Copyright © 2021 . All rights reserved..
In the last eight months we have seen far reaching changes in the positions that have been held by the ANC for the past 40 years. The speed with which the most dearly held positions of the movement, such as those contained in the Freedom Charter, have been thrown overboard by the leadership has caught even the ruling class by surprise, and has shocked many activists. It has now become “normal” to hear statements like this recent pronouncement by Thabo Mbeki that: “nationalisation has never been the policy of the ANC.” Long-standing enemies of the working class, such as Gatsha Buthelezi, are now once again becoming “friends of the people” by the grace of our movement’s leadership. The situation has reached the stage that when more than 500 people are murdered in the space of two weeks, the response of the leadership is to give assurances to the ruling class that the “negotiation process” will not be derailed. It is clear that between the immediate period following February 2 1990 and now (October 1990) some important changes have occurred in the direction of the ANC. It has become necessary for us as revolutionary socialists to take a look at a present situation; to take a close look at what is happening to the mass movement – especially the ANC – and on the basis of such analysis to define our tasks.
In the paper, Tasks in the Present Period, written immediately after February 2 1990 we raised a number of issues. Firstly, we noted the re-awakening of the masses which had taken place since the Defiance Campaign in September 1989. [In the paper] we noted that taking up concrete, “bread and butter” struggles was a reflection of the fact that the masses had been drawn into [these] battles by the major political battles i.e. by the struggle of democracy. [In the paper] we drew attention to the fact that unlike the 1984-86 uprising, the 1990 movement had also seen the emergence of a militant movement in the countryside and small towns, especially in the Bantustans.
Secondly, [in the paper] we noted that unlike in the mid-1980s the new reawakening had drawn new strata of the oppressed population directly into struggle. In this regard the most important strata are sections of black middle class on the one hand, who not only entered struggle for the first time, but also employed proletarian methods of struggle such as the strike. On the other hand, we saw the entry into struggle of elements in the security forces: the warders in the cities and the soldiers in some of the Bantustans. [In the paper] we argued that the new situation provided elements of a solution to the all-important questions of the arming of the masses for revolution.
Thirdly, [in the paper] we drew attention to the serious dangers inherent in the situation as it existed at the time. We noted the weakness of organisation, the lack of coordination of the various struggles in the country and the consolidation of a layer of reformist leaders within the mass movement. On the basis of these observations we warned that if this situation within our movement was not reversed, we face the possibility of losing everything we had struggled for over a long period.
A lot has happened since we last put down these perspectives. We must look at why the changes have happened, and how they affect our perspectives on the present period. But what is even more important than the direction that the leadership is taking, is an answer to the question of where South Africa is going. For it is only in the context of a discussion on the significance of the recent steps taken by the De Klerk regime and the ruling class that we can understand the direction which the leadership is taking.
In the past our analysis and the assessment of the changing balance of forces in the struggle was based on the understanding that apartheid in South Africa was inextricably linked with capitalism. We argued that a “non-racial capitalism” in South Africa was “impossible”. Over the past few months, indeed since De Klerk has come to power, one apartheid law after another has been dropped from statute books, and more look set to fall. This situation raises fundamental questions about our view of the present situation. Was our earlier analysis incorrect? Has a non-racial capitalism now become possible? What could such a non-racial capitalism mean in South African context?
The answer to these questions are important not only because we need to clear up our perspectives. In the context of our earlier argument that since last year’s Defiance Campaign thousands of our people entered struggle around directly political questions of democracy, and not on the basis of concrete struggles around daily issues, the direction of political developments becomes vital.
In the past we have also argued that the absence of democratic rights for the majority of South Africans was a direct result of the needs of capitalist development in South Africa. We said then that the struggle for democracy could not be won without overthrowing the political power of the capitalist class. We also said that this cannot be done without beginning to disarm the capitalist class economically as well. Our perspective has thus always been that majority rule cannot be achieved without an overthrow of capitalism. On this basis we were able to explain why every struggle for concrete demands in the South African context almost always becomes a struggle against the state and for democratic rights. It is on this basis that we were able to pose the struggle for democratic demands as the most powerful transitional demand in our struggle for socialism. The repeal of apartheid legislation that has been announced recently forces us to re-examine what we have said about the relationship between apartheid and capitalism.
A. APARTHEID AND CAPITALISM
In each country all over the world capitalism takes on a different form. The form that it takes depends on a whole range of factors, the most important of which are the struggles among the various classes both inside the country and internationally. In South Africa the way capitalism developed was influenced by two important factors: the stage capitalist development had reached internationally and the South African economy’s need for cheap labour.
1. Capitalism Comes to South Africa
Up to about 1900 capitalism had been expanding rapidly in all the major countries. During this period, especially between 1870 and 1914, capitalism experienced a sustained growth without going through many economic crises. In the European countries this period saw a growth of trade unions and legal workers’ parties like the Social Democratic Parties. Through struggles led by these organizations, sections of the working class were able to win reforms such as higher wages and political rights from the bourgeoisie. Working class parties such as the German Social Democratic Party had strong parliamentary sections. They used their seats in parliament to gain reforms for the working class. The expansion of the democratic rights during this period even led some leaders such as the German socialist, Eduardo Bernstein, to argue that socialism could be achieved gradually – through peaceful, parliamentary means.
But changes had already begun to occur during this period of capitalism’s expansion. The most important change was the rise of imperialism. This is what Lenin said about the rise of imperialism:
“We have seen that in its essence imperialism is monopoly capitalism. This in itself determines its place in history, for monopoly that grows out of the soil of free competition, and precisely out of free competition, is the transition to a higher socio-economic order…”
“The extent to which monopolist capital has intensified all the contradictions of capitalism is generally known. It is sufficient to mention the high cost of living and the tyranny of the cartel. The intensification of contradictions constitutes the powerful driving force of the transitional period of history, which began from time of the final victory of world finance capital.” (Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism)
Two important points come out of Lenin’s analysis of imperialism:
– Imperialism is the transition to monopoly capitalism,
– The contradictions of this period lead to a transition to socialism.
In the monopoly stage the capitalism economy is dominated by a few powerful capitalists who increasingly buy out the smaller and the weaker capitalists. The monopoly capitalists operate all over the world and are not restricted to individual countries. This increases their power and makes it impossible for individual governments to control. These companies or groups of companies (cartels) control the production and distribution of commodities all over the world. The linkup between the various parts of the world economy also leads to an intensification of the crises of capitalism all over the world. From then on a crisis in any of the big capitalist countries would affect the whole world. As these monopolies search for more profits and more markets the competition among them intensified. In order to win more markets, the capitalists had to get more colonies, and the ordered scramble for colonies led to the first Imperialism War of 1914-18. But the contradiction of imperialism did not only lead to war among the capitalists and their governments, they also led to the first workers’ revolution, in Russia in 1917. This is what Lenin had meant when he said the rise of monopoly capitalism, and especially the intensification of its contradictions, “… is the transition from capitalism to a higher socio-economic order…”
The rise of the monopoly capital on a world scale, which was signaled by the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the formation of the Communist (or Third) International, had a profound effect on the development of capitalism all over the world, including South Africa. Not only had monopoly capitalism intensified contradictions and crises, but it also led to a change in the nature of the capitalist state. The search for markets abroad and the fear of socialism at home meant that the capitalist state became oppressive and less democratic at home and abroad. For the ruling classes in the various capitalist countries the victory of the working class in Russia was a signal that democracy was a luxury. From then on capitalism had to attempt to reserve the gains made by the working class during the period of its ascendancy (i.e. 1870 to 1914). The entire history of the inter-war period (1918-1939) was a history of violent suppression of working class organizations especially the Communist (and also socialist) parties across Europe.
