real way forward for all those in the ‘alliance of democrats’ who are entirely genuine and prepared to wage a consistent struggle for democratic aims.
The Trade Unions
In the years of dark reaction in the 1960s, state repression destroyed most of the unions of black workers and reduced the remainder to little more than benefit societies for their members. Yet this victory of the state was short-lived.
Since the early 1970s, the renewed upsurge of the workers’ movement has led to a vigorous re-emergence and expansion of independent non-racial unions. More than any other single factor, this has changed the political situation in SA.
In the development of every capitalist society, the self-organisation of the working class marks an historic turning-point. It provides the basis for ending the manipulation of the working class by other classes, and opens the way for the workers to assert their social power.
For this reason trade unions – which are the most fundamental form of working-class organisation, based at the point of production—have also a long-term political significance.
They are the ultimate line of defence of the working people against the forces of bourgeois reaction. They are an important guarantor of every democratic advance. Their part in the revolutionary transformation of society is indispensable. In the future society freed from bourgeois ownership and control, they form the basic instruments of democratic workers’ control and management of the economy.
In building the independent unions, the working class in South Africa has begun to rise up as a “class for itself” (as Marx put it); a class aware of itself as a class, and asserting through its own class organisations its own interests and demands.
Already in SA the rise of the independent workers’ movement has produced an underlying change in the inter-relationship of all the classes. Let us take one small but significant fact to illustrate this.
Only a few years ago, it was the practice of middle-class nationalist leaders among the blacks to dismiss the idea that the working class constituted a social force in its own right. Essentially, they asserted, “the workers are blacks.” But today the AZAPO leaders, for example, find it necessary to turn the thing upside down. “All blacks are workers!” they exclaim.
It is not necessary here to go into the accuracy of (o), or the purpose behind it. The point is that an historic change has come about in class relations when the middle class demand to be included in the definition of a worker. Even unconsciously they are indicating that they have no future apart from the workers’ movement; that the working class is the social force of the future.
The rise of the workers’ movement has meant a dramatic change in the situation confronting the regime and the ruling class. The inability of the state to control the workers by the established methods of repression alone has been the most important factor in precipitating the political crisis of the system. The turmoil in the policy of the government is most clearly shown in its repeated, fruitless efforts to find alternative means of curbing the unions.
Without the independence of the trade unions, they would be unable to sustain their resistance to the vicious pressures of the regime.
Many who are unfamiliar with trade unionism ask: what is this ‘independence’ which the non-racial unions claim? By independence is meant that the workers organise themselves as a definite class to fight for their own interests, and exclude from their ranks as far as possible the forces, influences, ideas and agents of all other classes. By these means they do not free themselves from external pressures of the bourgeoisie and the state—but they insulate themselves internally to a considerable extent from alien class pressures which’ may divide their ranks.
It is precisely because of the new unions’ insistence on independence, that the ruling class has found it so difficult to obstruct their progress and ensnare them into policies of barren compromise with the regime.
The central strategy of the regime in dealing with the unions—shown in the successive schemes devised by the Wiehahn Commission after careful discussions with the bosses—is to undermine the independence of the unions by squeezing them into the straightjacket of state regulation and control. The aim of the new Labour Relations legislation is to exert upon the union leaders a relentless, insidious pressure in opposition to the democratic pressure exerted by their worker rank-and file.
In order to resist manipulation by the state, in order to defend the independence and democracy of the unions, the most courageous and far-sighted of the workers’ leaders have maintained a vigorous opposition to the registration system and have conducted campaigns of education on1e issues among the membership at large.
But in many of the unions the strategy of the ruling class has been unwittingly aided by mistaken policies and reformist ideas on the part of the leaders. These ideas weaken the unions’ resistance to the state and can lead them into dangerous traps.
It is of the utmost importance for the whole trade union movement to base its policies on a clear perspective of the revolutionary crisis now beginning to unfold.
It is characteristic of reformist trade unionists that they conceive of union strength as a means of striking some sort of harmonious balance between the workers and the employers—of accommodating the workers’ movement within the capitalist system. They seek cautiously to limit the aims, demands and tactics of their organisations within these bounds.
But this approach is very short-sighted, is based on an illusion, and will ultimately show itself to be bankrupt. If the ruling class now lacks the means to crush the unions, that does not mean at all that it can come to terms with the existence of an independent trade union movement in the longer run.
Those in the unions who have advocated compromise with the state’s industrial relations system on the argument that this will help to consolidate and secure the trade unions as permanent institutions, protected by law, have been making a fundamental mistake. They are likewise mistaken when they draw parallels with the historical rise and gradual strengthening of the trade unions in the advanced industrialised countries of imperialism.
The working class in Western Europe, North America, etc., was able to consolidate its unions and gain a steady series of social reforms particularly in the post-war period—a period of economic advance of capitalism which now, in those very countries, has come to an end. It is for this reason exactly that social democratic reformist ideas are being broken down throughout the capitalist world under the impact of economic crisis and the grinding struggle of the classes.
Because of the strength of the working class in the industrialised West, and the accumulated ‘fat’ of capitalism, this situation of social decay and class polarisation will be long extended. But ultimately, the working class will be able to defend its trade union rights only by successfully carrying through the socialist revolution.
How much the more is this the case in South Africa! Here, no basis has ever existed for social-democratic reformism as far as the black majority of workers are concerned, and no basis for it can ever come into existence.
The reformist illusions which exist among some officials within the non-racial independent unions have no material basis in fact. Their reformism stands on a most fragile footing, and will not survive the mounting pressures of the struggle.
The state itself has not delayed in issuing the first warning to the workers of what is to come. The recent arrest of hundreds of union activists, and the government’s threat of political show trials for union leaders, has spelled out a vitally important lesson for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Of course the government has been skilful in beginning with selective attacks; in seeking to divide the union movement by picking first on some of the more militant leaders. (Almost the entire leadership of SAAWU, for instance, has been imprisoned.) As a result, some officials in other unions could make the grave mistake of believing that more timid and conservative policies will enable them in the long run to remain unscathed.
But the essential point to stress is that the stepping up of state repression against the unions is the inevitable result of the impasse of the economic and political system in South Africa—of the inability of the ruling class to exist side by side with a vigorous, flourishing, independent trade union movement of the mass of the black workers.
The ranks of all the independent unions must be united in the struggle to defend the victims of the renewed crack-down by the regime. The leaders of every union ought to whole-heartedly commit themselves to mobilising the maximum forces of the working class (rallying to its side also all classes of the oppressed and all democrats) in an active campaign on this fundamental question of union rights.
It is no answer to seek refuge in an attempt to steer the trade unions clear of “politics”. That was the argument reflected quite recently in statements, for example, by some FOSATU leaders. But as the FOSATU unions have found, they themselves cannot be defended by such means— especially if they are to continue to advance in numbers and fighting strength.
The decision of the leadership of all the main independent unions to join in the call for a half-hour general strike after the murder of Neil Aggett is a sign of what will hopefully be a continued recognition that the fate of the unions cannot be separated from the political struggle.
As more and more in the non-racial unions are openly acknowledging, the trade unions will be able to fulfil their tasks as trade unions only by joining forces in the entire struggle of the working people to transform society.
In the rise of the organised workers’ movement, the ruling class has experienced the early tremors of an approaching earthquake.
Despite magnificent gains in numbers, especially during the past two years, only about 7016 or 8% of African industrial workers are so far in the unions. Yet what an effect this has produced! Even the mighty industrial struggles of the recent period have resulted in only about one-tenth the loss of production per thousand workers as compared, for example, with Britain and the USA in the same years. Yet this already sends shivers of fear down the spine of the ruling class.
We have only to contemplate the organisation of the majority of the black workers into the trade unions to see the perspective lying ahead of this movement, and to define its tasks.
Lenin’s old prognosis that, if more than a minority of workers were unionised, a revolutionary conflict with capitalism would inevitably open, will be fully borne out in South Africa.
The way forward for the independent unions is indicated in the efforts already under way by the leaders of most of these unions to form a united front—notably at the Cape Town conference in August 1981. This unity will be carried forward successfully in action to the extent that all its participating unions engage in vigorous efforts to organise the unorganised and join in common campaigns.
In the trade union struggle, as in every struggle, the only real unity is unity in action. This requires the fullest combination and co-operation of the ranks of all the independent unions, not only at the top, but also at the local, regional and industrial levels.
Above all it is the migrant workers—the hard core of the industrial working class—who are pouring fresh forces into the organised labour movement. To an extent unknown in SA history, migrant workers are vigorously demanding trade union organisation.
In the existing social networks of the migrant workers, connecting the cities to the reserves and the reserves to the capitalist mines and farms, lie the means through which a mighty, militant trade union movement can continue to be built in the coming years.
