Spartacist South Africa No. 5

Spring 2007


Permanent Revolution vs. “Two-Stage” Stalinist Betrayal

Break With the Bourgeois ANC—No Support to Mbeki, Zuma! Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party!

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 875, 1 September 2006.

In 1994, after more than a decade of massive struggles by the predominantly black working class and township poor, the white-supremacist police-state regime in South Africa was replaced by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). The black African, coloured (mixed-race) and Indian working people were promised that their everyday conditions of life would be greatly improved by redistributing the country’s wealth from the affluent white ruling elite. Instead, under the bourgeois-nationalist regimes of Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, conditions for the working class, rural toilers and township masses have in many important respects gotten worse.

Almost a million workers have been laid off through the privatization of government-owned industry and other kinds of capitalist restructuring. Sixty percent of the adult jobless black African population has never been employed. Two million people have been evicted from their homes because they could not pay the sky-high utility bills, and some ten million have had their electricity and water cut off. At the same time, a small black elite has arisen who drive Mercedes, vacation in Dubai and clink champagne glasses with the Randlords of the AngloGold Ashanti corporation. The income of white families has increased substantially while that of the overwhelming majority of blacks has plummeted.

A key factor in the ANC’s accession to power was the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which for decades had supported the ANC materially and diplomatically. During the Cold War, the ANC and other bourgeois and petty-bourgeois “Third World” movements and regimes were able to play off Moscow and Washington, thereby achieving a certain latitude in which to maneuver. But as the Moscow Stalinist regime under Mikhail Gorbachev fell apart, the ANC leaders openly embraced “power sharing” with the white racist South African rulers, a section of whom accepted that ANC rule no longer posed a threat to the white economic oligarchy. Today, despite the change in the political and judicial superstructure, South Africa remains, as it was under the white-supremacist apartheid system, a country in which the black masses live in Third World poverty while most whites enjoy First World conditions. We have thus described South Africa under the ANC as a neo-apartheid capitalist state.

Nothing more clearly exposes the fact that the ANC-led regime is the enemy of the workers and the oppressed than its response to the AIDS pandemic that has ravaged South Africa. According to the United Nations, in 2005 an estimated 5.5 million South Africans were HIV positive and some 320,000 died from AIDS. Women are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Today, over 39 percent of pregnant women in the province of KwaZulu-Natal test HIV-positive. An effective, scientific response to this crisis has been willfully frustrated by the criminal policies of the ANC-led government. Mbeki himself outrageously refuses to acknowledge the scientific fact that the HIV virus causes AIDS! On August 24, police using pepper spray attacked protesters in Cape Town who, as part of a national day of protest by the Treatment Action Campaign, were calling for the firing of the health minister and demanding that prisoners be treated with anti-retroviral drugs.

A key agency upholding the government is the heavily overlapping leadership of the reformist South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). As part of the governing “Tripartite Alliance,” the SACP/COSATU tops keep the country’s powerful and combative working class tied to the bourgeois nationalists of the ANC, who in turn are the black front men for the dominant white capitalist class. Leading SACP cadres are senior officials in the government, including those branches directly engaged in the brutal repression of labor struggles and township protests: the Security Ministry and the intelligence service.

In the last two years, major labor strikes and militant township protests have signaled growing hostility on the part of the black masses toward the ANC regime. The future of the Tripartite Alliance is now being intensely debated within the workers movement and among broader layers of society. Amid the anger and bitter disillusionment among their working-class supporters, the SACP tops recently came out with a discussion document in which they openly criticized the central ANC leadership (Bua Komanisi! Special Edition, May 2006). The document raised the possibility of running candidates in future elections in the party’s own name, within the framework of the Alliance. Such candidacies would have a purely token character, in no way challenging, much less weakening, the ANC’s governmental power. The document categorically rejects “watering down the ANC’s overwhelming electoral majority.”

Along somewhat similar lines, the COSATU bureaucrats have issued a discussion document (“COSATU Political Discussion Document—Possibilities for Fundamental Social Change”) in preparation for a congress in September strongly condemning the “neoliberal” policies of the Mbeki regime. It points out that the share of national income going to the workers has decreased while the share raked off in corporate profits has markedly increased. Nonetheless, the COSATU misleaders cite favorably surveys through 2004 that “have confirmed that the overwhelming majority of COSATU members support COSATU’s approach of strategic engagement from within the Alliance.”

The sordid reality behind the ideological claptrap of the SACP document is the maneuvering inside the ANC itself. The SACP/COSATU tops are backing Mbeki’s main factional opponent, Jacob Zuma. Mbeki’s former deputy president, Zuma combines a “man of the people” posture with appeals to Zulu tribalist nationalism.