When capitalism came to South Africa it was already in its monopoly stage internationally. The large amounts of capital that were needed to work the mining industry also served to entrench monopoly capital in South Africa, since only the very big capitalist companies could mobilise the financial resources that were needed. The repressiveness and undemocratic character of the South African state was thus part of an international trend. Its oppressiveness was a result of the new stage of capitalist development on a world stage. Like their counterparts in other parts of the world the South African capitalist faced an unstable world market and the threat of being overthrow in a socialist revolution.
2. The Search for Cheap Labour
The oppressiveness of the capitalist state took different forms in different countries. In Italy, Spain and Germany it took the form of fascism: in 1926 British miners were smashed by the very parliament they were supposed to have elected; in the USA sheer violence, in fact thuggery, was used to smash working class organisations. In South Africa the oppression of the working class and capitalist development was ensured through apartheid, i.e. racist laws designed to keep the majority of the working class weak and disorganised. This specific form of the subjugation of the black working class was not only a result of the imperialist stage of world capitalism. It was also a result of factors relating to the specific conditions under which capitalism had to develop in South Africa.
The first truly capitalist industry in South Africa was mining, more specifically gold mining. But not only did mining need thousands upon thousands of workers, but it also need them at a very cheap cost. To get workers in their thousands the South African capitalist went on the rampage in the entire Southern African region. Every means, from sheer lies to violent compulsion, was used to force the black peasantry off the land and into the mines. Once in the mines, the black workers had to be kept there. Out of this need to keep the cheap black workers tired to the mines there arose one of the most barbaric institutions in the history of capitalism internationally: the compound.
At this stage however the capitalist class was not only interested in cheap black labour. It sought to make all labour cheap. The attempts to cheapen the labour of white workers led to a series of bitter battles which culminated in the so-called Rand Revolt of 1922. This revolt raised the spectre of socialism in the minds of the capitalist class. Although they were defeated, the white workers were able to threaten the ruling class enough for it to abandon the attempt to cheapen all labour. At this stage of its development the black working class was weak, unorganised and with no consciousness of its historical role. As a class it did not mobilise to fight for its inclusion into the democratic order. It was therefore excluded from bourgeois-democracy. Over time this exclusion from democracy would further serve to facilitate the cheapening of black labour. The dye was cast, and from now on the safest path of development for the capitalist was a system of cheap black labour and privileged white labour.
While the political weakness of the black section of the proletariat contributed to its exclusion from voting processes, the strength of the white working class was an important factor in them being granted the franchise. The capitalists had learnt this lesson in the classroom of class struggle; in the street of Johannesburg; in the crucible of the Rand Revolt.
Further capitalist development now took place on the basis of the results of the class struggles in the early 1920s. The mining industry was central to capitalist development, and it proceeded to create a world after its own image. All aspects of society now had to reflect the new balance of class forces: black labour was going to be cheap, white labour privileged. All classes among the white population demanded their share of the cake. For instance, the process that created the black workers class also created a class of well-to-do black farmers. What was beginning to emerge here was a class of rich black farmers who had a potential to develop into a native bourgeoisie. This in fact found recognition in the Cape vote, where blacks with a certain amount of wealth could vote for parliament. The continued existence of this stratum was now out of line with the new balance of class forces. They had to be demolished; they were demolished.
The South African economy needed cheap labour. To have a cheap labour it must have the mechanism of control. But a society cannot control or repress large sections of a population without a sizable social strata, and not just individuals, with a vested interest in such repression. Monopoly capital found this stratum in the white middle classes and the white working class. Just as fascism found its social basis in the middle classes threatened by capitalist crises, so monopoly capital in South Africa discovered its social basis in the white middle class in town and country. But the more successful this strata was in policing capitalism for the monopoly capitalists, the more it developed its own interest.
In South Africa the white middle and working classes are the social strata on which monopoly capital rests. These sections of South African society have a vested interest in apartheid. These strata form the life-blood of the present state. They are the source of the bureaucratic-military machine.
Insofar as capitalism was based on cheap labour and insofar as a process of cheapening the labour of one section necessitated a social base for monopoly capitalism, the link between apartheid and capitalism became inextricable. The political subjugation of the black proletariat was necessary for capital accumulation. It is this subjugation that ensured that the labour of the black working class was cheap. Apartheid, i.e. the domination of the black section of the working class, was therefore vital for the development of South African capitalism.
What Then is the Future of the Inextricable Link?
It is clear from an analysis of the history of the country that South African capitalism needs cheap labour. The question, of which section of the working class would provide this cheap labour, was settled by class struggle in the early 1920s. But as from the early 1970s and more so in the 1980s the black working class began to challenge its exclusion from democracy and so its status as the source of cheap labour in a very strong way.
Since the Durban strikes in 1973, where thousands of workers took to the streets in support of demands for higher wages and better working conditions, we have since seen a consistent rise in the levels of militancy and organisations among the oppressed masses. The key landmarks in this rise of militancy are well-known: Soweto 1976; the schools boycott in 1980; the insurrectionary period 1984-86; and the 1989 Defiance Campaign. The 1984-86 insurrectionary wave, more than any other period of intense struggle, made it clear that the ruling class could no longer rule in the old way. In its panic the capitalist class went running to Lusaka to “sound out” the ANC. It was this panic on the part of elements of the ruling class that had necessitated the rise of Bonapartism. As we have argued in the past the reforms of De Klerk are a continuation of ruling class attempts to stave off the challenge by the working class to do away with the cheap status of its labour. We have also shown in previous papers that this challenge and its consequences have led to instability and a lack of investor confidence. It is these problems that the De Klerk regime is trying to solve.
Any post-apartheid order based on capitalism (whether we call it “mixed economy” or anything else does not matter) has to provide the economy with cheap labour. In order to have even a semblance of a non-racial capitalism the state has to shift its entire social basis i.e. the present power of the white working and middle classes (and small capitalists and farmers) has to be violently broken. We say “violently broken” because no social stratum gives up its privileges without a bloody fight. It is because of this that all those who dream of a non-racial capitalism (even as a first stage) have to “allay white fears”. In other words, they dream of non-racial capitalism while not disturbing the social basis of the present state. They want a post-apartheid society with the basis of apartheid – cheap labour and a privileged white working and middle class – remaining unchanged.
