Workers Vanguard No. 1171
6 March 2020
Oppose State Censorship of Black Nationalist Group!
Non-Racialism Sham: Cover for Racist Neo-Apartheid
We reprint below an article from Spartacist South Africa No. 17 (February 2020), publication of the South African section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
Last November, the electoral court upheld a decision by the Independent Electoral Commission to deregister Black First Land First (BLF) as a political party on the grounds that BLF’s refusal to admit white members was unconstitutional. This was a victory for the virulently racist far-right Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) party, which had been campaigning for BLF’s deregistration since January 2019, and which celebrated the ruling as a “victory for law and order” and “against racialism.”
This campaign was part of a broader legal vendetta against BLF by viciously anti-black groups like AfriForum, which is closely allied to both FF Plus and the [white-dominated bourgeois party] Democratic Alliance. Shortly before the May 2019 elections, AfriForum succeeded in getting BLF’s political slogan of “Land or Death” suppressed when the Johannesburg Equality Court ruled that this slogan constituted “hate speech” because it “could reasonably be construed to incite harm against those that own land and are white people” (Strydom v. Black First Land First). With this ruling, the bourgeois courts declare that the oppressed black majority is to servilely accept its landless status, and moreover keep its mouth shut about the matter!
These rulings against BLF are a blatant attack on the rights of the black majority—and all of the oppressed, particularly the mainly black proletariat—to organise, agitate and fight against their oppression. They demonstrate the racist nature of the neo-apartheid capitalist state, laying bare the cynical sham of South Africa’s post-1994 “non-racial democracy.” Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum are creatures of the SADF [South African Defence Force] army commanders, white farmers and other pro-apartheid bittereinders (hardliners) whose response to the end of formal apartheid was to advocate a separate Afrikaner state (i.e., a new apartheid state). Behind their cynical pretence of “civil rights” stand murderous white racists, fascists and other scum who are deadly opponents of even the most minimal concessions to the notion of equal rights for black people.
AfriForum is currently footing the bill for the appeal case of two whites in the North West town of Coligny who were convicted of the murder of a black teenager, Matlhomola Mosweu, over his alleged “crime” of taking some sunflowers from a white-owned farm. In fact, AfriForum got these racist killers released on bail just over a week after BLF’s deregistration was confirmed! While openly prettifying apartheid and defending the flying of the apartheid flag, AfriForum and their ilk help fuel the deranged conspiracy theory of a “white genocide” in South Africa and Zimbabwe—a myth that has been embraced as a rallying cry by fascist terrorists internationally, including Dylann Roof, who in 2015 massacred nine black people attending a church service in South Carolina. For its part, Freedom Front Plus has long been the governing party of the whites-only enclave Orania, in the Northern Cape.
Groups like FF Plus and AfriForum seek to crush any perceived threat to the dominant position of the white Baas, and as such they view black nationalists like the BLF—in particular those that appeal to anger over black land dispossession—as “troublemakers” who need to be put in “their place.” The campaign against BLF is also a dagger aimed at those who seek to mobilise the mainly black proletariat against the system of neo-apartheid capitalism that the bourgeois [African National Congress] ANC-led Tripartite Alliance administers. We Spartacists are for the expropriation of the white-owned farms as part of the revolutionary expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a whole (see “The Land Question and Permanent Revolution,” SSA No. 16, February 2019 [reprinted in WV Nos. 1151 and 1152, 22 March and 5 April 2019]).
As revolutionary internationalists who look to the power of the proletariat, we have profound differences with the BLF’s petty-bourgeois nationalist politics, which are characterised by vicious racial demagogy. At the same time, we defend BLF’s right to exist, to argue their politics, and to run in elections. The BLF have a right to “write what they like.” To the white racists and the neo-apartheid capitalist courts, we say: Hands off the BLF demagogues! Overturn the deregistration! Down with the ban on their “Land or Death” slogan!
It is testament to the twisted, racist logic of bourgeois law in neo-apartheid South Africa that openly racist, far-right organisations like FF Plus and AfriForum could take a black organisation to court for racism, and win! This also shows the bankruptcy of the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance and the ideology of “non-racialism” which has been used as an ideological cover for neo-apartheid.
