Spartacist South Africa No. 5
Break With the Bourgeois Tripartite Alliance!
Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party to Fight for Workers Revolution!
Thirteen years after the fall of apartheid, it has become increasingly evident to the black toilers that the Tripartite Alliance government has not altered the social and economic conditions of the impoverished masses. The rigid, legally enforced racial segregation and subjugation of apartheid is no more. But behind the liberation rhetoric of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the democratic trappings of “one person, one vote,” there is the reality of neo-apartheid capitalism, based on the same social foundations as the former regime: the brutal exploitation of the overwhelmingly black proletariat by a tiny class of fabulously wealthy white capitalist exploiters (albeit now sprinkled with a few black front men).
The official unemployment rate for the black African population exceeds 40 percent, while millions have been evicted from their homes or had their electricity or water cut off because they could not pay sky-high bills. Police crackdowns have escalated against workers striking against poverty wages, township residents protesting deadly cuts in electricity and drinking water, students resisting tuition increases. There is mounting rage directed at the uncontrollable corruption of the government. Meanwhile the capitalist ANC-led government searches for scapegoats to head off mounting discontent. Immigrants, many fleeing starvation and repression, are blamed for the high unemployment rate. Ominously, tribal enmities are being fostered. Since coming to power, the ANC has increasingly worked to pit different sections of the oppressed against each other. The contest to succeed Thabo Mbeki as head of the bourgeois ANC is viewed by many as a contest between the Xhosa central leaders of the ANC and Jacob Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist. Zuma himself is a bourgeois politician who endorses the austerity policies of the current government. An ANC run by Zuma would be just as anti-working-class as the current ANC.
It was against this backdrop of growing dissatisfaction that the twelfth national congress of the South African Communist Party (SACP) met in July in Port Elizabeth, where the future of the alliance with the ANC was the subject of vigorous debate. While SACP leader Nzimande gives thinly veiled support to Zuma on the false basis that he is pro-working class, some delegates at the recent congress called for the SACP to run candidates under its own name, as opposed to on the ANC slate. However, the resolution of the Gauteng region proposing that the SACP run its own candidates explicitly asserted that the “revolutionary alliance led by the ANC” is “an historic and important alliance that should be preserved.” This means that the SACP could continue to serve in the bourgeois government but as part of a coalition with the ANC rather than as ANC ministers.
The real question confronting SACP militants is why would a party that claims to represent the interests of the working class trample on those interests in order to maintain an alliance with the bourgeois ANC. Why would a party that claims to be fighting for a communist society—in which capitalist exploitation has been eliminated and replaced by a collectivised economy and an egalitarian social order—participate in a government that defends the interests of the capitalists and suppresses the struggles of the workers, the oppressed and the township and rural poor?
The SACP is not a Leninist party. It is, rather, what Lenin called a bourgeois workers party, with a working-class base and a pro-capitalist leadership and programme. In order to placate its working-class base, the SACP tops have been forced to become more critical of Mbeki. The bottom line, however, is that through its alliance with the bourgeois ANC and its class-collaborationist programme the SACP must serve the bourgeois order.
This could be seen graphically during the recent bitterly fought public workers strike. While the SACP claimed to support the strike, via its ministers in the bourgeois government it served as strikebreakers: Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula set the cops and army against the strikers, while Minister for Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils unleashed the intelligence services to spy on the teachers union. The COSATU bureaucracy, an integral component of the ruling Tripartite Alliance, deliberately refused to mobilise unions like the miners and metal workers which had the social power to win the strike. You cannot wage an effective struggle against the capitalist government when you are part of that government!