To free black labour form its cheap status at present means:
i) To change the very economy that needs cheap labour in such larger quantities i.e. profit–making capitalism,
ii) To break the power of the state that reproduces and protects this system, and
iii) To break the power of the social stratum on which the state rests, and which also “polices” black labour in production and society as a whole.
What are we then saying about the present abolition of apartheid laws by De Klerk? In order to answer this question, it is important to understand a salient point made earlier. For the purpose of clarity let us repeat it here. Capitalism in South Africa assumed the apartheid form not because black had always been oppressed by whites since 1652, but because of the balance of class forces, both nationally and internationally, in the early part of this century. Internally, the weakness of the black working class at the point meant that it was excluded from democracy and its labour made cheap. On an international level the transition to monopoly capital and the threat of socialist revolution turned democratic experiments into luxuries the capitalists could not afford.
Although the new situation, especially the international situation, provides De Klerk with far greater possibilities for reform than any of his predecessors, the link between apartheid and capitalism remains inextricable. We maintain that:
i) The South African economy will continue to need vast amounts of cheap labour
ii) That this cheap labour will continue to be black
iii) That apartheid will be maintained in reality (although the laws might be changed) as long as the political, economic and social power of the white middle classes and white working class (to a lesser extent) is not broken, and
iv) That the present course of De Klerk, especially the emphasis on minority rights as non-negotiable, will ensure that the power and privileges of the white middle and working class will remain untouched.
It is these factors, taken together, that will ensure that apartheid and capitalism remain inextricable. But we also need to emphasise the fact that the inextricability does not arise from some magical property of capitalism, which has been true and will remain true for all time. The inextricable link between apartheid and capital is tired up with the existing balance of class forces. It is the lack of any preparedness on the part of the ruling class to break the power of the white middle classes that leads us to this conclusion. The continuation of cheap labour alone cannot be a sufficient basis for us to argue that apartheid and capitalism is inextricable. It is cheap black labour, together with the maintenance of the power of the white middle class – and therefore minority rights/privilege – that makes apartheid and capitalism inextricably linked at this point.
If De Klerk cannot bring about non-racial capitalism, and if apartheid will therefore be maintained in another form, what is De Klerk’s agenda? What is the nature of the De Klerk regime?
B. THE DE KLERK REGIME AND ITS AGENDA
In the immediate post 1984-1986 period we characterised the South African State under Botha as Bonapartist. We argued that the intensification of the class struggle, in the post 1973 period had led to a situation where the state could no longer rule in the old way, and on the other hand the working class was not strong enough to take power. This equilibrium between the capitalist class and the working class is what led to the need for a leader to “rise above” the classes in struggle, and to resolve the most pressing problems of the ruling class without being blocked or hemmed in by parliament. The result was the concentration of powers in the hands of PW Botha, who went on to violently smash the organisations of the working class and also to discipline the capitalist class for its vacillation in the face of militant actions by the working class and its allies. In order to save capitalism for the capitalist class, it was therefore necessary for Botha to stage a coup against the capitalists’ own parliament.
At that time, we said that Bonapartism was an unstable regime. We said that it would either lead to a series of Bonapartisms, and finally culminate in fascism, or it will be overthrown by the working class. We posed the option as being either fascism or socialist revolution. When De Klerk came to power we argued that the De Klerk regime was a continuation of the Bonapartism of Botha, although in a new form. From this we also concluded that a negotiated settlement was not an immediate prospect. But the rapidity with which events have unfolded since February 2 1990, and the talk of a negotiated settlement in the very near future, demands that we look at recent changes much more closely.
What changes has the State undergone?
In order for us to draw some political conclusion about the nature of the De Klerk regime we need to look more closely at the options of socialism or fascism that we posed in our analysis of the Botha regime. The important thing to note here is that for the capitalist class the option of fascism becomes necessary when it becomes clear that the Bonapartist figure is unable to resolve the crisis in the favour of capital in a decisive manner.
The other condition for the emergence of fascism is that a specific social strata, which will bring fascism about, has to emerge and present itself to the ruling class as a viable option.
The third condition is that the organisation of the working class must fail to lead the working class to victory. It is important for comrades to realise that extreme repression does not equal fascism. The emergence of a specific social strata that forms the basis of fascism is crucial. Fascism therefore implies a very fundamental shift in the relationship of forces. When such a shift occurs even the lives of the traditional parties through which the capitalist class had exercised its rule are at stake. The fascist option in politics is like the “scorched earth” policy in war. The capitalist class “must burn society to the ground” in order to save it. For the capitalist class, therefore this option is very expensive option, because by going to extremes to solve the crisis, the capitalist class also exposes itself to extreme methods of defence by the working class i.e. socialist revolution.
Unstable Banapartist regimes, however, cannot continue indefinitely. A solution to the crisis has to be found. The key to the De Klerk regime at present lies in the fact that the prospects of a less costly, but also stable solution to the crisis appears to be at hand. These prospects are the results of two separate, but interrelated factors. The first is the change in the world situation. The second is the present direction of the leadership of the ANC and of the SACP.
In the last six months of 1989, at one stroke, the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Eastern removed the immediate threat of socialism. The returns that had been necessary to save capitalism now became possible. In his presidential address of February 2 1990, De Klerk had the following to say: “This year 1989 will go down in history as the year in which Stalinist (!) communism expired.”
He then went on to spell out the implications, firstly, for the organisations of the oppressed, principally the ANC and SACP:
“There have been important shift in emphasis in the statements and points of view of the most important of the organisations concerned which indicate a new approach and a preference for peaceful solutions.”
Furthermore: “The events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, to which I have referred already, weaken the capability of the organisations which were previously supported strongly from these quarters.”
De Klerk then went on to spell out the implications for the ruling class:
“The dynamic developments in international politics have created new opportunities for South Africa as well. Important advances have been made, among other things, in our contacts abroad, especially where these were precluded previously by ideological considerations.”
The collapse of Stalism has been interpreted by the ruling class to mean that the threat of socialist revolution has not only receded into the future, but has been effectively eliminated. This view has also found resonance among wide layers of ex-”Marxists” and ex-revolutionaries. But the change in the world situation alone, cannot explain opportunities open to De Klerk.
A crucial factor is the strong reformism within the ANC and SACP leadership. A lack of faith in the fighting capacity of the masses, and a tendency to look towards the bourgeoisie for leadership have meant that the leadership of our movement (with able “theoretical” assistance from the leadership of the SACP) have acted as transmission belts of ruling class pressure into the working class. It is this new situation that defines the nature of De Klerk’s agenda, as well as the nature of his regime.