By decisively turning to the task of organising migrant workers in their tens and hundreds of thousands, the existing independent unions cart muster the power to defend themselves against the ruthless pressures of the state. The rapid rise of SAAWU, especially in the Eastern Cape, and the advance of the GWU and other unions, has not been unconnected with their success in organising migrant workers.
It is not accidental, at the same time, that in unions where the reformist current is notable, there has been a tendency to turn their back on the organisation of migrant workers. But, given the opportunity, migrant workers will flood into all the unions, and will in any event continue impatiently to demand to be organised.
The new period of economic downturn in South Africa has already begun to place new strains on the trade unions, and heavy obstacles before them. In a period of rising unemployment, lay-offs and redundancies, industrial struggles are exceptionally difficult to mount, and may tend to decline. In such a period, also, the employers seize the opportunity—with the vigorous aid of the state—to attack the previous gains of the unions and mount waves of repression to take advantage of any weakening in the workers’ organisation.
For this reason there cannot be any smooth, even, steady advance of the independent unions. But, at the same time, so vast is the untapped potential for organised labour, that it should be quite possible for these unions together to set themselves the target of one million members in the course of the next year.
Defence of the unions against victimisation and repressive laws; the demand for a national minimum wage of R100 for all workers—united campaigns on issues such as these can provide a rallying point for hundreds of thousands of yet unorganised workers at this time.
No matter how savage the state reaction in this period of economic downturn may become, it will not have the consequences of the 1960s. It will not shatter the union movement. Then the ruling class and the state were able to consolidate their position on the basis of a political defeat of the mass movement, followed by a sustained period of economic growth.
Now the camp of the ruling class is itself in chaos; the economic perspective for capitalism is gloomy; the nightmare of poverty, hunger, joblessness and homelessness will mount. The enormous confidence and resilience of the masses would take a whole series of major defeats to crush. That is not the perspective for the period ahead.
Whatever the difficulties of the coming two or three years, at the first upturn of the economy there will be a renewed flood of industrial action and a pouring of thousands upon thousands of fresh workers into the unions.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely correct for all activists in the unions to give the most careful attention in this period to the necessary means for the defence of their organisations. The solution does not lie in retreat. It lies in sustaining the efforts both to build the workers’ organisations and to consolidate their foundations at the base.
Organisations made up only by a dynamic central leadership and a mass following can readily decapitated by the state, as repeated experience in South Africa has shown. Precisely those organisations which have had the most spectacular growth would have to give the greatest attention to consolidating their foundations through meticulous organisation and training of leadership in the factories themselves.
At the same time, in every factory and other workplace, the workers’ organisations need to lay down firm underground foundations. A mighty tree stands because of the depth and breadth of its roots beneath the soil.
Underground organisation is often taken to mean the conspiratorial activities of small groups. Techniques of secrecy are, of course, vital. But the effectiveness of underground work depends on its ability to become mass work—through the conscious activity of the workers in organising themselves not only openly, but also secretly from the bosses and the police. In this way the open work in the unions can be sustained.
The defence of the trade unions in these times, and their preparation for future advance, depends to a great degree on the carrying out of these tasks, combining Iegal and illegal work. It is to these tasks also that comrades of SACTU ought to devote their attention. It is through these means that the forces of the independent unions will be most effectively combined in time with the political movement of the working people, as it gathers under the banner of the ANC.
So too the organised workers can begin more effectively to fulfil their task of spearheading the forces of liberation, in drawing all the oppressed to their side—as they have already begun to draw the militant black youth.
The Youth Movement
Throughout the struggles of the past decade, the black youth has marched in parallel with the upsurge of workers. The younger generation, fresh and full of vitality, untouched by the defeats of the 1960s, has acted as a constant spur to the movement as a whole. For the black youth, struggle is the only alternative to the gloom that obscures their future. The system can offer them no better prospect than racist oppression, miserable and inferior education; unemployment; lack of housing, transport and recreational facilities; poverty, crime and social decay.
Through the events of 1976 and subsequently, the black youth have gained tremendously in experience. Teenagers have learned more in months of struggle than adults double their years who had not been involved in action. Children barely six and seven years old have confronted police dogs and bullets, the harsh realities of life already shaped in steel in their young minds.
The central focus in the awakening movement of the youth has been the struggle in the schools. The fight against Bantu Education has been a fight against education-for-enslavement – against an education designed for no other purpose than to perpetuate the cheap labour system.
In mounting the struggle over education, the black youth have been brought face to face with the realities of the entire structure of SA society, the murderous power of the state, and the capitalist system which it defends.
Through the experience of struggle, the youth quickly realised that, while they have special concerns and interests, they are not a separate class in society. For the majority, who are in any case the children of working parents, their problems are bound up with those of the whole black working class.
Moreover, because youth lacks a vital role in production, its explosive anger can easily be dissipated—like steam escaping into thin air. They need the, piston engine of the workers’ movement to concentrate their struggle and give it a material force.
Already during the struggles of 1976 the youth were confronted with their inability to change society by their own efforts alone. Instinctively they turned towards the workers. In the desperate situation, they tried at first to order and bully workers into action. This led to in evitable friction and clashes which were, of course, fully exploited by the state.
But no movement progresses without mistakes, which new situations and untested tactics make unavoidable. In South Africa the dynamism and determination of the black youth enabled them to learn and correct their method with amazing speed.
The political general strikes of August and September 1976 succeeded because the youth turned to explaining their case to the workers in a serious and disciplined way. In 1980, from the start of the renewed schools boycott, the students struggled side by side with the older generation of the working class. Student-parent committees were formed to discuss and co-ordinate tactics.
At the same time, then and since, school and university students have involved themselves actively in supporting the strikes and boycott actions launched by the workers. They have helped to organise bus boycotts and rent struggles, and have taken the lead in community work.
In this way the stature of the youth movement has been raised immeasurably in the workers’ eyes. An historic gain has been made; the basis has been prepared for the youth movement and the workers’ movement to unite their forces in action
As the youth movement has grown, learned and changed in action, so too the outward expression of its political ideas has changed. In the late 1960s and most of the 1970s, the anger and militancy of the youth was expressed in the ideas of Black Consciousness. In fact, until fairly recently, the youth movement itself went under the title of the Black Consciousness Movement.
Contained within the BCM was the immensely progressive force of a new generation searching for a revolutionary road. In the high ideals of its activists, in heroism and self-sacrifice, it has known no equal.
Yet the weaknesses of method, perspective and programme also contained within the BCM from the beginning, brought it within the space of a decade to a situation of stalemate, confusion and disintegration.
Initially, the attention of the youth was concentrated on denouncing the bankruptcy of liberal reformism and the blatant collaboration of the Bantustan servants of the state. The youth argued the need for action, unity and self-reliance on the part of the black people. In this period, Black Consciousness was at its height.
Many high hopes were placed in the ability of Black Consciousness to embrace the aspirations of all the black people in one nationalist movement, and cut across sterile divisions which had bedevilled political organisation in the past.
Yet the wider the youth movement extended, the more it moved into action, the more it sought the practical means of expressing its revolutionary aims—the more inadequate the ideas of Black Consciousness became on the central question of the SA revolution—the link between the struggle for national liberation and the need to overthrow capitalism—the BCM as a whole proved unable to reach a consistent stand.. All the conflicts that developed within it had this issue at the root. Lacking a scientific grounding and a conscious working-class base, the main Black Consciousness organisations remained under the influence of middle-class ideology, which bolstered the standing of middle-class leadership within their ranks.
Under this leadership and ideology, the Black Consciousness Movement could powerfully voice the general mood of black frustration and anger. But it could not develop a coherent programme, build a unified organisation, or link itself organically to the movement of the workers.
The inability of the Black Consciousness Movement in general to recover from the bannings of October 1977 indicated essentially that it had been superseded by events, and that the mass movement had outstripped its limitations.
Significantly those new or surviving ‘Black Consciousness’ organisations which remain under middleclass leadership, and within the confines of nationalism, have been unable to develop as a national force and have ‘remained riven with internal political differences and confusion.
It has been particularly among the high-school youth—those rooted in the life and outlook of the working class—that the inadequacies of Black Consciousness ideas have been most rapidly discovered. In their case, the slogan of “black power” represented from the outset an undeveloped and imprecise striving towards workers’ power. Their nationalism (to quote a phrase of Trotsky’s from another context) was the “outer shell of’ an immature Bolshevism”.
In linking their action and their future more and more consciously to the rising movement of the adult workers, they also began breaking through the limitations of this political, shell. The direction taken by AZASO, for instance, at its July 1981 conference, is an outstanding confirmation of the ability of working-class youth to rapidly draw conclusions from the experience of struggle, and cast a beam of light ahead of the entire movement.
Nonetheless, the youth still face formidable difficulties in carrying their movement forward in the period ahead. It has proved- exceptionally difficult to build a single national youth organisation linking all parts of the country together. This is not only because of the savagery of the repression; it is also because the building of the workers’ movement is still at a relatively early stage.