The Tripartite Alliance is a nationalist popular front, the South African variant of a governmental coalition binding a reformist workers party to the bourgeoisie. Through such class-collaborationist coalitions, the Communist parties in countries like France and Italy have derailed working-class revolutions. The essence of class collaboration is the argument that the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie can be expressed in a common programme, like the “national democratic revolution.” In truth, the interests of the exploited and the exploiters are irreconcilably counterposed. The alliance with the bourgeois-nationalist ANC that is at the core of the SACP’s politics, and has been for decades, necessarily means subordinating the workers and the oppressed to the capitalist order. The SACP justifies this perspective by asserting that the ANC represents all classes of the black African population. It was absolutely necessary to stand in solidarity with the ANC—as well as AZAPO, the Pan-African Congress and other nationalist fighters—when they engaged in military confrontations with the apartheid state. But that is a very different matter than extending political support to the bourgeois-nationalist programme of such organisations.
Lenin’s Bolshevik Party was a steadfast champion of all struggles against national oppression and Great Russian chauvinism in the tsarist empire, which Lenin termed a prison house of peoples. But the Bolsheviks fought for the rights of oppressed peoples with the methods of proletarian class struggle. Lenin politically exposed and combatted nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, be it of the “most just” or “most refined” sort. This Leninist understanding is all the more critical in South Africa, where class exploitation is integrally bound up with national oppression. Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the October Revolution, wrote to his followers in South Africa in the mid 1930s:
“It is entirely obvious that the predominant majority of the population, liberated from slavish dependence, will put a certain imprint on the state.
“Insofar as a victorious revolution will radically change not only the relation between the classes, but also between the races, and will assure to the blacks that place in the state which corresponds to their numbers, insofar will the social revolution in South Africa also have a national character.”
The struggle for national liberation can be a powerful motor force for socialist revolution in South Africa. Yet far from educating and leading the black African proletariat to take its place in revolutionary struggle at the head of all the oppressed, the SACP has for decades diverted the struggles of the proletariat into support for the bourgeois-nationalist ANC. The result of this has been not the liberation of the black African and other non-white masses but the “freedom” of a handful of aspiring black bourgeois to jump aboard the “gravy train” and join in the exploitation of their “own” people. The nationalism promoted by the ANC/SACP has also served to fuel and embitter national, tribal and other divisions among the masses, frustrated by their failure to achieve any modicum of gains 13 years after the end of apartheid. At the same time, sections of workers and youth are beginning to perceive that they can be oppressed by their own kind and not simply by whites.
South Africa is not a nation but a colonial-derived state. Apartheid South Africa brutally exploited migrant labour from elsewhere in southern Africa. The peoples of these surrounding countries made numerous sacrifices to support the struggle against apartheid. But today immigrants are discriminated against and subjected to deportation. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! South Africa/Azania, one and indivisible, cannot be the programme for workers revolution in southern Africa. We stand for a voluntary socialist federation of southern Africa in which the peoples of the region should enjoy regional autonomy.
Lobbying the SACP tops to adopt a more critical posture toward the ANC will do nothing to advance the struggle of the proletariat for its own emancipation and that of all the exploited and oppressed. Rather what is necessary is the forging of an entirely different party, a party based not on nationalism and class collaboration but on the proletarian, revolutionary and internationalist programme of the Communist International at the time of Lenin and Trotsky and its programmatic continuator, the Fourth International founded by Trotsky in 1938. It is to this task that Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), is dedicated, as part of our struggle to reforge an authentically Trotskyist, democratic-centralist Fourth International.
The State: An Organ of Class Domination
In this issue of Spartacist South Africa, we are reprinting three articles originally published in Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the American section of the ICL. These articles address some of the central issues debated by members of the SACP and others in the workers movement. One of the most important of these issues is the need to have a clear understanding of the nature of the state. As we note in “Bitter End to Defiant Public Sector Strike”: “In order to justify its participation in the government, the SACP has to pretend that the Tripartite Alliance is something other than what it is: a bourgeois government.” The SACP line that the existing state is some kind of “class-neutral” entity in which the workers can gain “hegemony” is a profound revision of Leninism. There are two fundamental classes in modern society—the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. As Lenin wrote in State and Revolution: “The state is an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another.” The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes, or achieve workers rule by electoral means. The capitalist state, which serves as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, cannot be reformed. As Lenin insisted, the replacement of a bourgeois state by a workers state requires a revolution that overthrows the capitalist system of exploitation.