The agenda of the De Klerk regime is to create conditions under which the working class can be exploited and dominated through its (i.e. working class’s) own consent. The key to this agenda does not lie in the De Klerk regime itself. Neither does it lie merely in the fact of the change in the balance of forces on a world scale. The key to its agenda lies in the ANC leadership and its politics of compromise and reform. De Klerk’s task is two-fold. On the one hand he must strip the ANC of its revolutionary content of the 1984-86 period. Towards this end we see a continual testing of the ANC leadership’s ability and inclination to engage in militant mass action. Such testing has included attacks on the ANC itself (e.g. the detention of NEC member Mac Maharaj) as well as attacks on the broader mass movement which owes allegiance to the ANC (e.g. attempts to smash mass struggles – especially rents boycotts – on the Rand). On this score the ANC leadership has behaved exceptionally well from De Klerk’s point of view. They have executed one retreat after another. The rate at which the leadership has capitulated has ”surpassed De Klerk’s wildest dreams.” What the retreats have also meant is that any testing of the waters by De Klerk has taken place on a more and more reformist platform. The effects of any new retreat are compounded by the previous retreats.
On the other hand, De Klerk cannot completely destroy the ANC. The reason for this is that at the same time that he strips the ANC of its revolutionary content, he must ensure that the ANC can deliver the masses, bound hand and foot, to the ruling classes. For it is on the ANC leadership’s ability to deliver the masses that the ruling class’s hopes of a new system of domination, with the consent of the masses, rests. The task of this ”man of integrity” is to ensure the survival of apartheid-capitalism in another form. What does this say about the nature of the De Klerk regime? Is the De Klerk regime Bonapartist?
The answer is yes and no. The De Klerk regime represents a move away from Bonapartism. On the one hand, the capitalist class, both locally and abroad, is unanimous that De Klerk is ”the man of the moment”. We said that one feature of Bonapartism is that the capitalist state not only concentrates power in a few individuals, but it is also whips the capitalist class itself into line. Thus the coup against parliament. In a real sense, though not formally, the entire capitalist class is behind De Klerk. On the other hand, the De Klerk regime remains an unstable regime. It is unstable not because it is about to collapse, but because the masses have not yet been ”delivered”, and because the new form of rule is not yet in place. Capitalist rule with the consent of a working class is still in the future. In this sense the De Klerk regime continues to rely on rule not based on parliament; it bases itself on the support of the capitalist class as a whole, not on the formal institutions through which it (the capitalist class) has exercised its rule in the past. It is this transitional character of the De Klerk regime that leads us to characterise it as being Bonapartist and non-Bonapartist at the same time. The hybrid character of the regime can be seen more closely if we ask the question: is the threat of fascism over?
The answer to this question is a clear NO. We have said that for fascism to triumph a social strata whose agenda is the implementation of fascism, must emerge. Such a stratum, however, takes a long period to emerge. Even more importantly, it takes an even longer period, or rather very acute conditions of class struggle, for the capitalist to switch to the fascist option. We must remember that it took 10 years between Hitler’s march on Munich in 1923 and his victory in 1933. A longer or shorter gestation period for fascism is not precluded. The key to the question lies in the intensity of the class struggle. Already we can see a serious growth of the white extreme right which has the middle class as its social base. We have already discussed how an entire social stratum has developed a vested interest in white minority rule. We have also said that for any non-racial capitalism to emerge the power of this social stratum has to be violently broken. The current changes present a profound threat to this strata. And since social classes and strata learn the meaning of events in struggle, and not merely in debates, the radicalisation of the right-wing is bound to continue despite assurances that their rights will be protected. In this context, a renewed upsurge by the working class will immediately raise the spectre of fascism and bring the hour for deciding on the option of fascism or socialism nearer.
The significance of the right-wing in the present situation is that it is at the same time both a sign of the instability of the present situation and the present regime, and a possible solution to this crisis if De Klerk’s agenda fails. In the light of this fact, one of the most irresponsible acts of the ANC leadership has been the light-heartedness with which the question of the right-wing has been treated. Initially treating the right as ”mad mavericks” the ANC leadership has gone on to imagine that it can appease the right by diplomacy. The increasing support for the right-wing among whites, as shown by the growth of the Conservative Party and organisations to the right of it such as the AWB, and also by a rightward shift within the National Party – illustrated by the pressure for more drastic security measures at its last Cape Congress – means that revolutionary socialist must take the right-wing seriously and begin to devise strategies to deal with it. Any calls for mass action and majority rule that does not at the same time call for preparations to defeat the right are gross political irresponsibility.
There is, however, a second aspect to the instability of the current in South Africa, and so to the instability of the De Klerk regime. This aspect is the instability of the current world situation. The instability of the current world situation is itself of a two-fold nature. On the one hand this instability resides in the present state of the capitalist world economy. Behind the fanfare and euphoria about the everlasting victory of capitalism over socialism the capitalist press internationally has kept quite (or at most talked in hushed tones) about the fact that the world capitalist economy is facing one of its greatest crises in years. The biggest capitalist economy in the world that of the United States, is on the brink of a deep recession which threatens to drag the entire world economy into recession. The major stock markets in the world have been plagued by a deep instability and have suffered serious losses in value. Furthermore, war threatens in the Middle East, where US imperialism is flexing its muscles and is also looking for war as way out of the crisis. This threatening war especially through its effect on oil prices, also looks set to precipitate global recession. On the other hand, despite what the capitalist world would like us to believe, the crisis of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is by no means resolved. The Soviet Union is threatening to explode in the face of Gorbachev and the capitalist world. The concern of the capitalist class about the Soviet Union can be seen by the support they are giving Gorbachev. They even got him a Nobel Prize for peace!
Similarly, the IMF and imperialism have not yet completed the subjugation of Eastern Europe. In these countries, and especially in the Soviet Union, the transition to capitalism will have to involve a massive defeat of the working class. At this stage such defeat has not been completed. In most cases the attack is only just beginning. The onset of a major recession in the capitalist economies or the overthrow of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, or worse still, the occurrence of both these world historic events, can profoundly change the relationship of forces in South Africa. At one stroke these events can change the psychology of all the social classes in the South African situation, and so hasten the hour of either fascism or the socialist revolution. As revolutionary socialists we set our eyes firmly on this unfolding world situation and put perspectives flowing from its analysis at the foundation of our revolutionary strategy. This is particularly significant since we have argued – and this has been central to our argument – that the situation in South Africa cannot be understood without understanding the impact of the current world situation on South Africa.
C. WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING TO THE ANC?
We began this paper by noting the rapidity with which the ANC leadership is capitulating. We also argued that the key to De Klerk’s agenda lies in the reformism and the tendency to capitulation on the part of ANC leadership. In our previous papers, however, we had argued that any negotiated solution in South Africa will be on the terms of the ruling class. We also said that such a settlement will have to be conducted with a much-tamed ANC. But we also said that the negotiations will not be concluded immediately, we predicted that negotiations would be a long, protracted affair. It is clear that we erred in this respect. For although we were correct to say that the settlement could only be on the ruling classes’ terms. We failed to foresee the rapidity with which the ANC leadership was going to capitulate. We therefore need to look at this issue more closely. The most important thing that has been happened the past eight months has been the speed with which our leadership has retreated from previously held positions. It is clear to all militants that the direction of the leadership at this moment is bound to result in a defeat for the masses of our people. The raw deal that De Klerk looks set to delivery will make the Namibian ”settlement” pale into insignificance. But even more dangerous is the fact that this looming defeat will be portrayed as a ”great victory” and might carry the support of the masses, even for a brief period. It is therefore important that comrades understand the reasons for this rapid capitulation on the part of our movement.
