Spartacist South Africa Supplement
For Programmatic Continuity!
For a Black-Centred Workers Republic!
The following 1 October 2015 declaration issued by the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity, upholding the revolutionary programme of Spartacist/South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), has been slightly edited for publication.
“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s programme on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arises—these are the rules of the Fourth International.”
—The Transitional Programme (1938) (“Against Opportunism and Unprincipled Revisionism”)
1. Declaration of a Faction
For more than a year, the South African section has been embroiled in an increasingly heated dispute over the issue of racial and other divisions among the oppressed non-white populations, in particular divisions between blacks and coloureds. Despite attempts to obscure the issues at stake and the nature of the differences, this dispute is fundamentally about programme and politics—not factual, editorial or other secondary and tertiary matters that have been raised as diversions. We are declaring a faction to fight in defence of our basic programme, embodied in the call for a black-centred workers government—the application of permanent revolution in South Africa.
This programme has in practice been challenged by the senior leaders of the section, comrades Mandla and Ernest, who have doggedly resisted all attempts to squarely confront the racial divisions and have prevented the historic line of the ICL/SSA on these issues—as represented in foundational line articles like “Letter to the New Unity Movement” (The Fight for a Revolutionary Vanguard Party: Polemics on the South African Left, April 1997) and “Reply to WIVL” (Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacists No. 1, July 1998)—from being expressed in our propaganda. The course these comrades are following—soft-pedalling the extent of racial divisions and apologising for racial prejudices among sections of the oppressed—leads down the road to abandoning the fight for a black-centred workers government and making one’s peace with one variant or another of “non-racial nation building”. That is, with the notion that the dramatic divisions created by the history of imperialist domination and apartheid rule can somehow be overcome on the basis of capitalism.
As against this profoundly false view—espoused by reformist misleaders and fake leftists of various stripes, from those like the SACP who support the ANC and tail after black nationalism to those like WIVL/WIVP who adapt to coloured sectoralism—we recognise that racist divide-and-rule is one of the main tools the bourgeoisie uses to prop up its system all over the world. In neo-apartheid South Africa, the capitalist regime continues to be based on superexploitation of the black proletariat and the racial hierarchy—with whites on top, Indians and coloureds in intermediary positions, and blacks on the bottom—remains fundamentally intact, while the aspirations of all sections of the oppressed have been frustrated under the rule of the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance. We have repeatedly warned that if the masses’ frustration does not find expression along class lines, it will fuel and embitter every other kind of division. Only through the dictatorship of the proletariat is it possible to put an end to the national oppression of the black majority and overcome the racial, ethnic and tribal divisions among the non-white peoples, all of which are endemic to South African capitalism. This is what our call for a black-centred workers government is meant to highlight. Such a government would not only aim to resolve the democratic tasks, but would take up socialist tasks as well, while fighting to link up with workers revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries. Important in this regard is the note by one comrade earlier this year that criticised the presentation of permanent revolution in SSA No. 12 for identifying proletarian revolution in backward capitalist countries solely with achieving democratic tasks, with socialist transformation implicitly relegated to future proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres.
Our propaganda must be directed centrally against the ANC (and COSATU and the SACP) as front men for the big bourgeoisie, and also against the coloured layers who follow the local white regime in the Western Cape. Thus, in the revised (third) draft of the article, “On Coloured Marginalisation and the Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government”, we wrote:
“For communists, breaking through these retrograde divisions is centrally about advancing the vital objective interest that black and coloured workers have in united struggle against their common enemy—the racist capitalist ruling class and its political representatives, which include both the ANC and the DA. This class unity is in no way an automatic outcome of growing mass discontent, but must be fought for. That means fighting against all manifestations of racist oppression and against all racial, ethnic and national prejudices.”
2. Against the Obstruction of Our Programme
This is the historically developed programmatic line of the ICL and SSA with regard to the divisions between blacks, coloureds and other sections of the oppressed. The record of the past year’s internal struggle clearly shows that comrades Mandla and Ernest, with the support of Neo, have consistently acted to obstruct this line from appearing in our propaganda.