The article “Protest Apartheid-Style Police Brutality Against Union Bus Drivers!” addresses the issue of the bourgeois cops. The core of the state consists of the police, army, courts and prisons. The public sector workers strike underscored that the cops are an integral part of the capitalist state, wielded by the bosses to repress the working class. The line of the SACP and COSATU that cops are workers, welcoming them into the trade unions, reflects their revisionist position that the state is “ours.” This dangerous illusion is reinforced by the fact that some cops in the “new” South Africa formerly served as armed fighters in the ANC’s struggle against apartheid rule. This does not diminish by one iota their current role as enforcers of capitalist state repression against the oppressed, meting out terror and brutality in the same way as the hated apartheid police did. Nor is such a development unusual: once Algeria gained independence from France, the freedom fighters who had once been tortured by the French colonialist army and police became the torturers of their own people on behalf of the neocolonial bourgeois-nationalist Algerian regime. Spartacist South Africa says: Police, security and prison guards—out of the unions!
Responding to the grumbling at the base of the party, deputy SACP head Jeremy Cronin cynically asserted that SACP ministers in government had been appointed for something other than carrying out ANC policies: “You can’t forget that you are a communist. If you are not a communist, then leave this party... You can’t privatise state-owned enterprises or abuse workers and their rights. You have options. Step down as a minister” (Morning Star Online, 13 August). The Gauteng resolution put forward at the SACP congress accepts the reformist, class-collaborationist framework of the SACP leadership that the workers can “contest power” in a bourgeois government. It is one thing for communists to stand candidates for and participate in bourgeois parliaments, in order to act as a tribune of the workers and oppressed there, as the Bolsheviks did even under the arduous and repressive conditions of the tsarist autocracy. It is a very different matter to stand for and assume executive office or serve as a bourgeois minister, whether on a local or national level. To assume such a position necessarily means enforcing the bourgeois order, including using the cops or army to repress workers struggle. This is why we are opposed to running for executive office (see “Down With Executive Offices!”, Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 60, Autumn 2007).
On one level, Mbeki’s sacking of deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge reflected the government’s continued contempt for AIDS victims and more generally for the masses of poor people who suffer from the country’s crumbling health system. Madlala-Routledge had made mild criticisms of the government’s neglect of HIV/AIDS and had pointed out that the fact that 2000 babies had died at Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape over five years constituted a national emergency. Unable and unwilling to marshal the resources necessary to provide free anti-retroviral medications and other measures to alleviate the impact of the AIDS pandemic, the bourgeois-nationalist ANC instead pushes anti-science obscurantism. Mbeki has never acknowledged the elementary fact that AIDS is caused by a virus, HIV, while his health minister Tshabalala-Msimang is a notorious advocate of “traditional remedies.” In other words, millions of people deprived of anti-retroviral drugs are abandoned to die. Women are among the hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic: for example, over 39 percent of pregnant women in KwaZulu-Natal test HIV-positive. “Traditional views” are frequently combined and overlap with the religious doctrines of the Christian church and missionaries, reinforcing anti-sex bigotry and the stigma of AIDS. We demand: Free anti-retrovirals and free quality health care for all! Open up the private hospitals for all!
COSATU general secretary Vavi hailed Madlala-Routledge (a member of the central committee of the SACP), claiming that thanks to her “the spirit of AIDS denialism is behind us.” This is just false. Only a small percentage of those with HIV/AIDS are receiving medication. Moreover, the under-five mortality rate has actually increased since 1990, going from 60 per 1000 live births to 65 per 1000 live births (Sunday Independent, 12 August). By far the largest cause of death in children under five is HIV/AIDS! It is hardly a secret that medical services are crumbling: a shortage of staff, poor pay for health workers, decaying facilities, budget cuts for health services. And when health workers struck recently, the government—in which the SACP serves—threatened to fire many of them because they are “essential workers.” The fact is that the SACP, in aiding and abetting the capitalist attacks on working people as part of the Tripartite Alliance, is co-responsible with Mbeki for his criminal neglect of health services.