Immediately after February 2 we wrote: ”The most critical and dangerous development over the last few months has been the emergence of a consolidated moderate faction at the head of the mass movement. Instead of guiding the recent struggles and utilising them in a preparatory manner for a decisive confrontation with the apartheid regime, the leadership has launched the campaign aimed at taming the militancy of the masses. ”It is clear that this layer of reformist leaders has consolidated itself further. The question that we now need to answer is why this layer has been able to enter into such major compromises (the most important of these being the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes). There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, we have already referred to the fact that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes has given imperialism and the De Klerk regime a new moral confidence. Not only has imperialism scored a major propaganda victory on the issue of the so-called failure of socialism, but the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucracies has made it possible for imperialism (and its junior partner De Klerk) to portray themselves as champions of democracy. In a context where imperialism is confidently trumpeting its victory, the tendency of the reformist leadership is to bow down to imperialist and South African ruling class pressure. The only thing that the reformists can see is the invincibility of the South African state. For them the creative energy and heroism of the masses does not exist. They have no faith in the masses. This is the first basis for the rapid capitulation of the leadership of our movement.
Secondly, the present relationship of the movement’s leadership to the rank and file is crucial in understanding the leadership’s rapid capitulation. Immediately after the unbanning of the ANC the leadership announced its intention of setting up branches and of the convening of a conference in South Africa on 16 December.
But instead of focusing on the building of branches the leadership rushed headlong into negotiation with De Klerk, not just over questions that would have facilitated organisations, but over crucial political questions. In the period when it negotiated with De Klerk, the ANC NEC was effectively a law unto itself. There were no branches on the ground to act as transmitters of the MDM, neither did it consult the membership of the movement scattered all over the world. The isolation of the leadership from its base made it more subject to pressure from the ruling class. In such a situation the reformist perspectives of the leadership would not be countered by working class pressure from below. The coming together of reformist politics and isolation from the masses made capitulation almost inevitable.
Thirdly, where ANC branches were formed, the composition of the branches and the nature of the activity were such that they offered no challenge to the leadership, or merely reinforced their reformism. As far as the composition of the ANC branches is concerned a number of things must be noted.
1. In general the youth has been slow in joining ANC branches.
This has largely been due to two factors.
– The youth generally regards itself as being members of the ANC anyway, and
– The long delays over exactly what process will be followed in the information of the Youth League has also helped to keep the youth out of the ANC structure. This trend is being dangerously reinforced by the current trend in the movement which seeks to make the youth league an ”autonomous” organisation, instead of being the sub-structure of the ANC. The absence of the youth in the branches has robbed them of their potential militancy.
2. The formation of branches has been slowest in the working class areas. Given the militancy in these areas, the fact that branches were first formed in more or less middle class areas has reinforced the absence of any pressure on the leadership. These problems with the initial composition of the branches were reinforced by the nature of the activities of the branches. In most areas branches were involved in purely administrative discussions, and took up no struggles. The trend was reinforced by a dominant faction in our movement, which argued that the ANC’s role is not to take up day-to-day issues in the communities, but to discuss ”politics”, in fact, in some instances, an ANC that meets ones in a month or two was proposed. In other words, a fighting ANC, an ANC of mass action and mass participation, was being discouraged. An ANC which is not involved in struggle also tends to give wide scope to the politics of reformism and thus the tendency to capitulate in the face of ruling class pressure.
In the discussion above we have argued that the leadership paid scant regard to building branches as a priority. They have spent much time in allaying the bosses fears (”nationalisation has never been ANC policy”), to allaying ”white fears”, to wooing tried and tested enemies of the people like Gatsha Buthelezi and Allan Hendrickse. But this does not explain why the masses did not take up the task of setting up the ANC branches themselves. Why they did not turn these branches into organs of struggle? This brings us to our fourth point.
In the immediate aftermath of February 2 1990 we saw that the collapse of Stalinism and the resulting ability of De Klerk to portray himself as a champion of democracy has ”encouraged right–wing reformist prejudices within the mass movement.”
We went further and explained the sources of prejudices in the following way:
”The perverse irony of the present period – that De Klerk’s reforms come not as a result of mass pressure, in fact the masses were still on the defensive throughout 1989, but apparently because of a ”change of heart” of the National Party government…create and reinforce constitutional illusion in the masses that freedom can be achieved by the voluntary abdication of the apartheid regime”.
The past eight months have reinforced these constitutional illusions. That these illusions have been deepened can be seen in the fact that although the masses have continued to take up struggle on a local level, this combativity has not led to active interest in the big political questions. For the masses these are best served by being left to the leadership. The capitulation of the leadership can thus also be traced to the constitutional illusion within the mass movement. These constitutional illusions mean that the masses have a tendency not to engage the leadership.
This in turn reinforces the tendency to reformism within the leadership and so to capitulation.
We can now see the basis of the capitulation of our leadership. A key factor is the fact that the ANC branches are not organs of struggle, not only in isolated instances, but on a national scale. The potential for national political campaigns that existed in the immediate aftermath of February 2 failed to express itself through the ANC. Yet despite these the masses have continued to engage in struggle, although these struggles have been localised. What has been the ANC’s relationship to these struggles; how has the leadership responded to them? An answer to this question will also give us an important indication of where the leadership is taking the ANC to.
The relationship of the leadership to the struggles of the masses is the aspect of its relationship to the mass movement that we examined above. We have said that the leadership has acted in isolation from and without consultation with the masses. Not only were there no ANC branches but the leadership did not consult and engage the MDM organisations. In fact, the leadership has been against any pressure from MDM organisations and thus we have been told that the ANC is not the MDM, and ”will not be told what to do by the MDM.” As we know, this debate has flared up a lot around the process of formation of branches. The ANC leadership has therefore resisted intervention (or ”interference”) by MDM organisations. But the ANC leadership has intervened in struggles led by MDM organisations when and as it sees fit, and when it suits its interests. The leadership has acted through the leading layers in MDM organisations to dampen the military of the masses. We have already explained the basis of this role in an earlier paper. There was said:
”The reasons for this role are quite simple. Convinced of the possibility of having power transferred to the masses peacefully and of the sincerity of De Klerk, the leadership is doing everything in its power to ensure that the opportunity is not squandered.”