The SACP leaders have always used the Menshevik/Stalinist schema of “two-stage revolution” as an ideological justification for their historic alliance and interpenetration with the ANC. According to this schema, conditions are not currently ready for socialism. Therefore, first must come a political bloc with “progressive” bourgeois nationalists, which in South Africa is called the “National Democratic Revolution” (NDR). Then, some far-off and unspecified time later, this will evolve into socialism. Thus the recent document asserted “the inextricable linkage between the NDR and the imperative of ‘building socialism now’,” while reaffirming “our commitment to the ANC-led Alliance.”

South Africa’s black workers and poor know damn well that the country is not moving toward socialism but in the opposite direction: toward increasingly brutal capitalist exploitation and immiseration. The SACP leadership is in some difficulty as it has failed to produce the gains it promised the masses. Hence, in order to repair the damaged credibility of the Alliance, the SACP/COSATU tops have adopted a more leftist stance toward the Mbeki regime while promising to fight for more worker-friendly policies. This is a cynical political con game. In order to go forward in its struggles, the working class must break with the ANC-led Alliance and with the reformist politics of class collaboration packaged as the National Democratic Revolution.

In opposing the “two-stage revolution” schema—a formula for class betrayal—Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League, stands for the program and perspective of permanent revolution developed by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. This posits that in countries of combined and uneven development, the outstanding democratic tasks historically associated with the bourgeois revolutions can only be carried out through the assumption of power by the working class. In South Africa, genuine national liberation and the destruction of black oppression require proletarian revolution and its extension to the advanced capitalist (imperialist) countries of North America, West Europe and Japan. In fighting for that goal, we seek to build a Leninist revolutionary vanguard party of the working class that would champion the cause of the vast unemployed urban masses, the landless, immigrants, women, agricultural laborers and all of those oppressed under neo-apartheid capitalism.

Upsurge in Labor Struggles, Township Protests

All too little has changed in the “new” South Africa. Retaining an ironclad grip on the economic resources of the country (mines, banks, factories and land), the white bourgeoisie subcontracts out the task of administering the capitalist state to the ANC.

Last year saw the largest strike wave since the ANC assumed power, as workers protested starvation wages in the face of booming profits and fat bonuses to management. Militant actions by South African Airlines workers grounded both domestic and international flights, stunning the company by their determination and the level of public support. In the first national mine workers strike since the late 1980s, 100,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers shut down the gold sector, supported in an important (and unprecedented) action by two historically white craft unions.

In June 2005, COSATU called a one-day general strike against unemployment and poverty, supposedly meant to launch a series of rolling mass actions. A rally at Johannesburg Library Gardens was characterized by heightened anti-ANC sentiment. When the COSATU bureaucrats persisted in raising desperate cries of “Viva ANC! Viva!”, a large section of the crowd of up to 50,000 replied “Phansi!” (Down!).

For the past two years, a wave of protests—mainly over lack of water, electricity and decent housing—has swept South Africa. The most dramatic upheaval occurred in the Merafong township of Khutsong on the West Rand, where residents called for a boycott of the local elections in March 2006 and turned the area into a “no go zone” for the ruling party. When Defense Minister and ANC national chairman Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota attempted to call a pro-government rally, he was greeted with chants of “voetsek” (f--k off).

In the township of Soshanguve, north of Pretoria, residents used rakes, spades and building tools to drive off security guards who had dismantled their shacks the night before. Police then arrived and fired on the crowd with rubber bullets and stun grenades. In Durban, a march by the Shack Dwellers Movement, which organized an electoral boycott, was attacked by the cops. Protesters were beaten while in police custody. These scenes of revolt and repression take place almost daily in the “new” South Africa.

Jacob Zuma: Anti-Working-Class Politician

The SACP and COSATU tops have sought to deflect the growing anger against the government among the working class and township poor into support for the Zuma “camp” of the ANC. When Mbeki dismissed Zuma as deputy president in June 2005, the COSATU leadership, the SACP and the ANC Youth and Women’s leagues came to his defense. Mbeki is widely viewed as a coldblooded, arrogant technocrat whose main priority is placating the white corporate elite and their imperialist senior partners, as well as their black junior partners. But as a bourgeois politician and Zulu traditionalist, Zuma is no less a class enemy of the proletariat than Mbeki. Criminally, the SACP/COSATU tops have told the working class to take sides in a power struggle between two bourgeois politicians whose reactionary politics are indistinguishable. Opposing Mbeki is not the same as opposing class collaboration with the bourgeois ANC. Break with the ANC! Forge a revolutionary workers party!