It is very important for the youth, in approaching their own tasks, to assess the stage that the struggle is passing through, its direction of development and its future perspective.
It will be possible to build a mass revolutionary youth movement in South Africa only by linking this effectively to the workers’ movement, as the youth arm of the latter.
But the organised workers’ movement is still at a relatively early stage of development. Only its foundations are being laid—in the building of the independent unions.
One of the tasks of the youth is to link their efforts as closely as possible to the progress of the unions, and to actively work to encourage trade union unity in action nation-wide.
Yet the youth need more than this—they need unified political organisation to express their demands and concentrate their energies. Having moved beyond Black Consciousness, having found their class roots in common struggle with the workers, black working-class youth have also sensed the political direction which the class as a whole must inevitably take.
Therefore they are gravitating more and more openly to the ANC.
However, without concrete workers’ organisation in the, political field the youth still face formidable difficulties in giving their movement an organised coherent and firm base.
It is in the nature of youth to be impatient with obstacles and to eagerly leap ahead of the sometimes lumbering labour movement. There will be a continuing elastic relationship between the progress of the youth movement and the development of unified workers’ struggle. It is particularly in a period of economic downturn, when heavy pressures weigh down on workers’ action, that the youth may spring prominently to the forefront of struggle. 1976 was just such a period.
But again and again they will experience the need to link their action with that of the organised workers. In the political struggle these two sides of the working-class movement—the younger and older generations—will fully combine only as the workers and their chiildren work together-to build and transform the ANC as a mass organisation above all of their own class, its fighting spirit and fighting demands.
The high-school youth of the 1970s and today is really the first generation of the workers’ children to have gained a high-school education in any form. The opportunity of the youth to read and study ideas, particularly the ideas of Marxism, is a precious advantage which must be put at the disposal of the whole movement.
With the necessary willingness to learn from the adult workers, the youth at the same time can play a vital role in carrying revolutionary ideas the length and breadth of South Africa—into the unions, into the factories, mines and onto the farms.
The youth movement can tackle, together with the independent unions, the task of organising the unemployed. This is an absolute necessity both to defend the trade unions and to prepare the necessary forces for the coming revolution.
Also, it has now become possible for the black youth to turn towards white school and university students, and open the way to their involvement in common action. It is one of the gains of the Black Consciousness period that black working-class youth will confidently be able to assert their own predominance, leadership and demands, and require the co-operation of the white youth on their terms.
There is an unremitting ferment on the white campuses, while for white school-leavers too the future has become very insecure, clouded by military conscription and the knowledge that the storm of revolution is brewing.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the opposition of the black youth to the involvement of whites—one of the fundamentals of Black Consciousness—was an expression of the revolutionary determination of the youth. Although in an unclear way, they wanted to break all channels which served to dilute their militancy; which communicated compromise with the oppressor and concessions to the ruling class. In moving beyond Black Consciousness, the black working-class youth has not dropped its vigilance. But now that can only find scientific expression in the ideas of Marxism, and be maintained by the assertiveness and power of working-class organisation.
In carrying out their tasks in the coming period the black youth will need that revolutionary determination and vigilance all the more—to prevent any dilution of the fighting capacities of the movement and the frustration of its democratic and socialist aims.
Building the ANC
The central strategic and political task before us is summed up in the slogan advanced by Inqaba ya Basebenzi: “Build a mass ANC on a socialist programme!”
It is only as a mass organisation, above all as an organisation of the black working class, that the ANC will be able to marshal the forces for the eventual armed overthrow of the racist and capitalist state.
it is only on a clear socialist programme that the ANC will be able to maintain the unity of the working class and all the oppressed in action, and carry through the transformation of society on which our liberation depends.
In SA today there is a huge gravitation of popular support among the oppressed towards the ANC. Its flag is raised at mass meetings and funerals; its imprisoned and exiled leadership is publicly honoured; its programme is openly quoted and extolled.
To understand the basis of this support, and to translate it into concrete organisation, we have first to confront an historical paradox.
In the re-awakening of the political movement of the 1970s, which was spear-headed by the youth, the ANC was not to the fore. In fact the youth were distinctly critical of the ANC at that time.
They pointed to its origins as an organisation of conservative, middle-class Africans which devoted itself to petitioning for equal rights. Although the ANC had gained a mass following by the 1950s, the youth looked back on the decades of previous struggles and associated the ANC with the defeats suffered in those days. They also noted the absence of effective underground ANC organisation from the country since the mid-1960s. And when, in 1976, they marched into the teeth of gunfire from the police, they asked why the ANC, after 15 years of preparing armed struggle, was not able to provide arms for the defence of the movement.
Yet, in the course of the last five years, while the curve of the Black Consciousness movement has plummeted, the popular following of the ANC has shown a meteoric rise. While the inadequacies of all the middle-class leaders active within the movement in South Africa have been increasingly exposed in the mounting waves of mass action, the acclaiffi for-leaders jailed and exiled by the regime has risen steadily.
There are a number of factors combining to produce support for the ANC. But at the root of it all is an historical law which is working itself out also in most, if not all, capitalist countries. This is that, when the mass of the workers turn to struggle, they turn first to the established, traditional organisations associated with their struggle in the past.
The main reason for this is the need for the means of uniting their forces in action. In South Africa as much as anywhere, the workers understand that without unity they cannot conquer. The working people have need of one political organisation in which their forces may combine.
It is not a sentimental but a practical matter. The black working people of SA have no alternative but to go to the ANC and make it their rallying point.
The ANC is chosen precisely because of its long history and because of the mass following it gained in the 1950s and early 1960s. It is chosen because, in the years since, in comparison with its rivals, it has maintained its cohesion and political continuity. It is chosen for the very reason that its leaders are jailed and exiled; that it is persecuted by the enemy; and that it has been seen to make no compromise with the oppressor.
And it is chosen as the foremost of the organisations which have recognised the need to prepare armed force for the struggle against the regime.
In the ANC the workers invest their hopes of overthrowing not only white supremacy, but also the power of the capitalists and the problems of poverty and exploitation. Thus, at least implicitly, the working class turns to the ANC to find a vehicle for social revolution. Its confidence in this regard is mightily reinforced by the long-standing involvement, and present predominance, of the SA Communist Party within the ANC leadership in exile.
The force of the working class will pass through the ANC. It will take the flag of the ANC and march with it down the road of revolution.
And where the workers go, there too go the youth. That too has now acquired the force of a social law in the SA revolution.
As the mass movement swells in the coming years, as every part of the country is drawn into action, there will be a flood-tide of mass support for the ANC. Already sensing this, black middle-class leaders of every stripe are painting their boats in black, green and gold in the hope of riding at the head of the tide.
But exactly as the working class takes the ANC and makes it its own, so it will exert within the ANC its own insistent pressure and revolutionary demands.
It will not flock to the ANC—as some imagine—like sheep. Rather it will carry into the ANC its class-consciousness, knowledge of organisation, confidence and assertiveness won through its independent struggles in the trade union field especially.
The task of conscious revolutionaries is to work to ensure that the ANC is indeed built as an effective vehicle of working-class struggle, in which working-class demands predominate, which is democratically controlled by the working people, and which is capable ultimately of leading their revolution to triumph.
We must prepare now with the greatest urgency for the hundreds of thousands, and indeed millions, who will pour into the ranks of the ANC in South Africa as a revolutionary situation matures. Therefore it is necessary now to press ahead with the formation of ANC committees in every workplace and locality, in every mine compound, on every farm, in every village, at every university and high school.
Such committees are essential if the ANC slogan of “unity in action” is to be made concrete in the period ahead.
In and through such committees the work of political education can more effectively be carried on; policy issues democratically discussed; leadership at various levels developed and tested; and the tactics of the movement co-ordinated and critically assessed.
On the one hand these committees would form underground links with the trade unions, and the youth and community organisations. On the other hand, linked together and centrally co-ordinated, they would provide the means of transmitting, testing and democratically correcting policies of the central leadership.
In the last analysis, nevertheless, it is the perspective, policy and programme of the leadership, for the guidance in action of the whole movement, which will prove decisive.
The test of a scientific policy is whether it comes to grips with the forces and obstacles which our movement will confront as the revolutionary crisis in South Africa unfolds.
In the previous chapter, dealing with the crisis of the system, we pointed to the increasingly bonapartist character of the regime.
Because of the rising intensity of the struggle of the oppressed, especially of the black workers; because of the divisions and disintegration setting in in the camp of the whites; because of the impasse of capitalism and the divisions and confusion in the ranks of the ruling class—the executive power of the government has become more and more elevated into a monstrous dictatorial power standing over society.
All the factors which have produced this development will be dramatically accentuated as South Africa passes further into revolutionary crisis.