The present actions of the leadership, from the Natal and Transvaal violence, to the NUMSA strike, to the UDF campaign to occupy vacant land, are motivated by basically the same reasons. But what has emerged more clearly over the past eight months are the methods that are used to diffuse mass militancy. Over this period, we have seen that whenever a major battle by the masses threatens, the leadership is bound to come up with some committee that ”will look into the matter, together with relevant authorities.” The method has been to take the initiative out of the hands of the masses. Once struggles are taken into these committees a number of things happen.
i) The masses lose control over the campaign. In most cases the campaign literally disappears from the eyes of the masses.
ii) The committees become accountable to no one except themselves and the leadership of the movement.
Iii) This removal of struggles from the hands of the masses not only dampens militancy, but it also acts to reinforce the constitutional illusions.
iv) The leadership becomes open to ruling class pressure and so its tendency to compromise is deepened.
v)The gap between the leadership and the masses increases.
We have said that De Klerk’s agenda is to ensure that the ANC can deliver the masses bound hand and foot. A condition for the delivery of the masses is that they must be stripped of any confidence to struggle. For De Klerk the existing constitutional illusions are not enough. For the ruling class it is not enough for the masses to leave the big issues to the leadership. For De Klerk the masses must abandon even the struggle around localised issues. In so far as the movement’s leadership demobilises the masses by substituting committees for mass action, it plays directly into De Klerk’s hands.
While the ANC leadership has been deflecting militant struggle into committees, De Klerk and the bosses have continued their offensive against the mass movement. In the trade unions, a confident capitalist class has engaged in retrenchments and lock-outs. The local state, in the Transvaal especially, has gone to smash the rent boycotts, and De Klerk has continued to detain leading ANC activities like Mac Maharaj without any response from the leadership, except to assure the ruling class that ”negotiations will not be derailed”. Objectively, therefore, the response of the ANC to these struggles has been to further demoralise the masses and so deepen their lack of confidence in themselves as the key to the current situation.
Such has been the role of the leadership in the current period.
We have look at the De Klerk regime and its agenda. We have also looked at the ANC and how the leadership is dragging the organisation rightwards. Having shown how in this process the leadership has acted to dampen mass militancy and having pointed to the fact that the struggles around local issues have continued unabated, we must now look at these struggles and their significance for our struggle as a whole.
D. “THE SMALL ISSUE MOVEMENT” AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE
In the immediate post-February 2 1990 period we noted the fact that masses and masses of our people, in addition to taking up the majority political questions of the day, also took up struggles around concrete issues that affect them on a daily basis. Such concrete issues ranged from struggles against high rents, to struggles against lack of adequate textbooks at schools, to struggles for higher wages at work. We also noted a developing trend at the time, which pointed towards a kind of ”division of labour”, concerned itself with the big political questions of negotiations, constituent assembly and so on. Eight months have gone since February 1990, and the danger of the separation between the big and the small or local issues has deepened. The transformation of the political movement that began with the Defiance Campaign in mid-1989 into a movement largely taking up small issues has, broadly speaking, gone through four phases. The first dates from the beginning of the Defiance Campaign at the end of July 1989 to the September 1989 stay-away. The second phase begins with the September stay-away and end with De Klerk’s unbanning of organisations on February 2. The third period covers the period immediately following February 2 1990 up to the end of April 1990. The fourth period covers the period from May to about September 1990. Let are look at these phases a little more closely.
1. The First Phase: Beginning Of A Revival
The period up to the end of July 1989 was characterised by a general retreat of the working class and its allies in the face of blows from the state and capital. These blows included three States of Emergencies and lockouts, dismissals and the LRAA on the shop-floor. During this period only the working class organised in the trade unions took up any significant battle. But even here the working class was largely involved in rear guard action. The launch of the Defiance Campaign changed this situation. From the beginning of August 1989 running into the first week of September, the MDM launched a series of demonstrations in ”defiance of unjust laws.” These acts were significant in both the kind of issue they took up, who was involved and the methods that were employed.
The demonstrations were organised as protests against the State of Emergency, security legislation, press restrictions, separate amenities and also against separate education departments. The issues were generally of an explicitly political character and at this stage the concrete issues affecting the lives of the working class on a daily basis hardly featured in these protests.
The nature of the issues taken up gave the developing movement its first significant feature. Unlike in the 1984-86 period, the revival of the mass movement was taken place around explicitly political questions. The movement was, however, taking place in the immediate historical context of a retreat by the working class. This was reflected in a number of ways.
i) The size of the demonstrations in this period attracted about 2 000 people.
ii) Within the mass movement, the actions were initiated from above and did not involve the active participation of the local organisations of the working class and its allies, principally the youth. Where workers and youth were involved it was as individuals, and not organisationally. The organisers of these demonstrations were the faceless MDM or ”dignitaries ” i.e. the clergy and other ”respectable” people.
iii) The demonstrations in this period generally take place outside the township – in the cities. Moreover, the rural areas, in contradistinction to the 1984/86 period, remain quiet.
iv) On the factory floor, we see an increase in strike activity; the strikes are still of short duration and they mainly concern wages. All these factors viewed together give us the first peculiarity of the entire movement from the Defiance Campaign to the present. It is that the revival rests on very shaky organisational foundations, and is dominated by ”dignitaries” who are the key initiators of various actions. The second significant feature of this phase is to be found in the methods of struggle employed. The period is entirely dominated by marches and protest meetings. The only form of action remotely approaching the methods of the ”insurrectionary” period is the student boycotts. But even this form of action is limited in its scope of application.
The nature of this movement is significant in another way. It is that the revival of the mass movement was initiated from above in a double sense. Firstly, the revival was a response to signs of liberalisation from the state, or least expected liberalisation. Recall that already by this time the Commonwealth had been expected to put pressure for new liberalisations etc. Secondly, within the mass movement the initiative was not taken by the militant working class and its organisations but by middle class ”dignitaries”.
The stay-away on 5 and 6 September 1989 marked the last act of this phase and (more importantly) the beginning of the second phase.
2. The Second Phase: Big and Small Issues Side By Side
This period (beginning about 5/6 September 1989 and closing with February 2 1990) opens with two significant events. The first is the 5/6 September stay-aways and the other is the ”legalisation” of marches by De Klerk. The first events already mark a break with the first phase of mass revival in many key respects. The scale of the actions itself surpasses anything in the first phase. Organisations of the working class COSATU/NACTU are centrally involved. The issues – specifically the LRAA – are not political in general, the method itself – the stay-away – markedly different from the methods of the first phase. It was this stay-away together with De Klerk’s actions that changed the mood of the working class and its allies; and this brought a change to the entire situation. This change leads to significant developments in this period.
The first significant development is a change in the scope, location, and composition of the protest actions. Although the issues that were taken up are still broadly political (SOE, security legislation, demonstrations against the Tricameral parliament, etc.) the size of the 2 000 range pre-September 5/6 stay-away jumps to the 50 000 range. Many of the marches still take place in the cities, but we see the weapon now being taken up in the townships as well. More and more workers and youth enter the centre stage of struggle. The second significant development is that with the use of weapons of marches in the townships, and with the changing composition of the demonstrations, local working class organisations begin to take charge of the organization of the marches. An example of such action occurred in Carltonville where the Khutsong Civic Association organised a march to demand the release of detainees.