The obscenity of the SACP’s pro-Zuma position became utterly manifest during his recent trial for the rape of an HIV-positive woman, which resulted in his acquittal. In his trial testimony, Zuma ignorantly proclaimed that he showered after sex to minimize the chance of catching AIDS! Meanwhile, his supporters paraded outside the courthouse carrying the slogans “Burn the Bitch” and “100% Zuluboy.” Disgustingly, the Young Communist League joined the pro-Zuma protests, rendering absolutely contemptible the SACP’s claims to stand against Mbeki’s HIV denialism and against women’s oppression.

One of the most sinister aspects of these events was their fostering of tribalist enmities. Many Zulus and others saw Zuma’s dismissal as an anti-Zulu plot by Mbeki and other Xhosa central leaders of the ANC. The historically Xhosa region of the Eastern Cape in fact contains some of the most destitute areas in the country. In reality, the ANC represents the interests of the (overwhelmingly white) capitalist class against workers of all racial and ethnic groups: Zulu, Xhosa and other black Africans, Indian, coloured and white. Since coming to power, the ANC has increasingly worked to pit different sectors of the oppressed against each other.

The Tripartite Alliance: A Nationalist Popular Front

The Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU is a nationalist popular front in which the power of the African working class is held in check by its subordination to the supposedly “progressive” national bourgeoisie. The SACP’s class-collaborationist alliance with the bourgeois ANC goes back at least to the 1930s. The central purpose of the SACP discussion document is to provide a theoretical and historical rationale for maintaining the Alliance.

According to the document, the post-1994 period was a “democratic breakthrough” opening up progressive possibilities under the ANC regime. Focusing its criticism overwhelmingly on the GEAR policy—an anti-worker austerity plan implemented in 1996 under Mandela to attract foreign investment and boost profits—the document argues: “Relative to the transformational potential of the 1994 conjuncture, this project [GEAR] represents a serious strategic setback for the working class (and the national democratic revolution)” (emphasis in original). The document draws the conclusion that it is necessary to rebuild a mass-based ANC in order to fight for a “progressive developmental” (i.e., capitalist) state.

Even on its own terms, this account whitewashes the fact that the SACP initially endorsed GEAR and has played an active role in the ANC-led government for ten years. Underlying GEAR was not the sudden conversion of the central ANC leadership to neoliberal ideology but the imperatives of the world capitalist system: driving down the cost of labor in order to increase the international competitiveness of South African business.

Those like the SACP who argue that some other set of economic policies—e.g., the 1994 COSATU-authored Reconstruction and Development Program—could promote the welfare of labor and capital simultaneously are peddling a nationalist lie. And the purpose of that lie is to obscure the fundamental fact that modern society is divided into two main classes—the capitalist exploiters and the exploited proletariat—whose interests are irreconcilable.

By centering its criticisms on Mbeki’s particular policies, the SACP seeks to disguise the class nature of South African society and the neo-apartheid capitalist state. Thus the document asserts: “The post-1994 democratic state is not inherently capitalist, it is, in fact, a sharply class-contested reality.” Furthermore, in regard to the judiciary, the police and intelligence forces, the document declares that “demagogic attacks on these institutions are short-sighted and reckless.”

As Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky argued repeatedly, there is no such thing as a class-neutral “democracy”; every state is an apparatus of repression—based on armed bodies of men, principally the army and police—that protects the social interests and property forms of the ruling class. Lenin wrote in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918): “Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed people at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the ‘democracy’ of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage-slaves” (emphasis in original). The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes. The capitalist state cannot be reformed. It must be smashed through socialist revolution.

Ironically, a counter-polemic against the SACP document published in an official journal of the ANC, ANC Today (13 June 2006), cites Marx to refute the notion that South Africa is not a capitalist society with a capitalist state: “In reality, the statement that South Africa ‘is not inherently capitalist’ is mere demagogy, with no scientific, Marxist foundation.” Indeed it is!

Apartheid’s purpose was the procurement, reproduction and control of superexploited African labor for white-owned capital, initially centered on the mining industries. The legal edifice may have changed, but the fundamental basis of South African capitalism, including the enormous disparities between racial groups, has not. During the anti-apartheid struggles, the SACP and COSATU leadership consciously maneuvered to tie the working class to the bourgeois-nationalist ANC despite the masses’ far more radical aspirations, thereby laying the basis for neo-apartheid capitalism. Exploitation, immiseration and oppression can be eliminated only through a proletarian socialist revolution modeled on the October 1917 Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party.

