the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Nov 30, 1985
The revolt in South Africa has continued to develop into a massive challenge to the apartheid regime. The movement has spread throughout South Africa, from Soweto and the East Cape to Durban and Capetown. It has run throughout the black townships, and now even the white residential and downtown areas of major cities are not immune. The revolt against the regime has included blacks, coloreds and Indians. It has taken the form of demonstrations, silent marches, strikes, boycotts, stay-aways, riots, and armed guerilla sections. It has been fought over wages, union rights, transportation fares, and rents. But above all else, it is a fight against the apartheid system, a system in which the minority of 5 million whites denies any rights to the vast majority: 24 million blacks, 3 million coloreds, 1 million Indians.
Despite all the attempts by the apartheid regime to stop the mobilization of the masses of the population, it nevertheless continues and appears to be deepening.
What direction will this mobilization take? What aims will those carrying on the struggle give to themselves?
In South Africa today, there are a number of different organizations within the anti-apartheid movement: groups such as the African National Congress (ANC); the Pan African Congress; AZAPO and other organizations coming out of the Black Consciousness movement of the 1960s; and the African churches, as exemplified currently by Bishop Tutu. However, the most influential organization of the anti-apartheid movement is today the ANC. In many significant ways, even if there are differences between the organizations on certain aspects of program and of policy, they all stay within the same basic framework. We examine the ANC here because it is the most important of these organizations.
The political program of the ANC has remained consistent over all its history. The best known statement of its program is the Freedom Charter, developed in 1955 but put forward widely today. The Charter calls for full citizenship, with the right to vote and hold office, for the whole population. It calls for an end to discrimination, and the establishment of equal rights. The Charter proposes to end restricted ownership of the land, and to redivide it on a non-racial basis. It proposes the nationalization of mineral wealth, of banks and of monopoly industries. It is for the right of all to form their own manufacturing and trade businesses.
The Charter stands for freedom of speech, assembly, press and religion. It calls for an end to pass laws and any restrictions on internal travel. It upholds the right to form unions, the right to a minimum wage and to unemployment benefits. It stands for equal rights for women, and for an end to child labor. It is for the expansion of education, housing, health care and other social programs to all.
The fulfillment of the aims of the Charter would require the destruction of apartheid; it would mean the elimination of the indignities of institutionalized racism suffered by the majority of the population. Nonetheless the aims of this program remain completely within the framework of bourgeois society. The stated goal of the ANC is simply the establishment of a democratic society modeled after what exists, or the ideal of what should exist, in the advanced capitalist countries of western Europe or the United States.
The ANC states the class character of its program very directly. It makes all too clear, despite what others may claim for the ANC, that it has no aim either to represent the interests of the working class against the bourgeoisie, or to fight for the creation of a socialist society. Nelson Mandela, the well-known imprisoned leader of the ANC, stated in a speech before the Pretoria Supreme Court in 1964:
“The most important political document ever adopted by the ANC is the ‘Freedom Charter.’ It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state. It calls for the redistribution, but not nationalization, of land; it provides for nationalization of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalization racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power. It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC’s policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalization of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital. Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realization of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh field for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.”
The ANC proposes a bourgeois society without apartheid – nothing more, nothing less. It is true that all blacks, coloreds, and Indians would benefit from the establishment of such a society. But not all would benefit equally. For the black bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie, there would be new access to the structures of power. Black rulers might even completely replace white ones. For the majority of the black population, including the workers and the poor layers of society, there would be the end of white supremacy. But the black masses would remain under the exploitation and domination of the bourgeoisie, even if a black one.
The program of the ANC makes clear its bourgeois nature. This class character is shown also by the way the ANC leads the current struggle against apartheid, by what it proposes – and by what it does not propose – to the masses of black South African who today are mobilized in struggle against the apartheid regime.
Today in South Africa there is an ever-widening struggle of the population demanding an end to apartheid. On the other side, however, stands an apartheid regime which is set on maintaining its full power. Present Botha has made it clear, up to this point at least, that he refuses to negotiate any sort of peaceful end to white rule. His response has been instead to escalate the use of state violence against those demanding a change. In the last year, more than 800 people have been killed in South Africa, some 550 admittedly slain by the police. In the last 6 months alone, over 10,000 people have been arrested.
In the face of state repression, the ANC long ago changed its tactics of non-violence. In 1961, the ANC set up an armed guerilla organization called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). As its founding manifesto stated, “The government policy of force, repression and violence will no longer be met with non-violent resistance only! The choice is not ours; it has been made by the Nationalist Government which has rejected every peaceable demand by the people for our rights and freedoms and answered every such demand with force and yet more force!”
It is estimated that Umkhonto we Sizwe now has some 7000 fighters. The armed forces largely carry out sabotage of key economic and strategic targets. They have also carried out raids on police and army stations to secure weapons. There have been a few armed clashes with police and troops.
The ANC has implied, if not openly stated, that perhaps in the future, Umkhonto we Sizwe will be developed into a liberation army ready to do direct battle with the troops of apartheid in the fight for power.
But we have never heard the ANC raise with the masses, with those who today are in the streets doing battle, unarmed, against the troops of the regime, the necessity for themselves to take the struggle to another level, for themselves to develop the means to carry on a military battle against the regime in order to tear it down.
This is not to say that today the struggle in South Africa is developed enough to place the question of the armed struggle for power on the immediate agenda. We have no means from the U.S. to know if the South African masses have developed both the will to take up arms against the apartheid regime, and the determination necessary to do so. But it is an inevitability for which the masses need to be prepared.
The ANC never says to the masses who are mobilized against apartheid that they will have to be the army. Instead the ANC says a guerilla army will fight in their name. Umkhonto we Sizwe will, to quote from its manifesto again, “be the fighting arm of the people against the Government and its policy of race oppression.” The role stated for the masses of the population in the military conflict is a passive one: “We appeal for the support and encouragement of all those South Africans who seek happiness and freedom of the people of this country.”