An important element in our perspective must be the analysis of this development and its implications for the struggle.
The outward appearance of a bonapartist regime is one of strength. It is headed by a ‘strongman’. It presents itself to the population as a Goliath whose power is ‘invincible’.
But, for all that, a bonapartist regime is basically a regime of crisis. It stands on brittle feet. The more the ground shakes beneath it, the more it may ‘perfect’ its dictatorship—but the more its own downfall is prepared.
The dictatorship in SA has, of course, important features which distinguish it from bonapartist regimes in other capitalist countries. By comparison, it has today a relatively firm foothold, based on a substantial section of the population—the whites. Generations of racism, white domination and entrenched privilege mean that the process of political disintegration among the whites will be long drawn-out.
At the same time, the dictatorship is weakened by its almost total lack of social support among the blacks, even in the uppermost layers of the middle class. Its weight presses on the black people with the point of a sword.
To overthrow it, the oppressed working people have a two-fold task: On the one hand, we have to crack and tear away its political foundations among the whites. On the other hand, we have to organise our own forces to break the ‘sword’—to shatter the military and police power of the state. In this the strategy of the revolutionary struggle can be summed up.
It is one of the characteristics of the dictatorship in SA that its bonapartism has become accentuated precisely as the ruling class has found it necessary to attempt to move in the direction of ‘reforms’. The more the government has proclaimed its eagerness to ‘adapt’ the system and to ‘remedy the grievances’ of the people, the more the people have felt the whip and jackboot of repression.
It is symptomatic of the crisis of the ruling class that its promises of change must become ever more hollow and infuriating to the oppressed, while the methods of repression which it has already found inadequate become ever more brutal and brazen.
The point is not simply that the regime is cynically dishonest in its promises of reform; the essential point is that its inability to reform fundamentally makes such cynicism unavoidable. It is quite an irony that the government of Vorster was presented at first as a move away from the diehard baasskap of his predecessors. To this day, ultra-right wing whites continue to regard Vorster as the arch-betrayer of Afrikanerdom!
It is characteristic of a bonapartist regime that it appears at first to be ‘all things to all men’—in the case of SA, all things to all whites. In fact its prestige and popularity initially rise the higher, the more acute are the tensions between the very forces on whom it contrives to balance. Conflicting hopes are all invested in the same figure. This was the basis of the exaggerated popularity which Vorster at one time enjoyed among the whites.
But it is equally the case that bonapartist rulers, as they prove their inability to satisfy anyone, can swiftly fall into unpopularity and contempt among their former admirers. In the case of the SA regime, we have seen the beginning of what will probably be a sequence of changes of personnel as government leaders disappoint their followers and fall from grace.
In the first years of his rule, Vorster contrived to balance between the opposing class pressures and tendencies within the camp of the whites, leaning this way and that in his efforts to reconcile the increasingly irreconcilable. Under the mounting pressures there and in society at large, the regime was reduced to near-paralysis. Unpopular on all sides, Vorster lost his grip as the big bourgeoisie and their press orchestrated the ‘Information Scandal’.
In place of Vorster, Botha came to power, elected as a ‘strong, dynamic leader’, supposedly capable of unifying the NP and the regime. But, even more rapidly than Vorster, the ‘reformer’ Botha found himself balancing uneasily between the same conflicting pressures; lurching from crisis to crisis, from reformist rhetoric to paralysis; and stepping up the most vicious police repression of the black workers and youth.
Botha has been more shrewd than his predecessor in basing his personal position directly on the commanding stratum of the military. He’ accurately foresaw that direct involvement of the military would more and more become the feature of the SA capitalist regime.
Nevertheless, while this trend will continue, it is probable that the conflict and polarisation of society will exhaust the capacities of each individual leader that rises to prominence, so that he too finds himself discarded like a squeezed lemon.
Various, usually unpredictable, incidents and circumstances may precipitate the succession in each case. But it is the relentless pressure of the class forces upon each other which is the underlying cause.
At the same time, the general tendency will inevitably be towards a more and more extreme dictatorship, a regime of a more and, more openly bonapartist character, attempting to maintain its grip to an ever-increasing extent by military and police means.
The paradox is that the heads of the government, while tightening the screws of repression, will at the same time privately harbour the desire to seek a ‘negotiated settlement’ even with the ANC. They are drawn towards this both by the incapacity of their repressive measures to crush the mass movement, and by the political pressures exerted on them by the big bourgeoisie.
The desperate hope of the latter is that they may somehow ensnare the ANC leadership into participation in government on the basis of an agreement which allows capitalism to survive.
Not daring to express this openly, Botha has allowed his mouthpiece, Beeld, to say it for him. In August 1981, the editor of that paper stated that the SA government should prepare for eventual negotiations with the ANC. He regarded these as “unnecessary at present”, but argued that eventual talks must be built into the government’s political strategy. “It must be said outright that a day will come when a South African government will sit at the negotiating table with the ANC.”
Referring to the horror of most of the white electorate at such a prospect, he resorted to a Biblical quotation: “I still have many things to tell you but you cannot bear it now”!
It is one of the delusions of the ‘verligtes’ and the big capitalists whose interests they represent, to believe that the essential obstacle to change is the attitude of right-wing whites. It is as a means of dealing with the problem of the right wing that the bourgeoisie is more and more openly raising the idea of a ‘verligte dictatorship’ as the supposed means of ushering in a programme of fundamental reforms.
In general the capitalist class prefers a parliamentary form of government if that is capable of securing and defending its class interests. Through parliament the bourgeoisie can impose checks and balances upon the executive, while at the same time exerting its economic and political influence directly behind the scenes. The power of the state is something which the bourgeoisie both needs and fears.
When the working class cannot be ruled by any other means, the bourgeoisie is prepared for the most ruthless measures of blood and iron, for which an openly military dictatorship may be necessary. But the bourgeoisie has many experiences of burning its fingers with military dictatorships, because the elevation of the state apparatus in this way adds to the relative autonomy of the latter, and makes its more difficult to subject directly to the capitalists’ own control.
Thus, in the SA bourgeois press today, the idea of a ‘verligte dictatorship’ put forward by some academic writers is still met with official editorial disapproval. But the idea expresses the ‘logic’ of the situation in which the bourgeoisie itself is trapped.
It feels the need, and will feel it increasingly, for a more effective dictatorship intended both to curb the rebellious ultra-right and to hold down the black working class. From this position of ‘strength’ they would hope eventually to negotiate a ‘new dispensation’ with the ANC leaders.
But the development in the direction of a more and more openly military dictatorship will itself not free SA capitalism from its growing contradictions.
How is a ‘verligte’ dictatorship to introduce reforms which fundamentally capitalism cannot afford to sustain? Its incapacity in this regard will only the more clearly reveal that the bourgeoisie itself is the main barrier to change.
And the army and police officers would have serious difficulties in using the military force at their disposal against whites, when the very whites whom they must seek to curb make up the ranks of the police and army!
In the event of a serious reactionary revolt headed, for example, by the HNP or AWB, the state apparatus could well prove incapable of effectively dealing with it. Instead, the state apparatus could begin to fall apart in the hands of the government if they attempted to use military force against whites. Indeed, to forestall such a development, the very ‘verligte’ dictatorship would be likely to compromise and lurch to the right.
The more the revolutionary crisis in SA deepens, the more the tendency of the regime to zig-zag will become pronounced. The very same incompetence empty rhetoric of reform, paralysis and unredeemed repression of the blacks now characteristic of Botha’s regime will repeatedly be carried to greater and more intolerable heights.
It is possible that out of this situation in the coming years Treurnicht might find himself in a position to form a government. But then, thrust into the role of defending capitalism, he would find himself subjected to essentially the same pressures as the regime before him had faced. He too would be compelled to balance between the needs of big business and the rabid white racism whose appetites he has done so much to arouse.
But in the longer run the most likely perspective will be the development of a military or semi-military regime.
The rise of this dictatorship will be like the horrible pus-head of a boil, squeezed up by the inflamed tensions in the body of society. All the pressures will become concentrated on one point.
While it is conceivable that both the bourgeoisie and the ultra-right might conditionally support the development of a military dictatorship initially for their own conflicting ends, neither would be satisfied by it. And the seething struggle of the black masses would continue to mount, driven on in repeated waves by their unbearable conditions and determination to resist oppression.
Such a dictatorship, by concentrating all the evils of the system in itself, will also concentrate the task of the revolutionary struggle and direct all forces of the oppressed towards its overthrow. The ultimate weakening of this regime, the disintegration of its social base, the increasing turmoil among the whites, and the determined rallying of the forces of the struggle against it will open the revolutionary situation in South Africa.
That is the most likely perspective of development in South Africa over the next five, ten, or possibly more years.