This third significant development in this phase is the emergence of a movement around small, day-to-day issues. We have remarked that in the 1984-86 period the line of development of mass struggle was from the day-to-day, ”small” issues to the big political questions about democracy and state power. In the period under discussion we see the emergence of the small issues out of the movement around the big political questions. In general, the development of capitalism in SA – i.e. its dependence on the exploitation of cheap black labour and denial of democratic rights to the black majority – has provided the basis for an inextricable link between the political question and the day-to-day questions facing the working class and its allies. Earlier on we argued that apartheid and capitalism are inextricably linked. We said that the inextricability of this link resides not only in the fact that the South African economy is based on a cheap labour, but also (crucially) on the fact that in the course of its development there emerged a social strata whose task was to ”administer” the exploitation of black labour. This social strata was a white middle class, and to a lesser extent the white working class. We went further and argued that this stratum developed its own interests, which remain intimately bound up with the apartheid system.
The crucial fact here is that the emergence and reproduction of this social stratum – the white middle classes – required a high level of state intervention. It required the intervention of the state to destroy any possible competition from the middle class. This meant discriminatory provision of every facility in daily social life: from schools, hospitals, roads recreational amenities to schools to separate and superior facilities at the workplace. It also meant intervention by the state in all aspects of the social life of the black working and middle classes. In this state intervention lay the basis for the politicisation of all aspects of social life in the black townships. The high level of repression needed to keep black labour cheap and controllable reinforced this politicisation of all aspects of social life. This politicisation of social life provides the general basis for the spilling over of political battles into social battles, and vice versa. More specifically, however, it must be recalled that the 1984-86 struggles were fought over ”small” issues which were left unresolved when the mass movement went into retreat in 1986. Many issues therefore remained latent throughout the 1986 to 1989 period. On the other hand, we must note the fact that the defeat of the post-1986 period did not represent a rout. This means that although the ruling class had temporarily triumphed it did not succeed in re-establishing the pre-1984 situation. So when the working class gained new confidence out of the Defiance Campaign it picked up the old struggles from the 1984-86 era. This can be seen in the fact that the issues taken up are a direct continuation of the issues of the mid-1980s.
In this phase the rent struggle and the struggle against local authorities begin to feature prominently. In Ermelo, Wesselton 10 000 march against prosecutions for electricity arrears. In Vosloorus 50 000 march in support of local demands.
The fourth significant development is a change in the methods of struggle. Although the protest march still remains the most widespread form of action, the boycott and stay-away begin to be widely used as weapons. In Alexandra we see a mass stay away in protest against a magistrate’s refusal to grant a permit for a march.
In Brits a consumer boycott is launched over the same issue. What is even more significant, however, is that the continuing predominance of the march as a method of struggle conceals a profound change in the methods itself. With the shift of the mass march from the city to the township we find a concealed from of stay-away. In Vosloorus the march around local demands takes place on 25 January 1990. In Ermelo, Wesselton the march around electricity prosecutions takes place on 13 December 1989, but both these days fall within Monday and Friday. These actions, though generally reported as marches, are in fact stay-aways. Moreover, they represent a very peculiar form of the stay-away: the single township stay-away. This form of stay-away clearly represents a high level of militancy given the high level involved for the workers.
The third and fourth significant developments that we discussed above also showed themselves on the factory floor. This period saw a dramatic change in the nature of strike activity. Not only do we see a leap in the number of strikes and the workers who participate in them, but significantly the strikes are of longer duration and are fought out mo re intensely. Furthermore, the scale of the strikes (e.g. SATS and SAB strikes) turns them into events that capture the imagination of the whole class and they also draw in other sectors, especially the youth. The strikes also begin to take up explicitly political issues. Although beginning as economic strikes, political issues rapidly come to the fore, e.g. the anti-privatisation and recognition of the SATS strike. We see therefore that in these phases of development of the mass movement two parallel strands emerge. On the one end we have the extension of the movement around the big political issues. On the other hand, we see the emergence of the small issue movement. We say ”parallel” movements because although the small issue movement arose out of and continually fed on the mood of confidence resulting from the movement around big issues, no conscious and organised attempts was made to link the two movement into a national torrent against the apartheid system.
In this fact lies the second peculiarity of the entire period stretching from the defiance campaign to the present. It is that although the two movements are intimately interrelated they have – from an organisational and therefore political viewpoint – continued to diverge and so effect a mutual weakening of the two movements. In this phase we also see the beginning of a trend that accelerates in the post February 2 period. The leadership of the MDM and the ANC begin to intervene in small issue struggles and act as a ”moderating influence” i.e: act to dampen militancy. The most singular example of this kind of intervention in this phase of development of the mass movement is to be found in the leadership’s role in the SAB strike. In this strike the MDM/ANC leadership intervenes to persuade workers to accept a raw deal. This role of leadership, which we have already discussed, takes shape in this period. This is the third peculiarity of the movement from the defiance campaign to the present.
3. The Third Phase: Politics in the Countryside and Small Issues in the City
This phase of the unfolding mass revival with the unbanning of organisations on Feb 2 by De Klerk. We saw that in the period immediately before Feb 2 the mass movement had been expanding in scope, deepening in intensity and also beginning to assume a dual character: a co–existence of the big political issues and small issues. De Klerk’s announcements accelerated this development on the one hand, but revealed new features on the other.
The first significant development in this period is the entry of countryside – specifically the Bantustans – into politics. We have noted that the countryside was relatively quiet during the first and second phase of the revival of the mass movement.
The issues around which the bantustans made their entry were explicitly political issues. Highest on the agenda of the masses was the reincorporation of the bantustans, with the possible exception of Kangwane. The demands around the big political questions were also accompanied by tense struggles over small issues like fare increases, education and so on. Even more significant are the methods of struggle taken up by the masses in the bantustans. Unlike in the cities, the ethos of struggle in the homelands was truly insurrectionary. Having entered the struggle belatedly, the masses in the Bantustans made up for lost time by adopting intensely militant methods of struggle, and in the process surpassed the city in the intensity of struggles. In the Bantustans the marches are followed by pitched battles against the security forces, which in turn are followed by a three-day or week-long stay-away!
In Lebowa students at eleven training colleges refuse to pay fees. In Qwa Qwa the entire service strikes for almost five weeks – one of the key demands is the right to join COSATU. In Gazankulu a two-week long general stay-away is called, demanding the resignation of the homeland leader. This insurrectionary mood even permeates the prisons. In Venda prisoners overpower their guards and present a petition to the homeland leader! In this period the Bantustans are insurrectionary zones.
The second significant development, which is linked to the entry of the Bantustans, is that certain elements in the security forces begin to waver and show signs of wanting to join the people. The third significant development in this phase is the entry of the various strata of the middle classes into the struggle. In this phase their entry differs from the earlier periods not only from the point of view of the extent of their entry, but more significantly because for the first time they undertake militant methods of struggle: specifically, the strike as a weapon. In Johannesburg 6 000 teachers go on strike to protest at working conditions. In Pinetown taxis block the main road to protest a victimisation by banks.