This was the case during the production of SSA No. 11 in June-July 2014, when comrade Rena intervened to insist that we address the question of black-coloured divisions in the article “Struggles of the Poor in the Western Cape”, including by citing the key points from the “Reply to WIVL”. She wrote in her 20 August 2014 document that she had a disagreement “with comrades Mandla and Neo saying that DA voters within the coloured areas don’t have a racist motivation”. She asserted correctly “that racism does exist within the coloured and Indian population just as anti-immigrant racism exists in the black population”. Her interventions were dismissed, and the published article is politically deficient as a result.
Once a fight was initiated over these political problems, comrades Mandla, Ernest and Neo dug in their heels and stubbornly resisted acknowledging the numerous concrete incidents and political trends that point to the existence of serious tensions between sections of the coloured and black oppressed, including especially examples that indicate levels of anti-black sentiment among a layer of the coloured population. For example, comrade Mandla and others for months denied the blatantly obvious fact that the significant electoral support for the DA and other white parties among coloured voters was evidence of racial antagonisms. This continued up to the IEC plenum late last year in New York, after which Mandla wrote a retraction that included the following trenchant riposte to the bogus arguments he had been raising:
“I have been convinced through the SSA and IEC fight that the coloured vote for the racist Democratic Alliance (DA) is the clearest example of anti-black racism. This has nothing to do with a wrong assumption that all coloureds are a homogeneous undifferentiated mass. Furthermore it does not mean that those coloureds who vote for the DA are inherently racist.... What it means though is that the bourgeoisie, through the ANC and DA, is successful in mobilizing sections of the oppressed along these retrograde divisive ideas. The task of a racially integrated Leninist vanguard party is to fight against the manifestation of these divide-and-rule influences of the ruling class amongst the oppressed as a tribune of all the people.
“To deny their existence is to capitulate to the false consciousness of the oppressed and a conciliation to coloured nationalism and anti-black racism. The comrades who fought me on this in South Africa were right and I am happy they did.”
—“Re: Retraction”, 14 December 2014
However, after returning to Johannesburg Mandla did an about-face. Essentially contradicting both this retraction and his vote in favour of the IEC plenum memo, Mandla (along with Ernest and Neo) voted against a motion passed at the 4 March 2015 section meeting that characterised the political problems with the article published in SSA No. 11 and pointed to the large vote for the white-dominated DA as a “clear indication of anti-black sentiment among sections of the coloured population”. The motion noted that the article is evasive on racial divisions among the oppressed; fails to explain that the racial hierarchy persists under neo-apartheid; fails to polemicise against “non-racialism”; and fails to state that the black-centred workers government slogan expresses the centrality of national liberation of the black majority in the South African revolution.
Comrades Mandla, Ernest and Neo also initially voted against a motion passed at the same meeting, which upheld the 1998 “Reply to WIVL”—a basic line article of the South African section that was written in response to fake left opponents of ours who denied the existence of racial divisions among the black and coloured masses and attacked our “black-centred workers government” slogan, arguing that “The Spartacists promote racial divisions in South Africa” because we confronted these divisions forthrightly. As we argued both in the “Reply” and in the 4 March 2015 motion, this was in the service of WIVL’s adaptation to coloured parochialism (sectoralism), centrally demonstrated by their “colour-blind” denial of the structural racial hierarchy and downplaying of the special oppression of the black majority under neo-apartheid. In South Africa, class exploitation is integrally bound up with national oppression. Despite a sizeable coloured proletariat, especially in the Western Cape, and an urban Indian working class in Natal, the overwhelming majority of workers are black Africans. In his 1935 “Letter to South African Revolutionaries”, Trotsky stressed that “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.”
A motion of 24 April 2015 was later passed unanimously, which upheld the 4 March motion on the WIVL polemic, while incorporating a valid correction by Mandla that a sentence in that motion understated that apartheid was qualitatively worse than what preceded it. While formally voting to uphold the WIVL polemic, Mandla, Ernest and Neo have in practice rejected those politics and have continued to obstruct our efforts to incorporate them in our current propaganda.