Historically promoted by the bourgeois-nationalist ANC and much of the reformist left, including the Stalinist-derived SACP [South African Communist Party] as well as various pseudo-Trotskyists, the doctrine of “non-racial nation building” originally emerged as a vaguely defined response to the racially exclusive citizenship and property rights that were the rule under colonialism and apartheid. Equating the nationalism of oppressed and oppressor, “non-racialism” promotes the illusion that national liberation and social equality can be achieved under capitalism. This has always been a trap for the oppressed black African majority, as well as the coloured [mixed-race, partly Malay-derived] and Indian toilers.
We Spartacists have consistently combated these illusions and told the truth: only through the dictatorship of the proletariat is it possible to put an end to the national oppression of the black majority and to overcome the racial, ethnic and tribal divisions among the non-white peoples, all of which are endemic to South African capitalism. Against the swindle of “non-racialism,” we raise the call for a black-centred workers government, expressing our understanding that in South Africa, where race and class largely overlap, the social revolution will also be the supreme act of national liberation.
We have consistently opposed giving any political support to the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance, including in 1994, when hype over the “Rainbow Nation” was at its peak. Since coming to power, the Tripartite Alliance has acted as black frontmen for the Randlords, repressing mass struggle and cruelly betraying the black majority’s aspirations for liberation. Along with growing anger against neo-apartheid misery, this has fuelled demoralisation and political disorientation.
Right-wing groups like FF Plus and AfriForum cynically use “non-racialism” as a means of furthering their own racist agenda. Exploiting the insipid equation of oppressed and oppressor that is at the heart of the ideology of “non-racialism,” they wield it as a legal and ideological dagger against anyone who would challenge the deep anti-black racism of this society.
A common tactic is to use laws against “hate speech” to entrap their targets in lengthy and expensive court battles. In 2011, AfriForum’s youth wing won a victory in the South African High Court, which ruled that the anti-apartheid song “Dubula Ibhunu” (“Shoot the Boer”) was “hate speech” and banned then-ANC Youth League president Julius Malema from singing it. In 2013, nine black members of the metalworkers union NUMSA were dismissed for singing the struggle song “uMama uyajabula mangishaya ibhunu” (“Mama rejoices when I hit the Boer”) during a strike. The judge in their hearing ruled that this had created a “racist” climate in which the white management of their company felt “uncomfortable”! While both rulings were eventually overturned, in each case this took years of further court battles to achieve. As Lenin noted in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, “Bourgeois democracy…always remains, and under capitalism cannot but remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.”
These and countless other cases highlight precisely whose interests this legal system serves. Contrary to bourgeois ideology, the courts are not a neutral institution that rule impartially. Instead they are a central component of the capitalist state which serves as an instrument of class domination of the capitalist class over the working class and all the oppressed. In South Africa, where a predominantly white capitalist class (joined, since 1994, by a handful of non-white exploiters) derives its wealth from the superexploitation of an overwhelmingly black working class, the bourgeois legal system has always been a tool of white domination over the black masses. Indeed, many of the judges today sitting in the country’s courts served under the apartheid regime. This is not an aberration, but an example of the continuity of the state from apartheid to neo-apartheid.
Even though the explicitly racist laws and legally-enforced segregation of the old regime were scrapped, the social reality of apartheid remained. A quarter century later, the racial hierarchy characteristic of apartheid remains firmly intact, with whites on top, blacks at the bottom and Indians and coloureds occupying intermediate positions.
One of the great post-1994 spectacles that signalled the kind of “non-racial” society that would come was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Created as a kind of “nation building” project whose task was ostensibly to uncover the horrors of apartheid and facilitate a process of reconciliation, the TRC was in fact a cruel hoax designed to sanitise the bloody image of South African capitalism. Of the more than 7,000 people who appealed for amnesty to the TRC, the vast majority were supporters of the ANC, Pan-Africanist Congress and other organisations of the anti-apartheid movement (about 62 percent), whilst only about 23 percent were former state security forces (typically foot soldiers). Indeed, some former freedom fighters still languish in jail to this day, while the numerous butchers who greased the apartheid machinery roam free—including the killers of Steve Biko, whose prosecution was dropped by the state!