Workers’ Revolution or Bloody Reaction
The coming revolution in South Africa will draw millions—primarily millions of workers—into the crucible of struggle. It will subject to a decisive test every class, every organisation, every programme and every leadership. In its fires all but the finest metal will be consumed.
A revolutionary situation will be the time not only of the greatest opportunity for the working people, but also the time of the greatest danger. It will unerringly expose, and ultimately threaten to punish with ferocious counter-revolution, any confusion, false policy, vacillation or half-measures within the camp and among the leadership of the oppressed.
A clear and correct political strategy—and, flowing from this, a correct military policy—will be essential for the victory of our movement. The cornerstone of a correct strategy is a clear grasp of the social transformation to which a victorious revolution must consciously lead. What kind of society awaits us in SA? To this question some ‘leaders’ answer lightly: “Just fight for democracy, and then the people will decide.”
Truly, the people will decide. But their decision (will) not be made in the manner of a free selection. Social systems are not chosen and discarded as one picks shoes in a shop. The decision will be made in the heat of struggle, in the remorseless clash of contending classes.
The forces of the freedom struggle need to enter the battle with as conscious a conception of the victory we are fighting to achieve as the conception that our enemies have of the defeat that they are trying to inflict. This cannot be left to the final hour.
In the trade unions, in the youth and community organisations, in the ANC—a meticulous and critical attention by all comrades to questions of policy, strategy and tactics is vital for the success of the struggle. Similarly in the case of the young comrades who (particularly in exile) have gone into the ranks of the Communist Party in the hope of finding there a vehicle for socialist revolution.
Once the revolutionary tasks are understood, it is a matter of elementary loyalty to the struggle to strive where necessary to correct the policies of the leadership in order to prepare the movement for the work it has to do.
A careful consideration of the policies put forward by the ANC leadership indicates that they have not adequately come to grips with the objective character of the South African revolution, and do not put forward the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie. A major influence in this regard has been the erroneous approach ‘of the leadership of the SACP.
The programme of the Communist Party, adopted in 1962 and still its programme today, shows how deeply rooted the CP leadership has remained in the ideas of ‘two stages’, despite all experience:
The immediate and imperative interests of all sections of the South African people demand the carrying out of … a national democratic revolution which will overthrow the colonialist state of White supremacy and establish an independent state of National Democracy in South Africa. The main content of this revolution is the national liberation of the African people…
It is in this situation that the Communist Party advances its immediate proposals before the workers and democratic people of South Africa. They are not proposals for a socialist state. They are proposals for the building of a national democratic state.
Nonetheless, the CP and ANC leadership have been compelled to recognise that the goal of national liberation is incompatible with the maintenance of the present economic system. So far, however, this recognition has been hedged about with ambiguity and qualification because of the unwillingness of the leadership to confront the fact that a workers’ state is the necessary condition for liberation.
The “complete political and economic emancipation of all our people” is declared to be the goal of the struggle, in the document Strategy and Tactics of the ANC adopted at Morogoro in 1959. There the point is made:
To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.
Quite so—although there is a curious vagueness here in failing to identify “the existing economic forces” as the capitalist class and the capitalist system; and a no less curious qualifying word, “intact”, which serves to blunt any implication that the task of the movement is to overthrow and expropriate the bourgeoisie.
Further on in Strategy and Tactics we get the clearer—but yet not so clear—statement of what will be necessary if a “people’s government” is to meet the economic’ needs of the mass of the oppressed:
…in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals be they White or Black.
Certainly—but is the capitalist system to be ended? Is private ownership of these resources to be abolished? Is a planned economy to be instituted on the basis of nationalisation of the main productive forces? The document is silent.
How can the “economic emancipation” be accomplished? We say: by a revolution led by the working class and resulting in the creation of a workers’ state.
Strategy and Tactics concedes only a “special role” to the working class as a “reinforcing layer”, and leaves us merely with the following formula to comfort our concern:
This perspective of a speedy progression from formal liberation (what is that?) to lasting emancipation is made more real (!!) by the existence in our country of a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness.
That is all there is to it! Thus, in the end, one is still left wandering about in the fog of the two-stage approach.
In later writings, particularly by the more left-leaning of the CP leaders, we find formulations which on the surface may seem indistinguishable from the ideas of permanent revolution. Most influential of these writers has been Joe Slovo, whose approach is echoed from time to time in the pages of The African Communist. In his well-known article on the question, “South Africa’ No Middle Road” (published by Penguin in 1976), he comes to the conclusion:
If … the liberation struggle should bring to power a revolutionary democratic alliance dominated by the proletariat and the peasantry (which is on the agenda in South Africa), the post-revolutionary phase can surely become the first stage in a continuous process along the road to socialism: a road which ultimately can only be charted by the proletariat and its natural allies.
Apart from the question of the peasantry in South Africa, already dealt with, this formulation has a broadly attractive sound, and has been eagerly seized on as proof that the CP leadership is consciously preparing a struggle for socialism. But what is notable about comrade Slovo’s article is that he refuses to put forward the concept of a workers’ state and is not prepared to abandon the “national democratic state” formulation of the CF programme and other texts.
His only reservation about the term ‘national democratic state’ is that it “can” become a source of theoretical ambiguity “if used abstractly”. But surely, since the term fails to specify the class basis of the state, it is inherently abstract and deceptive.
If the point is to avoid ambiguity, why not call things’ by their proper name,, and advance a programme of struggle for a state of workers’ democracy?
Lenin was even more l3lun—he called it the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie.
The reason Lenin was so meticulous in correcting formulations, and so ruthlessly intolerant of ambiguity, was because he knew what a multitude of practical errors can be hidden behind superficially attractive words.
In the last analysis it is not the words which are decisive, but the clarity of purpose with ‘which the working class organises and guides its practical struggle. Political terminology should be used not to cloud difficult questions, but to cast on them a glaring light. A political approach which does not break with the two-stage theory remains imprisoned within it, no matter how its boundaries may verbally be stretched.
Comrades in the SACP ought to draw these questions to the attention of their fellows, and insist on clarification from the Party leadership. So far the leadership has shown itself completely unwilling to break with the two-stage theory and all its implications, because they have remained cemented within the international tradition of Stalinism.
This is a problem which the rank-and-file of the SACP will find themselves increasingly having to confront.’
Any political approach which fails to come to terms with the need for workers’ power unavoidably leaves a cover for attempts to compromise with the bourgeoisie. The acute danger of this, especially in a country like South Africa, is that compromise with the bourgeoisie will also mean compromise with the bourgeois state machinery, and will leave the most dangerous forces of reaction undistorted.
It is essential that the ANC conducts the fight on the basis of a policy and programme for consciously carrying the revolution to its decisive conclusion Victory can only be decisive once the bourgeoisie has been completely overthrown and its state machinery utterly destroyed. We-must therefore combat all ambiguity on this question, and ensure that the central questions of policy are settled in our movement before the crucial battles against the enemy.
The state which we are up against is a formidable machine, armed to the teeth with almost every conceivable instrument for the mass destruction of human life. The professional staff of the military, police, prisons, courts, Bantu Administration, etc., are schooled in brutality and hardened in the practice of it day by day.
The task is to-shatter this machine. How is that to be done?
The commanding stratum of the state, its brains and its backbone, are not sufficient to run the apparatus of repression and hold down the majority of the people. The state needs flesh and blood, muscles and sinew—a social force of hundreds of thousands to obey the orders of the rulers and carry out their bloody will.
Thus in a revolution—and no less in our revolution—the problem of shattering the bourgeois state apparatus is 90% a political problem and only 10076 military That is not to neglect the military side of the question, and we shall return to the matter below. But the essential point is to so divide, demoralise and weaken the human forces on which the bourgeois state relies that its weapons of destruction cannot be effectively used to crush the working people.
Those who view the state simply as a state of white supremacy, might pose the strategic task in this way: unite the blacks and divide the whites. However, once we identify the class character of the state, and see it fundamentally as the instrument of the capitalist dictatorship, then we can also pose the strategic task more scientifically.
The task, on the one hand, is to unite all the oppressed in action round the organised workers’ movement, in a struggle for workers’ power. On the other hand, it is to ‘strip the bourgeois naked,’ to deprive it of its social armour, to divide the whites on class lines, and to neutralise or draw over to the side of the revolution substantial numbers of the white workers and middle class.
It solves nothing to set our sights merely on winning over ‘democratic’ or ‘freedom-loving’ whites. Revolutions are not fought out on the basis of individuals and their ideas, but on the basis of class forces. Unless we can break the ability of the state to rely on the support of the white workers and middle class we shall leave a monstrous apparatus of repression in the hands of the ruling class, ready and able to wreak savage destruction upon our people.
