Spartacist South Africa Supplement
FTC Supplementary Document for the Fifth National Conference of Spartacist/South Africa
The following document, issued on 5 December 2015 by the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity, has been slightly edited for publication.
1. This document supplements and updates the 1 October document, “For Programmatic Continuity! For a Black-Centred Workers Government!” In that statement, the Faction for Trotskyist Continuity was declared in order to fight in defence of SSA’s basic programme, embodied in the call for a black-centred workers government, i.e., the application of permanent revolution to South Africa. The unfolding of the factional struggle since then has only underlined how necessary and correct this step was. At stake in this struggle is nothing less than the existence of a Trotskyist organisation in this country—a South African section of the ICL.
Against Revisionism on the Nature of Neo-Apartheid
2. Their 19 October factional declaration gives one measure of the contempt that the misnamed Leninist Faction (LF) has for clarity on questions of programme and principle. While it has basically nothing to say about permanent revolution and the “black-centred workers government”, nearly half of this document is devoted to a long-winded “chronological accounting” of grievances about secondary and tertiary organisational matters.
3. Notwithstanding this political obfuscation, the thrust of the LF’s revisionism comes through in their document and arguments during the subsequent factional debate. While the document makes clear their opposition to issuing propaganda that explains the nature of the racial hierarchy in the “new” South Africa and that confronts false consciousness about this, the same document pointedly avoids using the term “neo-apartheid”, instead referring to “post-apartheid bourgeois democracy”. Showing that this was no slip of the pen, during the 17 November debate both Mandla and Ernest argued against our assertions that the racial hierarchy remains intact under neo-apartheid, and Mandla accused us of “softness on black nationalism” for insisting on this. Mandla responded indignantly to one comrade’s statement that the Tripartite Alliance government “represent[s] the interests of the imperialists and that they are black frontmen for the white capitalist class”. He ludicrously implied that this amounts to denying that the Tripartite Alliance runs the capitalist state and that the black elite benefit materially from this arrangement, while postulating the existence of a black bourgeoisie.
4. As with the LF’s insistence on downplaying the racial divisions among layers of the black and coloured oppressed, this revisionism on the nature of neo-apartheid in fact represents an attack on the programme encapsulated in the “black-centred workers government” slogan. It is precisely the neo-apartheid nature of South African capitalism—the fact that the economic and social structure of apartheid has remained intact—that is the basis for our understanding that the national question will be a central component of the fight for proletarian revolution in this country and that such a revolution will result in a black-centred workers government. As was pointed out when we reinstated the “black-centred workers government” slogan in 2007, this slogan is our answer to the false claim by the SACP and others that the national question could be resolved short of proletarian revolution. Our call for a black-centred workers government also draws a sharp line against those who are indifferent to or refuse to recognise the fact that the black African majority remains on the bottom of the racial hierarchy in South African society. It is an inclusive slogan that uniquely points the way toward transcending the racial, tribal and ethnic divisions among the non-white oppressed peoples.
5. The “black-centred workers government” slogan is crucial for addressing and combatting the pervasive influence of nationalist false consciousness among the proletariat. Nationalism remains the central obstacle to revolutionary class consciousness in large part because of the near-complete overlap of race and class, which continues more than twenty years after the end of apartheid. The overwhelming majority of workers are black Africans while the capitalist owners of the mines, factories and farms are white, now sprinkled with a few non-white faces. Far from representing a “hard” line against black nationalism, the LF’s revisionism on the racial hierarchy and neo-apartheid is a profound accommodation to the ANC nationalists, positing that they have managed to “transform” the racial hierarchy. It also leaves the field open to those black nationalist demagogues, like Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, who currently posture as “alternatives” to the ANC. In reality, this revisionism serves as a cover for accommodating anti-black prejudices and conciliating the leaders of the “anti-corruption movement”, a bourgeois movement which seeks to unite left and right-wing opponents of the ANC on a programme of “cleaning up” the neo-apartheid capitalist state.
For Leninist Norms in SSA
6. Since issuing our factional declaration, a number of problems have come to light—mostly as a result of probing on the initiative of the I.S. [International Secretariat] and visiting IEC [International Executive Committee] delegations—that show an alarming pattern of departures from Leninist organisational norms in SSA. The Organisational Rules and Guidelines of the ICL stipulate, under “Article IV. National Sections”: “A section must show the capacity to generate propaganda, to carry out its financial obligations, to recruit, and to effectively consult with the I.S.” SSA has failed in serious ways to meet these requirements. These problems are to a large extent the organisational side of the political challenge to our Trotskyist programme. As comrade Elizabeth Kendall observed in the report on the draft Rules and Guidelines at the Third International Conference of the ICL:
“A sound set of organizational rules is not a guard against political departures, although departures from our organizational norms are generally a signal of political problems. In the absence of Bolshevik practices, an organization is necessarily amorphous, that is, Menshevik.”