Comrade Neo continued to argue that WIVL’s “colour-blindness” is not an adaptation to coloured parochialism, but that “the overwhelming pressure for the left in the Western Cape is Black Nationalism” (“Re: Draft on Coloured Question”, 1 August 2015). Denying the pressures of coloured parochialism and sectoralism serves in reality to cover for his own adaptation to these pressures. This is demonstrated most clearly in the sharp objections, raised in the same 1 August 2015 document, to the draft article’s straightforward observation that the protests that have been going on for most of this year at Davidsonville Primary School—where mainly coloured parents, teachers and community members have demanded the firing of the school’s black principal and her replacement by a coloured candidate—had an “anti-black thrust”.
Neo’s document comes to the defence of the protests and the Davidsonville Community Forum (DCF) that has been leading them, arguing that “the grievances raised were obviously valid”. Neo whitewashes the reactionary coloured sectoralist politics that animate the DCF, whose leadership overlaps heavily with that of the equally reactionary Kullid Foundation, also cited favourably in Neo’s document. The DCF’s politics are clearly revealed by its own Facebook page, which recently posted an invitation to “Anyone and any organisation that believes that Coloureds, Indians, Khoisan, Afrikaner and other marginalised minorities now needs to stand politically on their own” to attend the Gauteng launch of the Patriotic Association of South Africa in Davidsonville! This is in the context where petrol bombs were being thrown at the black principal’s car and the school, and where black and coloured parents faced off along racial lines. These points were clearly pointed out in the draft article. Mandla, however, maintained in his 15 August 2015 document that we do not know enough to take a categorical position on whether there is anti-black sentiment or not—once again stubbornly denying the obvious in order to obstruct publication of our line.
Neo’s 1 August document also argues that the grievances raised by the Davidsonville protests are “not at all uncommon in schools where collusion of SADTU [teachers union] and department officials plays a very negative role”. This echoes the virulent anti-SADTU propaganda of the DCF which, in a March 2015 statement, placed all the blame for the miserable state of public education at SADTU’s feet and explicitly called for a police (Hawks) investigation into allegations that the union is involved in corruption. As the draft article correctly and forthrightly stated, Marxists are for the unconditional defence of unions against state intervention as a matter of elementary class principles. For his part, Mandla evaded taking a clear-cut stance in defence of the union, instead proposing in a 15 August 2015 note on the latest draft that we “try to do a further investigation” and complaining that the wide-spread reports of SADTU selling principals’ posts “does not help the situation”. But the class line is clearly drawn on this issue, as Lewis argued in a 5 September 2015 document: labour must clean its own house, it is not the task of the class enemy! This wavering over the basic question of defence of the union against the capitalist state comes in the midst of a bourgeois propaganda campaign which demonises SADTU for the purpose of crippling the union. For us, the most treacherous corruption committed by the trade union bureaucracy is its support for the capitalist system, which in SADTU’s case means chiefly the subordination of working class interests to the capitalists via the Tripartite Alliance nationalist popular front.
3. The Coloured Population Is Not Homogeneous
In his document of 9 December 2014, Mandla made the bogus claim that it is difficult to find credible examples of black-coloured divisions, and expressed concern that we not be seen as treating the coloured population as a homogeneous mass. But we have provided numerous examples of such divisions, and we have never asserted that the coloureds constitute a homogeneous mass. To cite one example, the revised (third) draft of the article intended for SSA No. 13 states, very unambiguously:
“Against those who promote racial stereotypes, it is important to stress that the coloured population is by no means homogeneous (nor is the black population, for that matter)—political and social attitudes vary widely between individuals, based on class background, personal experiences, and other factors. Moreover, the prevalent attitudes among the coloured population are also not fixed, but vary with time and location. For example, there has generally been much less support for the DA among coloured working people in the rural areas—the agricultural regions of the Western Cape, as well as much of the Northern Cape—than in urban areas.”