We dealt in the previous chapter with the rise of the forces of ultra-right reaction, based on the blind discontent of the white workers and lower middle class. We cannot politically defeat those forces by an appeal merely to ‘democratic’ principles. We shall need armed force to defeat them, certainly, just as we shall need it to defeat the state. But politically, we shall need to present to the majority of white society an alternative pole of attraction—in the form of a mighty, organised, class-conscious fighting force of the black working people, showing the way to a new order of economy and society.
Rampant as the forces of white racist reaction may become, they are affected by an inherent weakness and instability. The ultra-right dreams of restoring an age whose basis has been eroded away by the river of history. They can have no confident perspective for the maintenance of their privileges or the triumph of their ideas.
Internationally, the forces of fascism are hopelessly weak and in pathetic decay. The workers’ movement is overwhelmingly powerful, and rising. The decade of advance of the colonial revolution; the awakening of all Africa to struggle; the victories, however limited, in the revolutions to the north of us; the fiery courage of the black youth in SA, the rising strength of the black workers’ movement and the deepening crisis of the apartheid system—all these pound out the message that the old order is doomed. Even through the thickest of white skins, this fact is beginning to be felt.
The fanaticism of the ultra-right feeds on blind desperation. But it can offer no real solutions to the white workers, middle class and youth whom, for a time, it may attract to its banner. If we approach the question correctly, we can divide and shatter these forces of reaction, and in so doing also crack the racist foundations of the state.
To many in our movement it may today seem a simper or shorter route to call merely for the support of white democrats and to eagerly welcome the soothing assurances of the liberal bourgeoisie of their own ‘democratic’ intentions. But we know these ‘intentions’ to be in contradiction to the essential class interest of the bourgeois. We know we can expect only treachery from the liberals. But, worst of all, we shall be failing to tackle the essential task.
It is a false policy to seek to ally our movement with the liberal bourgeoisie as a means of dealing with the problem of reactionary whites. If we take that approach, we shall get nothing but deception from the bourgeoisie—and we shall all the more surely cement the white workers into the camp of reaction, thus leaving the state apparatus intact.
It is simply not possible to win the majority of whites to a ‘democratic’ programme which remains in the blind alley of capitalism. It is only by showing the way to a socialist democracy which can offer a convincing perspective of security and advancement for all people, that we have any prospect of breaking the hold of reaction.
It may be argued that that will be a very difficult thing to do. The point is conceded. Our revolution will not be short of difficulties. But the opposite strategy, the plausible idea of a ‘democratic coalition’ on the basis of capitalism—is an utterly impotent policy which can lead only to disaster.
Of course it would be utopian to imagine that the mere proclamation of a socialist programme could lead to any, significant number of white workers crossing to the side of the black workers and social revolution. It is the organisation of the black workers as the decisive, conscious force of revolution, the arming of the mass movement and its adoption of a socialist programme, which alone can draw the white working class and middle class in any significant numbers to our side.
Much has been written on the theoretical ‘impossibility’ of winning over white workers. It would take a book to go into those writings and show where they go wrong. But what may be noted here is the calm complacency with which especially the academics draw such conclusions., That is not an attitude shared by the black workers.
Year in and year out discussions continue in factory meetings, in workers’ committees, in discussions in the trade unions over the correct approach to take towards the white workers. For black workers this is from beginning to end a practical question of struggle. The point is how to deprive the bosses of their social support.
At the same time the black workers have no naivety in respect of the problem. The rise of the independent unions as organisations of black workers shows that the mass of the proletariat will have no truck with white privilege or the domination of their organisations by those with interests counterposed to the mass. But the determination of almost all the independent unions to assert their character as non-racial unions is a brilliant testimony to the level of understanding and of class-consciousness prevailing in their ranks.
Indeed, the recent success of NAAWU (a FOSATU union) in winning over white members at Volkswagen from the extreme right-wing Yster en Staal is a small but powerful example of what can be done. Even the ones and twos, let alone the fives, tens and twenties of white workers who can be persuaded now to join in common organisations of struggle with their black fellow workers, begin the process of undermining the social foundations of the bourgeoisie and lead towards the eventual disintegration and smashing of the forces of reaction.
The entire ruling class must look upon the development of workers’ unity between black and white with the utmost horror.
Undoubtedly immense difficulties are involved in translating this method into practice in the political field in a programme capable of winning over significant numbers of whites.
While always upholding the need for unity of workers of all races and all countries, Trotsky warned in his letter to South Africa that “the worst crime on the part of the revolutionaries would be to give the smallest concessions to the privileges and prejudices of the whites. Whoever gives his little finger to the devil of chauvinism is lost.”
The unswerving stand of Marxism for workers’ unity in South Africa—for the unity of the workers of all races in struggle against the bourgeoisie—contains no grain of compromise with white arrogance, paternalism or privilege. Workers’ unity in South Africa will be a revolutionary unity—or it will prove to be no unity at all.
Our movement’s task is to mount its attack against white domination, racism and discrimination without falling into the snare either of black nationalism or fatal policies of compromise with the liberal bourgeoisie. Put the other way round, the task is tQ develop the struggle against the capitalist class, for policies of workers’ unity, workers’ power and the socialist revolution without diluting in the slightest the demands of national liberation of the black people.
This is a difficult course to steer. But if we run aground on the rocks awaiting us on either hand, the consequences for our movement and for our people will be appalling.
If we do not deprive the ruling class and the state of the social forces on which their murderous power depends, then—even if eventually we were to succeed in overthrowing them—it would be at the cost of millions of corpses (mainly black corpses) and rivers of blood. It would be at the cost of laying waste the human and material productive forces on which the progress of our society depends. What sort of liberation would that be?
If we have harped so much in this document on a single theme—on explaining the errors of the ‘two-stage’ approach—it is because in the end all questions of policy, strategy and tactics turn on this.
The, danger of illusions in the idea of a ‘national democratic state’, of attempting to constitute democracy on the foundations of capitalism, of remaining open to the thought of compromise with the liberal bourgeoisie—is that it leaves the menace of reaction undestroyed.
If the black workers’ movement is held back in South Africa by mistaken policies of limiting itself to a ‘national democratic stage’; if it is prevented from forcibly expropriating the bourgeoisie and bringing the main productive forces into common ownership; if it is obstructed by its leaders from arming itself, smashing the existing state, and constituting its own organs of workers’ democracy in their place—then the ground will be prepared for counter-revolution.
As the Chilean revolution showed, even in the most favourable circumstances, when reaction was paralysed by the force of the workers’ and peasants’ struggle, and government passed into the hands of the workers’ leaders, a bloody counter-revolutionary defeat was nevertheless suffered. This was because the Socialist and Communist leaders accepted assurances from the military and other officers of the capitalist state that they would ‘respect democracy’—i.e. during the time when they could do nothing else but ‘respect’ it.
The working class was constrained by its own leadership from arming and taking state power into its own hands.
Inevitably, confusion and frustration of the revolutionary movement resulted. As economic chaos followed the attempts of the new regime to carry through social reforms without decisively smashing capitalism, as the middle class in frustration swung away from the government, so the way was prepared for the forces of counter-revolution, headed by the ‘democratic’ generals, to strike. Fifty to a hundred thousand of the flower of the Chilean proletariat were slaughtered in the result.
How much the more dangerous, and how much the more bloody in its consequences, would be a similar development in South Africa!
Therefore the questions of theory and perspective which we are discussing here are not abstract questions, not questions of phrases, but issues on which the very fate of the people will depend.
The capitalists and their system are stricken with an incurable illness. But no ruling class passes into oblivion without a desperate fight. The historical persistence of the bourgeoisie has been colossal. World-wide, human society is passing through the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism. Time after time, in many countries, capitalism has been driven by the working class to the edge of extinction. But time after time, when it has been permitted to recover for a period, it has wreaked new havoc on the working people, reinvigorating its system Out of mass privation, brute, dictatorship and war.
In South Africa, the recovery of the bourgeoisie from a revolutionary crisis would necessitate the destruction of the mass organisations, in particular of the working class, which had arisen to threaten its survival and its power. The existing division of society along racial lines would complicate this reality of the class struggle, would render it all the more vicious, but would not essentially change it.
Revolution and counter-revolution follow similar laws, working in opposite directions. The failure of the revolution to complete its work—the consequent stalling, demoralisation and disarming of the revolutionary mass movement—would open before the oppressed in the whole of Southern Africa the danger of a bloodthirsty reaction capable of devouring hundreds of thousands of lives.
These are the stakes which will be cast in issue by the coming struggles.
Arming the Movement
From a correct perspective and policy towards the revolutionary tasks which lie ahead, a clearer policy on the question of armed struggle is also possible.
In this document we can deal with the question Only in very general terms, in order to show its relation to the issues discussed so far. Further detailed material will be necessary to go into the military problems of the revolution more fully.
It is overwhelmingly recognised by the black working class, above all by the youth, that armed force will be necessary to overthrow the regime. It is this recognition which has brought thousands of recruits into the ranks of MK, and given considerable popularity to the guerrilla attacks launched by the ANC in the recent period.