Menshevik/Stalinist “Two-Stage” Betrayal

The 1917 October Revolution was the great event of the 20th century. Leading the vast, impoverished peasant masses, the small Russian working class, concentrated centrally in a few industrial centers, seized political power across one-sixth of the globe. The Russian Revolution smashed the old state apparatus, inherited from the tsarist autocracy, replacing the class dictatorship of capital with the dictatorship of the proletariat based on democratically elected councils (soviets) of workers and peasants.

Despite the enormous poverty and backwardness that the Bolsheviks confronted (and the later degeneration of the Soviet workers state under Stalinist rule), the October Revolution laid the basis for a planned economy that would transform the country into an industrial powerhouse whose military might served as a counterweight to U.S. imperialism. Full employment, housing and health care were won only through the overthrow of capitalism.

Against the Mensheviks, the original proponents of “two-stage revolution,” Lenin wrote a few months after the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy while Russia was in revolutionary turmoil:

“The leaders of the petty bourgeoisie—the intellectuals, the prosperous peasants, the present parties of the Narodniks [populists]...and the Mensheviks—are not at present in favor of a revolution against the capitalists....

“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” (emphasis in original).

—“A Strong Revolutionary Government” (May 1917)

This statement shows that Lenin had in effect come to the understanding earlier put forward by Trotsky that the revolution in Russia could be consummated only through the proletarian seizure of power.

As later practiced by the Stalinists, the “two-stage revolution” policy led not to socialism but to bloody counterrevolution. The second stage, so to speak, occurred when the bourgeois nationalists turned on and massacred their Communist would-be allies and the workers and peasants who supported them, such as in China in 1927 and Indonesia in 1965.

Consider the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. By then the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state had placed at the head of the Communist International J.V. Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, who applied the old Menshevik schema to colonial and semicolonial countries under the slogan of the “Anti-Imperialist United Front.” Insisting that the coming revolution in semicolonial China would be limited to a “national-democratic revolution” placing the bourgeoisie in power, Stalin and Bukharin, despite objections by Trotsky, continued the policy of the liquidation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) into Chiang Kai-shek’s bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang (GMD), which soon engaged in a civil war against imperialist-backed Northern warlords in the name of unifying China.

In early 1927, the GMD army marched on Shanghai, then controlled by a local militarist backed by the British. Under CCP leadership, 500,000 workers staged a general strike that developed into a successful insurrection. Communist-led workers effectively took over this key metropolis. But the Shanghai proletariat laid down its arms on Stalin’s orders. And shortly after Chiang’s troops entered the city, where they were welcomed by the victorious workers, Chiang staged a bloody coup that beheaded the Chinese proletariat. Tens of thousands of Communists and revolutionary-minded workers were slaughtered. Following this catastrophic defeat, the battered CCP, under Moscow’s instructions, shifted its support from Chiang to a rival “left” GMD bourgeois nationalist, Wang Jingwei, who controlled the major city of Wuhan. A few months later, Wang in turn massacred his Communist would-be allies and their working-class supporters.

Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution

It was in the aftermath of the crushing defeat of the Chinese Revolution (and part of his struggle against the treacherous and disastrous Stalinist leadership of the world Communist movement) that Trotsky generalized his theory of permanent revolution, which he had first developed in 1904-06 with regard to the course of the revolutionary struggle in tsarist Russia. Permanent revolution rejects the nationalist bloc between the proletariat and its capitalist class enemy.

By the late 19th century, the major imperialist powers had subjugated the rest of the world through either conquest or commercial/financial dependency, while the struggle among them for economic and military predominance intensified. In countries of belated capitalist development, the propertied classes emerged as too dependent on and tied to imperialism to complete the historic tasks of social and economic modernization. “Progressive developmental” capitalism in a country like South Africa or those of Latin America is an illusion. However, in many cases foreign investment has created a force capable of breaking the hold of imperialist domination and opening the road to social progress: the industrial proletariat.

Thus, Trotsky wrote in The Permanent Revolution (1929): “With regard to countries with a belated bourgeois development, especially colonial and semi-colonial countries, the theory of the permanent revolution signifies that the complete and genuine solution to their tasks of achieving democracy and national emancipation is conceivable only through the dictatorship of the proletariat as the leader of the subjugated nation.”

In South Africa, adequate housing for millions in the townships and shantytowns, electricity and clean water for the entire population, free quality education, the eradication of lobola (the bride price) and female genital mutilation, the mobilization of all available scientific and medical resources in combating the AIDS pandemic: these desperately needed measures require the socialist transformation of the economy and society. South Africa’s industrial proletariat has the power and class interests to unite all of the oppressed in a determined battle for a revolutionary workers government.