To put it plainly: the TRC put the black toilers who had fought for their emancipation on trial for the crimes of apartheid! At the same time, it forced black, coloured and Indian people to beg for “reconciliation” with their racist torturers. The aim of all this was to sanctify the neo-apartheid arrangement in which the white rulers turned to the ANC regime to preserve their system based on superexploitation of black labour.
Following a spate of well-publicised racist outbursts—such as the January 2016 case of Penny Sparrow, who repulsively compared black people to monkeys—the ANC government began introducing new laws against “hate speech,” such as the 2016 Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. As Marxists, we understand that such laws are not about combating the racism that is so rampant in this society—something the Tripartite Alliance government, like any other bourgeois government, is neither interested in nor capable of doing. Rather, they are about cynically using phoney “anti-racism” as a cover for strengthening the machinery of the bourgeois state, while obscuring the Tripartite Alliance’s role as black frontmen for the Randlords and their imperialist senior partners.
It is the bourgeois state that is the main purveyor of racist terror against the black majority and that is daily involved in the brutal suppression, framing and killing of workers, militants and the poor. This state repression serves to preserve the capitalist system which is the root of anti-black racism in this country. It is in the very nature of neo-apartheid capitalism that such laws, ostensibly introduced in response to white racists like Penny Sparrow, end up being used by white-racist groups to silence black nationalists like the BLF. Ultimately, they are there to be used against communists, militant trade unionists or anyone else seen as a threat to neo-apartheid capitalist rule. We oppose legislation of “hate speech” as part of combating reformist illusions in the capitalist state. Racism and other forms of bigotry are not simply a matter of “bad ideas”; they have their roots in the material, social reality of racial and class oppression. Such oppression is built into South African capitalism, in which the sharp economic disparities between whites and blacks perpetuate a master-servant relationship.
Ironically, the BLF itself has been a major proponent of the “hate speech” legislation that has been used against them. For example, on their website, the BLF published its own proposed version of an “anti-racism bill.” In it, it calls for such things as “verbal aggression that is racist or discriminatory against black people” and “denigrating actions” to be legally punishable. The BLF took AfriForum and its leader Kallie Kriel to court over Kriel’s utterances in June 2019 that “apartheid was not a crime against humanity.” A few months later, they supported the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s case against AfriForum’s Ernst Roets for posting the apartheid flag in a tweet. In effect, BLF was asking the courts to force AfriForum to “recant” their racist views.
These impotent antics flow from the BLF nationalists’ deep-seated faith that the bourgeois ANC government and the neo-apartheid state it administers can be a force for stamping out anti-black racism. Although sometimes masked by the BLF’s racial demagogy and denunciations of the ANC for being anti-black, this bourgeois-nationalist programme has led the BLF and its leader Andile Mngxitama into bed with numerous frontmen for the racist Randlords.
In recent years, BLF has basically acted as press agents for Jacob Zuma and his faction within the ANC, absurdly portraying Zuma as the great hope of the black majority for liberation. The same Zuma who, in 2010, hailed the Afrikaner fascist Eugene Terre’Blanche, mourning the death of a “leader of his standing” following Terre’Blanche’s offing by black workers on his farm. The same Zuma who oversaw the heinous murder of 34 striking black mineworkers in Marikana in 2012—one of many services he performed for the white rulers before falling into their disfavour. In 2012, Mngxitama’s organisation the September National Imbizo (the precursor to the BLF) denounced “the ANC which killed black people to defend white capital.” But four years later, Mngxitama and the BLF presented Zuma as the best hope for the black masses, calling on the black majority to resist “regime change against Zuma through demanding economic liberation now” and pleading to Zuma, “It’s time to serve black people.”