Yet the method of guerrilla struggle does not offer a means for overthrowing the SA state. In South Africa, nothing short of an armed mass insurrection of the oppressed working people will be sufficient to finally destroy the armed power of the ruling class.
This follows from both the military and the political realities confronting us. Once we understand that our liberation struggle can only be carried through by bringing to power a regime of workers’ democracy defended by an armed people, the inadequacy of guerrilla strategy becomes apparent.
When the ANC leadership turned to policies of ‘armed struggle’ in the early 1960s, the models on which they relied were the Cuban and Algerian revolutions of the previous few years. The success of the guerrilla w China, of course, also strongly reinforced the belief that this method of struggle might succeed in South Africa.
Unfortunately, a rigorous analysis of the class questions and class forces involved in developing revolutionary strategy and tactics was not made. Because the ANC and CP leaders have been unwilling to contemplate a workers’ revolution in South Africa, they fell too easily into the mistake of transposing to our situation methods which have had partial success in underdeveloped countries of the colonial world, where the working class has played either a secondary role or hardly any role at all in the struggle.
Classically, guerrilla war is the method of the peasantry, suited to their social conditions and the, enemy which they confront. Usually this enemy has beer ‘ e landlords, often combined with a foreign conqueror. oppressor. Even then, as the experience of the colonial revolution has shown, guerrilla war has proved capable of overthrowing only those regimes and ruling classes which have lacked a powerful social base in the population and which have been unable to reinforce themselves adequately with the aid of foreign powers.
In other cases, guerrilla war has led to the leaders of the guerrilla forces reaching a compromise with the ruling class in the towns, and to the frustration of the aims for which the peasants have sacrificed themselves in struggle.
As we explained in regard to Mozambique and Angola, the method of guerrilla war led there to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism because of the weakness of the bourgeoisie and the complete collapse of the colonial state under the combined impact of the guerrilla war and the revolutionary movement of the Portuguese working class. The ‘model’ of Angola and Mozambique cannot in any respect be applied to South Africa.
In contrast to these countries, we have the case of Zimbabwe, where the method of guerrilla war proved incapable of overthrowing capitalism, but led instead to compromise with the ruling class and with imperialism. (This was similar to the outcome in Algeria.)
In Zimbabwe the end of the Smith/Muzorewa government represented, as we have emphasised, a great step forward—but has left the fundamental tasks of the revolution unfulfilled.
It was only because of the passivity of the working class virtually throughout the process that any room existed in Zimbabwe for even temporarily ‘halting’ the class struggle, and for the guerrilla leadership to reach a ‘settlement’ with the bourgeoisie. Again, the case of South Africa bears no comparison.
There is in SA no basis for peasant war. Here the working class itself will make the revolution. It will be the mass activity of the working class, its organisations and its social strength which batters down the resistance of the ruling class and the regime. Moreover, any attempt on the part of the leadership to compromise with “‘e class enemy—far from achieving any form of liberation’—would only open the way to a bloody counter-revolution against the working people.
This—a further contrast with the situation in Zimbabwe—follows inevitably from the mighty class forces in SA which already are grinding against each other in action—and which can be ‘settled’ one way or the other only by revolutionary or counter-revolutionary means.
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.
Marxists are not the wild-eyed cut-throats portrayed in the propaganda of the ruling class. But nor are Marxists pacifists. We shrink from no methods and no tactics which are necessary to bring the working class to its goals. Our disagreement with the method of guerilaism in South Africa is that it cannot secure these goals.
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.
We should not be misled by the exaggerated importance attached to guerrilla actions in the propaganda of the regime. The reason why, for example, Magnus Malan stresses it in his presentation of a ‘total onslaught on South Africa’, is in order to rally the support of the whites to the regime. It is also used to ‘justify’ the creation at vast cost of an immense juggernaut of military weapons and personnel intended fundamentally for use against the mass movement of the oppressed.
One of the key disabilities of the guerrilla method is that it does not contain the means of stripping social support from the ruling class. Once armed action is undertaken by the mass movement itself, it will have a completely different effect within the camp of the enemy.
Contrary to the prevailing 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.
Moreover, the method of struggle carries within itself the shape of the future regime. In countries where guerrilla war has been victorious, the result has been at best a distorted revolution, giving rise to a new form of dictatorship over the workers, despite its relatively progressive role. In contrast, only in the organising and arming of the working class, and in the carrying through of an armed insurrection, can the basis for a regime of workers’ democracy be laid.
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.
Undoubtedly, it has been necessary for our movement to give attention to training comrades in military skills, and the use of various weapons. But so long as this training is carried on under the influence of the ideas of guerrillaism—of the unscientific application of ‘models’ of revolution which do not fit our situation—it must fail to address the essential tasks.
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.
The foremost teachers of Marxism always gave great attention to the matter of armed struggle in revolution. Engels was well known for his extensive study of military questions. Lenin spent years studying techniques of street fighting and insurrection in the experience of other revolutions. Trotsky’s military writings run to several volumes.
These works, together with the political lessons of all workers’ revolutions in industrialised countries ought to be the subject of thorough study and discussion in our movement’s ranks.
In the course of the development of a revolutionary situation in SA, there will be occasions for the effective use of arms in and through the mass struggle, leading to an advance of the movement as a whole. To begin with, this would occur mainly in defending meetings, demonstrations, strikes, communities faced with forced removal, etc., against the armed attacks of the enemy.
What would be involved in this whole development would be the preparation, underground, of the nuclei of a trained workers’ militia and the caching of arms. These bodies, democratically controlled, would take on an open and in due course mass character, engaging in defence of the mass movement as the revolutionary situation matures.
From this basis, the movement would in time pass over to co-ordinated offensive actions.
Matters of tactics—always the most difficult questions needing precise attention to circumstance and detail—are not the province of this document. Our point here is the direction, policy and strategy which the movement needs to take up in order to gear its capacities for armed struggle to the real needs of the revolution now impending in SA—and to lead this revolution to victory under the guidance of a clear programme for workers” power.
The Freedom Charter
As the movement gathers under the banner of the ANC, so too the Freedom Charter, the programme of Congress for over 26 years, is more and more openly proclaimed and quoted Undoubtedly the Freedom Charter is the most far-reaching programme for change ever put forward by a mass political organisation in South Africa. This gives it an enormous popular appeal.
But is the Charter an adequate programme for abolishing white supremacy and national oppression; for fully democratising society; for eliminating poverty; for ending all oppression and exploitation?
As this document has attempted to show, these tasks can only be accomplished by a revolution which brings the working class to power and carries through the overthrow of the capitalist system.
It is clear that the Freedom Charter is not a programme of socialist revolution. Nevertheless, its radical democratic demands and the immense reforms which it spells out in the fields of housing, transport, education, wages, working conditions and welfare are impossible for the capitalist system to afford.
The capitalist class, when driven into a corner, could use its accumulated wealth to make temporary concessions as a means of buying time. But it will inevitably use the first opportunity to fight viciously to reverse them.
The point is that, because of the economic constraints on capitalism in South Africa, any serious concessions in the sphere of democratic rights or material gains would quickly overstretch the limits of the capitalist system. For this reason such reforms could survive only transiently, for an unstable moment, awaiting a resolution either in the capture of power by the working class—or in the reassertion of capitalist power in bloody counter-revolution.
Thus the changes demanded by the Freedom Charter could be secured only if the private ownership of the main means of production were ended, and the stranglehold of the capitalist system broken.
The Freedom Charter itself contains an important element for the solution of this. In fact its cornerstone is the promise to nationalise the banks, mines and monopoly in components of a programme for transition to socialism.
But the great weakness of the Freedom Charter is its failure to explain that these demands could not be carried into effect without overthrowing the state power on which the bosses depend In the last analysis the capitalist state machine is the instrument for maintaining private ownership of the factories, banks, mines and land against the demands of the working people to own these productive forces in common.
The revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state will be the only means of implementing the demands in the Freedom Charter—but at the same time will open the way to far exceeding them in practice.
But as long as the Freedom Charter is not presented in the context of a clear programme and strategy for the revolutionary overthrow, of the capitalist state and capitalist system, the weaknesses in the Charter leave room for dangerous ambiguities.
It is clear, for example, that the Freedom Charter was given a different interpretation by the ANC leadership after the Congress of the People, than the interpretation presented to the delegations of the working people at the Congress itself.
There the mover of the clause, “The people shall share in the country’s wealth”, explained it to the delegates in these words:
It (the Charter) says ownership of the mines will be transferred to the ownership of the people. It says wherever there is a gold mine there will no longer be a compound boss. There will be a committee of the workers to run the gold mines. Friends, we also say that wherever there is a factory and where there are workers who are exploited, we say that the workers will take over and run the factories. In other words, the ownership of the factories will come into the hands of the people.