Lenin, Trotsky and the other leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution never believed (contrary to Stalin’s later falsifications) that socialism could be built in a single country, especially not in a relatively poor country besieged by world imperialism. As Trotsky wrote in The Permanent Revolution: “In a country where the proletariat has power in its hands as the result of the democratic revolution, the subsequent fate of the dictatorship and socialism depends in the last analysis not only and not so much upon the national productive forces as upon the development of the international socialist revolution.”

As we wrote shortly after the ANC succeeded the apartheid regime:

“The consolidation or simply the survival of a socialist revolution in South Africa requires its international extension. This was the core of the Bolsheviks’ program....

“For the moment South Africa is a weakened link in the chain of the world capitalist system binding the neocolonies of the Third World to the imperialist states of North America, West Europe and Japan. It is necessary to mobilize the forces of the proletariat to break that chain at its weakest links, and then fight like hell to take the battle to the imperialist centers, seeking allies against the vicious enemy of all the oppressed—international capital. Thus, the fight to build a South African Bolshevik Party is inseparable from the struggle we in the International Communist League are waging to reforge an authentically Trotskyist Fourth International.”

—“South African Powder Keg: Part Four,” WV No. 606, 16 September 1994, reprinted in Black History and the Class Struggle No. 12

A socialist revolution in South Africa would reverberate among working people and the oppressed the world over, finding strategically powerful allies in the proletariat of the imperialist centers.

For a Revolutionary Vanguard Party

Reflecting the growing popular discontent with the Mbeki government, several groups and individuals outside the Alliance have raised the call for a new mass workers party, for example, Trevor Ngwane of the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). The Johannesburg-based APF functions as a kind of political sandbox for various pseudo-Trotskyist organizations in South Africa, including the Cliffite Keep Left group and the Democratic Socialist Movement, which is affiliated with the Taaffeite Committee for a Workers International. Trevor Ngwane himself is a former ANC local councillor who was expelled from the party in 2000 for opposing the extensive privatization of government-owned industries.

In a brief document titled, “The Vanguard and the Mass” (February 2005), Ngwane calls for “a party which groups the majority of workers together on politics which reflects their own interests” and denounces any conception of an independent vanguard party as amounting to “not really a vanguard—just a sect.” Ngwane’s “Socialist Group” in the APF issued a similar call three years ago. In response, we wrote in “South Africa: Union Militants Protest COSATU Alliance with ANC” (WV No. 808, 29 August 2003): “This is essentially a call for a ‘party of the whole class.’ The model for this is the (old) British Labour Party.... We reject the notion that the South African working class must pass through the experience of a mass reformist party before a revolutionary party can develop out of it—a kind of two-stage theory of party-building.”

In practice, the APF is a class-collaborationist outfit seeking to pressure the ANC-led regime from the left. This is clearly indicated by the APF’s allegiance to the World Social Forum (WSF) movement, which is also supported by the COSATU leadership. The purpose of the Social Forums, which are bankrolled by various agencies of the imperialist rulers and their neocolonial underlings, was to draw left-radical youth protesting the evils of “globalization” away from pitched battles with the forces of the capitalist state and to corral them behind the “democratic alternative” of parliamentary reformism, while pretending that these talk shops were “non-parliamentary” (see “Social Forum Con Game,” WV No. 853, 2 September 2005).

The list of sponsors of the biannual meetings of the WSF in Porto Alegre, Brazil, include the Brazilian federal government, the Banco do Brasil and the country’s giant oil company, Petrobras. The 2003 European Social Forum (ESF) in Paris was funded by the right-wing Chirac government. And the 2004 ESF in London was bankrolled and hosted by New Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, supporter of the U.S./NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.

The Social Forums have been dominated by the misnamed “Non-Governmental” Organizations (NGOs). These organizations, sanctioned by and receiving much of their funding from churches, corporations and capitalist states, are hardly independent of the governments to which they are answerable. Like other components of the Social Forum movement elsewhere, the APF in South Africa is funded by NGOs such as Oxfam Canada and War on Want. As the old saying goes, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

For the perspective of permanent revolution in South Africa to become a reality requires the forging of a vanguard party modeled on Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, a party which led the first and only successful proletarian revolution in history. This party united the most politically advanced workers with the best of the leftist intellectuals. The Bolshevik Party was built through political and polemical struggle against the reformist pseudo-Marxists (the Mensheviks), the populist Social Revolutionaries and the left nationalists of the various oppressed peoples of the tsarist empire. Similarly, our comrades of Spartacist South Africa seek to aggressively confront the different currents of the South African left in political and polemical struggle with the aim of forging an authentic Leninist-Trotskyist party on a clear programmatic basis.