The AIDS pandemic exposes the bankrupt “nation-building” rhetoric pushed by the SACP; it obviously cannot be solved within the borders of one country. To even begin to provide free, quality health care and treatment for all in South Africa requires the creation of a workers government and the expropriation of the blood-sucking pharmaceutical giants. Only world socialist revolution, tearing the means of production out of the hands of the greedy capitalist class, can put the positive gains of modern science at the service of all mankind. (For more on this, see “Capitalism, AIDS and ANC ‘Rollout’ Scam,” Spartacist South Africa No. 4, Spring/Summer 2004.)
Meanwhile the bourgeois press has been filled with hysteria whipped up over financial allegations regarding the SACP. What exactly is going on here is not clear. It does seem to involve infighting between different factions of the SACP, including those around Nzimande who are pro-Zuma and others like COSATU president Willie Madisha, who is closer to Mbeki. In any event, we oppose any state prosecution of the SACP. This is an issue of workers democracy—financial irregularities, if there are any, in workers parties or trade unions should be addressed by the workers movement. An attack on the SACP on such grounds opens the door for similar attacks by the government against trade unions and other workers organisations. From the standpoint of the workers movement, the real corruption in the SACP is political: its class-collaborationist support for the ANC is directly responsible for the betrayal of the interests of the workers and oppressed.
The Trotskyist Programme of Permanent Revolution
It is critical that militant workers and youth assimilate the history of the communist movement. As we note in our article “Permanent Revolution vs. ‘Two-Stage’ Stalinist Betrayal,” also reprinted in this issue, the bankruptcy of “revolution by stages” was proven by the course of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Tsarist Russia was an example of combined and uneven development, an overwhelmingly peasant country with a myriad of national minorities oppressed by the Great Russian landlords and capitalists. At the same time, however, there was a small but important proletariat in a few industrial centres, concentrated in huge factories equipped with the most modern technology. The Mensheviks, who in fact were the original proponents of “two-stage revolution,” argued that the bourgeoisie must come to power to resolve the outstanding democratic tasks such as giving land to the peasantry. Against this perspective of binding the proletariat to the liberal bourgeoisie, Lenin counterposed the revolutionary collaboration of the proletariat and the downtrodden peasantry, culminating in a “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” Trotsky likewise recognised that the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of leading a democratic revolution, but went further than Lenin. In his theory of permanent revolution, developed during the period 1904-06, Trotsky asserted that the Russian Revolution would be proletarian-socialist in character; that the solution of the bourgeois-democratic tasks (such as destruction of the tsarist autocracy, land to the tiller, democratic solution of the national question) was conceivable only in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat would place on the order of the day not only democratic tasks but socialist tasks as well. To guarantee such gains and to lay the basis for a world socialist society, proletarian rule had to be extended to the advanced capitalist world.
In 1917, when the tsar’s government collapsed, the Mensheviks supported the new liberal bourgeois Provisional Government and later joined the government. Lenin waged a merciless political struggle against the Mensheviks and those in the Bolshevik Party who conciliated them. He came over to Trotsky’s view that the revolution could triumph only by placing the proletariat in power. While the majority of the Bolshevik leadership initially called for “completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution,” Lenin insisted that “The conclusion is obvious: only the assumption of power by the proletariat, backed by the semi-proletarians, can give the country a really strong and really revolutionary government.” Lenin won over the key cadre in the Bolshevik party; the Bolsheviks led the working class, supported by the peasantry, in a revolution that smashed the old state apparatus, replacing the class dictatorship of capital with the dictatorship of the proletariat based on democratically elected councils (soviets) of workers and peasants.