… Let the banks come back to the people, let us have a people’s committee to run the banks.
The next speaker, representing trade unions in Natal, spelled out with complete clarity the meaning that workers attached to the clause:
Now comrades, the biggest difficulty we ate facing in South Africa is that one of capitalism in all its oppressive measures versus the ordinary people—the ordinary workers in the country. We find in this country, as the mover of the resolution pointed out, the means of production. The factories, the lands, the industries and everything possible is owned by a small group of people who are the capitalists in this country. They skin the people, they live on the fat of the workers and make them work, as a matter of fact in exploitation. They oppress in order to keep them as slaves in the land of their birth.
Now friends, this is a very important demand in the Freedom Charter. Now we would like to see a South Africa where the industries, the lands, the big businesses and the mines, and everything that is owned by a small group of people in this country, must be owned by all the people in this country. That is what we demand, this is what we fight for and until we have achieved that we must not rest.
Nothing was said to contradict this view.
Afterwards, however, the ANC leadership took pains deny that the Charter implied the overthrow of capitalism. In fact, it was positively interpreted as a programme of reforming capitalism! Thus Nelson Mandela gave the following explanation in 1956 in order to clarify the leadership’s interpretation of the nationalisation clause:
Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land; the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes. Its declaration ‘The People Shall Govern!’ visualises the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of this country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty bourgeoisie.
It is true that in demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the gold mines and the land the Charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold-mining monopolies and fartiiing interests that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude. But such a step is absolutely imperative and necessary because the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless and until these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people. The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mines and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before. (Our emphasis)From his article, “In Our Lifetime”, published in Liberation, June 1956)
To the reader who has travelled with us this far, it should not be necessary to point out that such an approach could solve none of the problems of the working people. Nor would it be workable even within its own framework. It forgets that we are in the epoch of imperialism where no economy which remains on a capitalist basis can break free of the stranglehold of the 157 monopolies and the pressures of the world market.
It dreams of the reinvigoration in one corner of the world of a system which is in its epoch of senility on an international scale.
Most of all it forgets, that to conquer the existing, white capitalist class necessitates the conquest of its state power. For that only a workers’ revolution will be sufficient—and the triumphant black working class would not peacefully surrender its gains and its interests to a ‘non-European bourgeoisie’.
These realities will starkly face our movement at the time when Comrade Mandela is eventually freed from the clutches of the enemy and is able to take his place in the active leadership of the ANC. It will be vital for him, as it is vital for all the ANC leaders, to openly proclaim a programme of proletarian revolution as the only basis on which the demands in the Freedom Charter can be carried through.
In South Africa today, such is the intensity of the class struggle, and such the impasse of the ruling capitalist system, that all those who shrink from a struggle for its total overthrow are obliged also to water down their democratic demands.
As though anticipating that the Freedom Charter would require a workers’ revolution to implement, many of the middle-class politicians in SA today who proclaim the Freedom Charter are advocating only its “principles” while failing to publicist its concrete democratic and social demands.
Thus the Declaration of ‘South African Democrats’ adopted at the National Anti-SAIC Conference in Durban in October last year, claims to be based on the Freedom Charter—while systematically revising it and obscuring its revolutionary content.
The demand for common ownership of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is dropped. Nor is there any mention of the Freedom Charter’s demands for a 40-hour working week, for a national minimum wage, for paid annual leave and sick leave for all workers, for maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers, for full unemployment benefits…. Even the demand for an end to the pass laws has been abandoned!
It is not such a ‘Freedom Charter’ on which the working people place their hopes. Those whose life is poverty, degradation and unrelieved toil turn to the Charter precisely for the concrete improvements of life which it promises.
Nowhere has this been more clearly illustrated than by one of the speakers at a rally in Wynberg which was called to support SAAWU in the Wilson-Rowntree dispute. Here is how the Cape Times (7/9/81) reported her words:
“A spokesman for the Nyanga squatters said: ‘If you ask me to speak about the squatters, you are asking me to relate my life history, because I have been a squatter from birth.’ She said squatters do not come out of the blue, but are created by the government and its laws.
Citing sections of the Freedom Charter she said South Africa must prepare for a situation where the workers will govern and there will be houses and security for all.” (Our emphasis)
Here is expressed the task lying ahead of our movement. Let us take the demands of the Freedom Charter which offer a way forward in struggle for the working people—and let us cast them in the context of a clear programme and strategy for workers’ power.
In that way we will rally the colossal reserves of support now latent in the broad masses of the working people who have not yet risen to struggle. We shall unite the industrial workers with the workers on the land; we shall link the mineworkers to the struggles in the urban centres; we shall mobilise the unemployed; we shall draw together the youth movement with the trade unions, and both with the community at large; we shall link in common struggle those in the reserves, the squatters, the deported arid the dispossessed.
And in so doing we will open the road to power.
This is the epoch of world revolution. In every sector of the globe—in the advanced capitalist countries, in the ex-colonial world still in the grip of capitalism, and in the deformed workers’ states of Stalinism—the great bulk of the population are moving or beginning to move on the road of revolution.
This is the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism on a world scale, holding the prospect of the greatest advances in human history.
Our revolution in South Africa is part and parcel of this wider process. In the struggles of the working class internationally there are immense forces which we can link to our own. But we must know who our enemies are, and who are our real friends. We must not build our hopes or place our trust upon false friends.
In this document we have tried to sum up the historical experience of the working class internationally, and to draw on its lessons for our struggle. We have examined the obstacle that a reformist leadership places in the path of the working class—and we have shown the changing material conditions which now prepare the way for the defeat of reformism in the working-class movement.
We have analysed the rise of Stalinist bureaucracies of the East and explained why they have become a fetter upon the development of the productive forces, an oppressive burden to the working people under their rule, and an absolute impediment to the progress of mankind.
We have shown why, inevitably, these bureaucracies will be overthrown in political revolutions, leading to the establishment of regimes of workers’ democracy and genuine socialism.
In reaching out internationally to form bonds of common interest and common struggle, we must take these realities into account. The leadership of our movement must not seek to base international support either upon links with the Stalinist bureaucracies nor the bureaucracies of social-democratic reformism. Our ties must be built with the working people of East and West whose essential interests are the same as ours.
Of course we must gather material aid, money, arms, etc., from every quarter—but not by that become beholden politically to forces which stand in opposition to the revolutionary struggle of the working class.
Some think that ‘internationalism’ means giving endorsement to the policies and crimes of the Stalinist bureaucracies (either of the Moscow or Peking variety). That is an absolute travesty, and would put us at odds with our class brothers and sisters—the living movement of the international working class.
Moreover, we have to face the fact that the regimes of the Stalinist states, with their own bureaucratic national self-interest to defend, cannot support us in what will ultimately prove to be a struggle for workers’ democracy in South Africa.
This is because our victory in that struggle would transform the situation throughout Africa, would change the balance of class forces internationally, and would have incalculable effects on the continuation of ‘detente’ between imperialism and Stalinism. Therefore, the Stalinist bureaucracies will, in time to come, be pressurising the leadership of our movement to seek a negotiated settlement with capitalism in SA.
Our sights must be set on helping to advance the revolutionary struggle in every sector of the world, most crucially of all in the industrialised countries. The rise of a revolutionary regime of workers’ democracy in any important industrialised country would deal a devastating blow to imperialism and Stalinism simultaneously.
It would provide an immense boost to the South African revolution, weakening the power of the state, undermining the cohesion of the forces of reaction, precipitating the ruling class into desperate economic and political crisis, and advancing the revolutionary class-consciousness of the working people by giant strides.
If, on the other hand, we face our decisive confrontations with the state and the ruling class before workers’ revolutions in other major countries have come to our assistance, then it will likewise be our vital task to promote the development of the international socialist revolution.
After our victory we will face immense problems of reconstruction and the development of society towards socialism. The survival of workers’ democracy and the transition to socialism cannot be sustained within the borders of South Africa alone.
Our situation will depend on, and be transformed by, the progress of the world revolution.
Our task, of course, is not to wait, but to consciously link our own activities now to the struggles of the workers in other countries. Solidarity is not a one-way process—we must take an active interest in and give active support to the struggle for workers’ power in every country.
Already the progress of the movement in SA is a beacon of inspiration to working people around the world. Armed with a socialist programme and strategy for revolution, our movement in SA can make an immense contribution to the liberation of the whole of humanity from oppression, exploitation and want, and so advance all the people of the earth towards the socialist and communist future.
Let us rise consciously to the tasks posed by history, and with all our energies prepare.
Anyone who has read Marx and failed to understand that in capitalist society, at every acute moment, in every serious class conflict, the alternative is either the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat, has understood nothing of either the economic or the political doctrines of Marx.Lenin, April 1919 (from The Third International and Its Place in History