The BLF also championed the Gupta family, portraying these capitalist looters as some kind of pro-black, anti-imperialist force. A few years prior, Mngxitama promoted Julius Malema’s bourgeois-populist EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] as a “revolutionary” force, while serving as an EFF MP following the 2014 general elections. Then, after a bitter fallout in 2015, Mngxitama and the BLF suddenly began branding the EFF as tools of British imperialism and possible MI6 agents. At times, BLF campaigns are downright bizarre, as with Mngxitama’s promotion of the Ponzi scheme MMM as pro-black.
Mngxitama and other BLF leaders justify their erratic political zig-zags with the (idiotic) maxim, “oppose everything the enemy supports and support everything the enemy opposes” (from the BLF website, where it is attributed to Maoism). In reality, though, their desperate political gyrations have a much more pragmatic basis: they reflect the utter bankruptcy of the BLF’s perspective of frantically searching for an embryo of a black capitalist class, within a sea of white capitalism, to act as a “messiah” for the black majority. Notwithstanding its occasional use of “anti-capitalist” phrases, the BLF’s petty-bourgeois nationalist programme is premised on support for the capitalist order, which they promise can be made “pro-black” under the leadership of a (non-existent) black bourgeoisie. Like other Pan-Africanists and Black Consciousness types, they are bitterly hostile to class struggle and Marxism, which they slander as “Eurocentric” and “anti-black.” (For our response to such lies, see “Against the Nationalist Slanders of Marx and Engels,” SSA No. 13, Spring 2015 [reprinted in WV No. 1095, 9 September 2016].)
For nationalists like the BLF, the “enemy” or “friend” is determined completely by skin colour. So all white people are written off as reactionary scum, while black workers and oppressed are sold the suicidal lie that black cops and bosses are their “allies.” To cover this political bankruptcy and silence critics, the BLF uses crude racial demagogy and vicious race-baiting. Last February a BLF spokesman celebrated the death of three white children in a school accident, disgustingly calling this “punishment” from “God” for the theft of black land. BLF leaders have made a habit of harassing journalists they disagree with, including threatening them with violence.
Notwithstanding the near-complete overlap between race and class that characterises South African capitalism, black people do not share a common interest that stands above class divisions. A glaring example of this is the Marikana massacre: the predominantly black cops who gunned down 34 black mineworkers, not to mention those who oversaw the massacre like Zuma and Ramaphosa, were standing on the side of the white capitalist rulers because they benefit from serving the interests of those rulers. As over 25 years of neo-apartheid have shown, in practice the outcome of the bourgeois-nationalist framework pushed by the likes of the BLF can only be crushing and demoralising betrayals of the aspirations of the black toilers.
For those who are looking for a way to actually fight the pervasive anti-black racism of this society, we Spartacists offer a perspective that is fundamentally counterposed to the bankruptcy of bourgeois nationalism. What’s needed to resolve the tasks of national liberation of the black majority, including the burning question of land, is a socialist revolution that expropriates the Randlords. This revolution, led by the predominantly black working class, would open the way to using the vast fortunes and productive wealth that are now hoarded by the capitalists in the interests of modernisation and all-sided social liberation of the toiling masses. It would also avenge the crimes committed by the racist butchers and their accomplices in brutally oppressing the black masses, by putting these creatures on trial in front of workers and toilers’ tribunals.
Our perspective is based on Trotsky’s permanent revolution, and is codified in our call for a black-centred workers government. This would be a government based on elected workers councils that would reflect the demographics of the country and represent the national interests of the oppressed black majority. A black-centred workers government would guarantee full democratic rights and an important role for the coloured and Indian toilers, as well as for those whites who accept a government based centrally on the black working people. The fight for a black-centred workers government requires the leadership of a racially integrated, Leninist-Trotskyist party that is rooted in the black proletariat and can intervene and fight for revolutionary leadership among all sections of the oppressed.
Once in power, a black-centred workers government would fight to extend the revolution both regionally and internationally—crucially to the advanced imperialist centres of North America, Europe and Japan. Only in a global communist society will economic scarcity be eliminated as a result of the qualitative advance in production made possible by collectivising the wealth and resources of society and putting them at the service of human needs. In a communist society, all forms of racial discrimination and oppression—along with the very existence of race, ethnicity and nationality as categories of any social significance—will be nothing but memories of a barbaric capitalist past.