At the time of the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, the Communist International (Comintern) revived the Menshevik line of “two-stage” betrayal. By then the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state had placed at the head of the Comintern J.V. Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, who advocated the anti-Marxist, nationalist dogma of building “socialism in one country,” denying the need to spread the revolution outside the Soviet Union. They continued the policy of liquidating the Chinese Communist Party into the Chinese bourgeois nationalists, the Guomindang, led by Chiang Kai-shek. Lulled into the belief that Chiang was an ally, tens of thousands of Communists and militant workers, who were the effective power in the key city of Shanghai, were disarmed and murdered when he turned on them in the Shanghai massacre of April 1927. This policy of subordinating the working class to the bourgeois nationalists was opposed by Leon Trotsky. As a result of this experience, Trotsky generalised his theory of permanent revolution to the colonial and semi-colonial world.
However, the Stalinist leadership of the Comintern drew the opposite conclusions. It defended its treacherous conduct in China and generalised this strategy of subordinating the working class to the national bourgeoisie to other countries like South Africa. (For more information, see our pamphlet The Stalin School of Falsification Revisited.) In fact, the alliance with the ANC dates from the year after the defeat of the Chinese Revolution. At its recent congress the SACP leadership cited a resolution of the 1928 Sixth Congress of the Comintern that asserted:
“Our aim should be to transform the African National Congress into a fighting nationalist revolutionary organization against the white bourgeoisie and the British imperialists, based upon the trade unions, peasant organizations, etc., developing systematically the leadership of the workers and the Communist Party in this organization [we repeat: “developing systematically the leadership of the workers and the Communist Party in this organization”]... The development of a national-revolutionary movement of the toilers of South Africa...constitutes one of the major tasks of the Communist Party of South Africa.”
—Political report of the SACP’s 11th Congress Central Committee as tabled before the 12th Congress (brackets and emphasis in original)
Stalin’s Comintern sought to prettify its class collaboration by dubbing the Guomindang a “workers and peasants party.” This “two-class” formula, denying that the class interests of the proletariat differed from the petty proprietor outlook of the peasantry, covered up the bourgeois character of the Guomindang. The Comintern claimed that a bourgeois revolution would “grow over organically” into the socialist revolution. Similarly the SACP denies the necessity for proletarian revolution, rejecting the “erroneous (and divisive) conclusion that a socialist transition required another political revolution in which the working class, in the name of ‘socialism’ overthrew its own national democratic state, and marginalized its own closest allies” (“Taking Forward the Struggle for Socialism, Chapter 5”). The ANC is dubbed a “broad national liberation movement” and a “class-contested terrain,” the better to deny that the SACP is politically subordinated to a bourgeois party and participates in running the bourgeois state.
Contrary to what some SACPers believe, the ANC has not betrayed its “socialist past,” as supposedly embodied in the 1955 Freedom Charter. That document in fact makes no reference to either socialism or the working class taking power. The famous phrase that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil... shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole” was deliberately vague as to how it was to be realised. At best, it posed a nationalisation of the mines within the framework of capitalism. The charter explicitly upholds the right of “all people” to “trade where they choose” and “to manufacture,” that is, it upholds the right to private property in the means of production. In the main it consists of a series of bourgeois-democratic demands, such as abolition of the apartheid laws and laws restricting suffrage. The document claims that “the people” should “share in the country’s wealth” and envisions that “only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief.” But “the people” are divided into different classes with counterposed interests. In referring to “democracy,” the ANC meant bourgeois democracy, which means above all defence of the “right” of the capitalists to exploit the workers. The ANC was asserting its appetite to become the bourgeois rulers of the country. In pushing the Freedom Charter, the SACP reinforced the ideology of nationalism, the false belief that the black African people all have a common interest which stands higher than class divisions.