This isn’t to say that the ANC is opposed to all forms of mobilization and organization of the masses. Far from it. The ANC plays an important role in the initiating and building of mass organizations, from trade unions like SACTU (South African Congress of Trade Unions) to broader formations like the United Democratic Front.
But what the ANC insists on with mass organizations is, first, that they must be inside a united front; and, second, that this united front must be led by the ANC.
That is to say, the ANC proposes to use the mass organizations as tools, to pull the masses behind itself. The ANC wants to use the power of the working and poor masses in its strategy to “make the country ungovernable.” But the ANC wants to use this power under its own control. That is, it proposes for the workers and the poor to participate in the fight against apartheid, but to participate without any independent political organization. The ANC proposes to deny the workers and the poor the necessary means if they are to defend their own particular interests. On the surface, the anti-apartheid fight can mask these particular class interests, making the workers and the poor appear no different than the other classes, all united against apartheid. But sooner or later, these particular interests will come into conflict with the interests of other classes, and especially with those of the bourgeoisie which wants to keep the lead and give its own direction to the anti-apartheid fight.
The ANC has never proposes the self-organization of the poor masses. For such organization leads in the direction of the poor masses having the means to take power themselves, in their own interest. It is exactly what the guerilla army, proposed today by the ANC does not do. It is distinct from the population and out of its control. Such a military instrument, under the control of the ANC, can be used by it to take power in South Africa, just as other national liberation organizations have done in other countries in Africa and around the world. But, just as we have seen in these other countries, such a guerilla army would also become the core of a new state apparatus, wielded by a new ruling class to impose its domination.
If the ANC remains the leading organization of the fight against apartheid, we can expect to see the same process take place. The struggle and the sacrifices of the working and poor masses will be used to tear down apartheid, but also to put in place a new ruling class with its own state apparatus to be used against the interests of those who tore down apartheid, namely the workers and other poor layers of the population.
The working class in South Africa has another choice than simply to follow the same path laid out by the anti-colonial liberation movements throughout Africa. It has another option than to find itself having made the struggle, only to have others reap most of the benefits.
The fight against apartheid need not lead to the establishment of a new regime of exploitation. Another outcome would be possible if the fight against apartheid today were led by the black working class which could direct the fight towards the establishment of its own power.
It is very true that there are forces other than the working class, forces which also have an interest to get rid of apartheid, and that there is a basis for the unity of all these forces to carry on the battle against the regime. As Nelson Mandela stated the issue in what has become known as the “Freedom in Our Lifetime” speech of June, 1956:
“The democratic struggle in South Africa is conducted by an alliance of various classes and political groupings amongst the non-European people supported by White democrats. African, Coloured, and Indian workers and peasants, traders and merchants, students and teachers, doctors and lawyers, and various other classes and groupings; all participate in the struggle against racial inequality and for full democratic rights.”
But why does this common fight against apartheid have to be under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, which is what the ANC proposes? It could just as well be under the leadership of the working class.
Such a fight would be no less effective. First of all, because most of the fight would be carried out by the same forces anyway, namely by the very same workers and poor masses we see carrying on the fight today. It is this fight of the masses that is the real threat to the apartheid regime.
The South African working class is some 8 million strong. It is situated at the very heart of the society: in the gold and diamond mines, in industry, and today in the centers of the cities to make them run. And along with the employed black working class, there are the unemployed, and especially the youth and the poor masses of South Africa. These forces are the ones we see valiantly fighting the regime today. These are the forces which really have the power to “make the country ungovernable” by shutting it down. This is the power that could be unleashed just as well under the leadership of the working class itself, as by bourgeois forces like the ANC.
Neither is there any reason why other classes and layers in the society could not take their place in a working-class-led fight against apartheid. In South Africa, the black urban petty-bourgeoisie is weak both in numbers and in wealth. The majority of the petty-bourgeoisie is made up of peasants. Why wouldn’t a large part of them join this common fight? In addition to being victims of apartheid, they are like the working class, also poor and exploited. All whose real goal is the end of apartheid could join in the working-class-led fight just as well.
So really, the only question with a working-class-led fight would be with those of the black bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie who wanted to guarantee their domination in a post-apartheid society. These are the very same few people who today demand that the majority put aside its class interest, in the name of unity, and join behind the leadership of the bourgeoisie. It would be a small loss to the anti-apartheid struggle if these same people would refuse to join behind the working class in a fight against apartheid.
The vast majority of the population, the workers and the poor masses, would gain a very different possibility for the future. Instead of their fight leading only to the establishment of a new bourgeois society, even if black-led, there could be a new black-working-class-led society. Instead of a fight to put others in power, the black working class could guarantee, with its own power, its own interests, as well as those of the other poor layers of society.
Such a fight in South Africa would have a tremendous impact beyond its borders. It could provide a direction to the black masses of the other countries on the continent, who today continue to suffer exploitation and domination under black rule. Such a fight could also have a tremendous impact within the imperialist countries themselves, such as England and the United States, where already the black population identify with the struggle in South Africa.
Today in South Africa, there are many battles which are initiated and carried out by the working and poor masses on their own. But in the absence of the working class having its own political alternative, these struggles have nowhere else to go than under the direction of bourgeois forces such as the ANC.
The need for an independent working class political alternative is posed ever so clearly in South Africa today. In order to present such an alternative, the South African working class needs its own party. Whether or not the working class will find the means to create it in time is what remains to be seen.
But if there are even just a few revolutionary communists who have the possibility to intervene in South Africa today, their first task would be not only to participate in the anti-apartheid struggle but, above all else, to try to create such a party.