—“On the Origins and Development of Leninist Organizational Practices”, Spartacist No. 54, Spring 1998
7. In October, it was uncovered that one comrade (a member of the LF) had not paid an SP [sustaining pledge] in eight months! This astounding violation of the basic requirements of membership was not reported to the Executive Committee or Local Committee by the treasurer or other comrades who knew about it. The LF document does not even mention this egregious case of sub-Menshevik functioning in their litany of organisational complaints, and that alone shows that their claim to be the faction of “those fighting this Menshevism both politically and organisationally” is nothing but empty bombast. Instead, when the issue was addressed in the SSA meeting of 15 October in an attempt to fight to preserve the comrade’s membership and restore his vote, some members of the LF responded with scurrilous accusations that the enforcement of our financial norms was a factionally-motivated “purge”. All members of the LF refused to support a motion rejecting these charges that was passed at the next SSA meeting, on 7 November.
8. The 7 November SSA meeting also passed a motion condemning the contemptible accusation, made by comrade Jay of the LF, that the ICL is an organisation in which wealthy individuals “can buy and own comrades” (all members of the LF refused to support this motion, too). This was the most wretched expression of a clearly discernible anti-internationalist thrust that accompanies the LF’s opportunist, revisionist politics. Thus the LF document decries “the role of the IS in deciding to take sides” in the dispute that has paralysed the work of the South African section for the past year and a half. This is an expression of contempt for international democratic-centralism and has nothing to do with Leninism.
9. The non-payment of SP for eight months is just the most serious example of a number of departures from the ICL’s financial norms, including a lack of codified rules and failure to report to the I.S. treasury. Other serious departures from our norms include the failure to produce and adopt minutes of the section’s meetings over a period of some three years, and a failure to ensure that contacting and recruitment are based on the fundamental programmatic documents of the ICL and SSA and carried out under the purview of the exec and local. There has also been a lack of party oversight, deliberation and control over members’ public political activity. Turning these problems around and establishing Leninist norms in these and other areas of party work will be a central priority coming off of this conference.
Openings and Pressures in post-Marikana South Africa
10. As noted in a 13 October letter to Mandla written by comrade Millner for the International Secretariat, the dispute in SSA “has paralyzed the section at a crucial moment: Following the murder of the Marikana miners, there has been an opportunity for the linear recruitment of advanced elements to our understanding that the only way forward for the exploited and oppressed in South Africa is workers rule, expressed in our call for a black-centered workers government”. The Marikana massacre was a watershed with far-reaching repercussions, including sharpening the tensions in COSATU that led to the NUMSA split. As the cover of Black History No. 23 put it, Marikana showed the “true face of neo-apartheid”; it has become a reference point for militant workers struggles, with a notable increase in wildcat strikes.
11. The Marikana massacre reverberates not only among the proletariat, but also among other oppressed layers of society that are angry and want to struggle against the raw deal the non-white masses have gotten under neo-apartheid. This was the case during the recent student protests against fees, as well as the student protests earlier this year against memorials to Cecil Rhodes and other racist colonial pigs that dot the country’s landscape. In a remarkable display of demoralisation, comrade Mandla attempted to sabotage our plans to intervene and sell to a national student shutdown on 21 October by insisting that the exec had to first meet to vote a “line”.
12. As we know, if the seething discontent of the masses does not find expression along class lines, it will fuel and embitter every other kind of division. This was starkly underlined in April, when the “Rhodes must fall” student protests were eclipsed by a new outbreak of anti-immigrant violence in Durban and Johannesburg. These enormous contradictions, and the generally volatile nature of this viciously racist, oppressive society, exert enormous pressures on our tiny forces to blunt the sharp edges of our programme, tail after existing consciousness, abstain, or otherwise liquidate ourselves. The only way for communists to deal with this pressure is through struggle, in the first instance to re-build SSA as a disciplined section of the ICL—a programmatically-centred, cohesive Leninist organisation capable of intervening propagandistically and recruiting to our full Trotskyist programme. The Leninist Faction is hostile to this programme and perspective, and must be defeated.