The draft article deals not only with examples of conflicts along racial lines, but also those examples that highlight the potential for forging class unity—for example, dealing extensively with the 2012 Western Cape farm workers strike, where unity across racial, tribal and national lines was demonstrated in the face of the white farmers’ and Zille government’s attempts to play divide-and-rule. However, as the article also argued, such unity in the course of immediate economic struggles will not, in and of itself, “spontaneously” lead to these divisions being overcome on a more lasting basis. For that, the intervention of a racially integrated Leninist vanguard party—with cadre drawn from all sections of the oppressed—is indispensable. In terms of our tasks as an (aspiring) fighting propaganda group, the draft pointed out the crux of the matter, which is programmatic:
“We fight to win class-conscious coloured workers and other anti-racist coloured activists to this programme [the black-centred workers government] and to the understanding that the fight for national liberation of the oppressed black majority is the strategic motor force for workers revolution to smash the racist neo-apartheid system that oppresses all of the non-white toilers. The oppression of coloureds (and Indians) is directly conditioned by the superexploitation of the black proletariat, and any meaningful fight to end this oppression necessarily means fighting for the national liberation of the oppressed black majority. Likewise, any meaningful fight for black liberation means an unyielding fight against black nationalism, which is riddled with anti-coloured and anti-Indian bigotry. This is critical for building a racially integrated Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party that can intervene and fight for revolutionary leadership among all sections of the oppressed.”
Clearly, this can only be done if we face reality squarely, which is precisely what the Mandla-Ernest-Neo bloc is opposed to doing. The reality is that they are the ones who treat the coloured population as homogeneous, and they do so in the service of covering for the most reactionary of coloured-sectoralist demagogues, like the DCF/Kullid Foundation. As is common with revisionism, this cover for right-wing forces is based on objectivism/defeatism, which sees no possibility of a polarisation brought about by the sharp, programmatic intervention of Marxists.
4. For Intervening with Our Programme!
Mandla has proven himself to be a maneuverer. He has repeatedly said/written one thing in New York, and done the opposite in Johannesburg. We have already documented his backtracking on his December 2014 retraction. More recently, Mandla wrote a 15 August 2015 note proposing that he and Atiyah work together on a round of final edits on the article for SSA No. 13, and that if there were still big differences, they could be put to a vote. But when he returned to the section, he did another about-face, declaring the draft “unpublishable” in a 10 September motion, thereby further obstructing the production of this propaganda. All of this, including the motion, was done without providing any substantive political justification to kill the draft article.
While persistently denying that there are serious racial tensions between blacks and coloureds, Mandla on the other hand raised the proposal that we consider calling for political autonomy for the coloured majority in the Western Cape. Even to raise such a proposal/demand acknowledges that there are serious divisions and that a significant portion of the coloured population feels threatened by the black majority, thus contradicting the line that has been argued for more than a year by Mandla, Ernest and Neo. To simultaneously argue two self-contradictory positions is to make a mockery out of the discussion.
The revisionist challenge to our programme that Mandla, Ernest and Neo have been waging for the past year—and the attendant internal struggle, which has been rendered much more protracted and paralysing than needed, largely thanks to Mandla’s political obfuscation—come in the midst of objectively favourable conditions for SSA to grow into a significant and extended propaganda group. As noted in last year’s IEC plenum memo, “The excruciating contradiction is that the SSA has palpable opportunities to go forward but cannot realize this without a cohesive Leninist organization.”
Backward consciousness among oppressed layers is not unique to South Africa. But reformists, especially those with proclivities towards Third World nationalism, deny this. An example is the Internationalist Group (IG). The IG was incensed that we would produce an article, published in WV No. 786, dealing with racial tensions between blacks and Latinos in the US. They denied that many immigrants harboured anti-black sentiments.
At stake in this fight is the political existence of the ICL’s section in South Africa and its expansion. The fight must be resolved, along the political lines of the draft article that has been obstructed, or these will be at risk. The task now is to defend the party and its programme. James P. Cannon emphasised during the 1953 Cochran-Clarke fight that fundamental programmatic differences must be fought out, not ignored:
“Trotsky once wrote that a revolutionist is tested under all kinds of circumstance and in all kinds of actions, from strikes and street fights up to the revolutionary struggle for power, but that the most important test of all is his attitude toward the disputes within his own party.”
—Speeches to the Party (“Mass Work and Factional Struggle”, 9 April 1953)
We stand on the following documents, in addition to this statement:
• Above-quoted draft, “On Coloured Marginalisation and the Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government”
• The 4 March 2015 motions on the SSA No. 11 article and “Reply to WIVL”, including the correction made to the latter in the motion of 24 April 2015
• “A Reply to WIVL”
• Polemics On the South African Left
• 2014 IEC plenum memo