The demise of apartheid refuted the SACP’s false claims that genuine racial and national equality could be achieved in alliance with the national bourgeoisie. Apartheid was not destroyed through revolution but rather through a “power-sharing deal” between the Randlords and the ANC, backed up by the Western imperialists. While one factor in inducing the capitalists to arrive at an agreement with the ANC was the escalation of labour struggle against apartheid, the bourgeoisie did not seriously feel that its rule was threatened. The deal took place in the wake of the counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR, which provided material as well as diplomatic support to the ANC. Throughout the 1980s the ANC devoted the bulk of its efforts to a “divestment” campaign aimed at pressuring the Anglo-American imperialists to pressure the Afrikaner rulers to come to terms with the ANC; after the counterrevolution the ANC quickly came to terms with the Western imperialists and their South African junior partner.
Indeed the ANC was eager enough to share in the spoils of South African capitalism. Talk of “nationalising the mines” was quickly dropped. As early as 1990 Nelson Mandela made clear that he had “never advocated socialism at all” and that he favoured “the flourishing of capitalism among Africans.” The “power-sharing deal” was guaranteed by various “sunset clauses” (pushed vigorously by then SACP leader Joe Slovo) that enshrined the privileges of the old white ruling class. The ANC acted fundamentally no differently than other former petty-bourgeois nationalists like Robert Mugabe who, upon taking power, exploited their own people in league with the imperialists.
Over the following 13 years the ANC—aided and abetted by its labour lieutenants in the SACP and the COSATU bureaucracy—has indeed kept its end of the bargain with the Randlords, defending the sanctity of the bourgeoisie’s property and profits. While there is a black government, the economic and social conditions of the black, Indian and coloured working masses have if anything deteriorated. This gives the lie to the SACP’s claims of a “national democratic revolution.” It confirms in the negative the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution, underscoring that achievement of national equality requires the overthrow of the capitalist system of exploitation.
Some SACPers, trade unionists and other leftists (including some grouped around the magazine Amandla), dissatisfied with the alliance with the ANC, have proposed a lash-up with other forces, including AZAPO and the “social movements” like the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). Despite its criticisms of the government, AZAPO is a bourgeois-nationalist formation qualitatively no different from the ANC (except being smaller). Indeed, its willingness to administer capitalism is demonstrated by the fact that it currently has a minister in the government (Mosibudi Mangena). Our article on “Permanent Revolution vs. ‘Two-Stage’ Stalinist Betrayal” deals with the popular-frontist “social forums.” It speaks to the treachery of the SACP in enforcing the dictates of capital that outfits like the APF have come to the fore, acting as a safety valve for the ANC-led government by leading protests against some of the government’s more unpopular measures, such as cutting off water in the townships. No less than the SACP itself, these formations are tied to the imperialists and the capitalist states via their ties to and funding by bourgeois governments, banks and CIA-linked institutions like the Ford Foundation. (See also “Social Forum Con Game,” Workers Vanguard No. 853, 2 September 2005.)
What is necessary is the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party, which must unite the most politically advanced worker militants with the best of the leftist intellectuals. Such a party must be a “tribune of the people,” championing the interests not only of the working class but of all the oppressed—the unemployed, the rural poor, women, immigrants, tribal and ethnic minorities. It will be built in political and polemical struggle against the various currents of the South African left, including the SACP, whose best elements must be won away from its pro-capitalist leadership to a Trotskyist programme. Only the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a workers state and planned economy will put the mineral wealth and all that has been built through the sweat and blood of the toilers at the disposal of working people.
A socialist revolution in South Africa, centred on the black proletariat, would confront formidable enemies in the imperialist powers, emboldened and strengthened by the final undoing of the Russian Revolution. Yet such a revolution would also galvanise strategically powerful allies: from the American black working class, to the militant young proletariat of South Korea and Indonesia and the working class in West Europe. This would electrify workers throughout the world and establish a base for the struggle for international revolution, especially in the advanced capitalist countries, which is vital for the achievement of a world socialist society, one in which poverty has been abolished and classes are no more.