The fourth significant development is that in the cities the small issues, the day-to-day local issues, begins to predominate over the big issues, the political issues. Unlike the previous phases where firstly, the small issue movement was insignificant, and secondly, it existed side by side with the big issues, in this phase the most intense and widespread struggles take place around the small issues. The first two weeks of February, and to a certain extent the third week still sees a preoccupation with the big issues.
In the factories the release of Nelson Mandela is met with spontaneous stay-aways, marches in industrial areas and rallies. But the most significant action in this period is around rents and living conditions in the townships. In Thokoza 80 000 deliver a petition to the town clerk and begin a boycott of rents. In Durban thousands march to protest against increased rent. On the factory floor we see the militant entry of previously unorganised sectors. Another feature of this period is the increasing use of the regional of local stay-away as a weapon, and in both cases it is tied to local issues. Something else also begins to happen in this period. We begin to see a deepening national unevenness in the movement, with the centre of gravity shifting more and more to the Transvaal.
This deepening unevenness is a result of the fact that as the struggles became more fragmented and isolated from each other the specific characteristics and histories of particular regions and localities tend to predominate over the general features of the movement. In this context the fact that the Transvaal is the industrial heartland of the country, together with the fact that in the 1985 period the most intense struggles were fought in the Transvaal townships, meant that as unevenness deepened nationally the Transvaal would emerge as advanced relative to the rest of the country. We see then that in this period we still see a co-existence and intersection of the ”big and small” issues, but in the Bantustans the big issues predominate, and in the cities the small issues predominate. On a national scale, therefore, we can say the movement still has a predominantly political character, but within this there is an unevenness that develops and deepens as we move towards the end of April. With these developments we now enter the fourth phase of the movement since the Defiance Campaign.
4. The Fourth phase: Fragmentation and Unevenness
The first significant development in this phase (extending roughly from May to September/October 1990) is that localised struggles and their isolation from each other are the predominant features of the class struggle nationally. In this phase we see a more or less generalised retreat from the big political questions. An index of this retreat from the questions can be seen by the extent to which the leadership’s rightwing slide gets accelerated. Whereas in the third phase the fatal shooting of 17 people in Sebokeng leads to the suspension of ”talks about talks”, in this phase the death of more than 500 people in the Transvaal does very little to effect the course of the leadership in its search for a ”peaceful solution to South Africa’s problems”.
The second significant development in this phase is the role of the leadership in the small issue movement. Earlier on we saw how the leadership of the MDM began intervening in strikes like the SAB strike to dampen militancy. In this period as a result of the leadership’s political accommodation of the De Klerk regime we see an increasing intervention in local struggles and their diversion into committees (for example a land occupation campaign) and a general discouragement of militant struggle. On the other hand, the isolated struggles deepen their fragmentation and isolation from each other. In the Bantustans, the leadership’s preoccupation with the ”middle ground” leads to deals with the military bureaucracies and homeland leaders, all at the expense of militant mass struggle.
The third significant development in this period is that we do not only witness the predominance of the small issue movement on a national scale, but even the intensity with which the small issues are taken up begins to ebb. The retreat from the major political questions also affects the intensity with which the small issues are taken up. The significant exception here is the Transvaal. After a slight ebb in May the localised struggles pick up in intensity again. We see here a second significant difference with the rest of the country. Although the issues taken up are of a local character, they are however uniform across the region – at least in the Southern Transvaal. This was the real basis of the emergence of the Civic Association of the Southern Transvaal (CAST). In this region the small issue movement owes its fragmentation more to the role of the leadership – specifically its fear of militant struggle – than to the objective character of the movement.
We can now look at the general character of the small issue movement.
5. An overview of the ”Small Issue Movement”
We have seen how the mass struggle has unfolded over the period since the Defiance Campaign. In this period, we saw the development of the small issue movement out of the struggles around the big political questions. But a proper understanding of the character of the small issue movement, and its relationship to the big, raises the question of what constitutes a big issue and what constitutes a small issue?
In our discussion we referred to small issues as those that are of a local character i.e. arise out of the specific conditions of the daily life of the masses. These have included rents, transport and electricity struggles, as example. We then referred to the big ones as those that relate to democracy at a national level e.g. the call and struggle for a Constituent Assembly. But there is no hard and fast rule that divides a big issue from a small one. For example, a struggle around electricity is sometimes inextricably tied up with the struggle against local authorities. The struggle against the local authority is at the same time a struggle against the state at local level. Now, the struggle around the electricity and the local state can be a ”big ” or ”small” issue, depending on the whole range of factors. We can either make demands on the local authority to supply us with electricity. In this questioning the very basis of the local state. Or we can demand better electricity supply and at the same time call for the scrapping of local authorities. In this sense the issue can be seen as an explicitly political issue.
It would therefore be incorrect for comrades to try and engage in endless ”definitions” of an issue. What we can only say is that in our intervention we need to look at a number of things. We must look at the scale of the action – how many people does it involve; at where the issue takes place – a generalised rent struggle in the Western Cape, for instance, might affect the national balance of forces in a less profound way than a generalised rent boycott on the Rand; as the immediate history of the region – because of the sustained struggles in the Transvaal a small strike can unleash a whole series of battles leading to near insurrectionary conditions, whereas in an area in an ebb a similar strike will be far less significant; at which strata of the working class is involved, their location in the economy of the country, their history of struggle; their immediate past or not. In other words, we must analyse the working class’s consciousness of its own strength. This last issue is obviously a crucial one.
In addition to all these considerations, we need to be aware that whether issues are ”big” or ”small” crucially depends on the general political terrain on which the battles are being fought.
In the current situation the terrain of politics is generally defined by De Klerk (with the collusion of the leadership of our movement) as a terrain of negotiations and parliamentarism. In 1985, however, the terrain was largely an insurrectionary one. This difference has a vital bearing on what constitutes a big or small issue and on their relationship. In 1985, for instance, a generalised rent boycott like we see on the Rand became inseparable from, and immediately called into being, ”organs of people’s power” i.e. the street and area committees. Invariably in that period rent boycotts and township struggles immediately put the question of self-administration on to the agenda.
Therefore, to the question of what constitutes a big issue and what constitutes a small issue we can only answer: it depends! What we need are not formulas, but a concrete analysis of real, living situation.
Let us now look at the general feature of the small issue movement as it exists.
Firstly, we have argued that the revival of the mass movements rests on shaky organizational foundations. This feature has continued to plague the mass movement, and has given the taking up of local issues a very fragmented character. In 1985, for instance, the UDF gave some coordination to local struggles. In the present period no such structure exists, and the ANC has not taken up the daily issues and centralised them on a national scale. On the other hand, on the local level itself we have not seen the revival of strong organisation (on a national scale) up to the street or block level.
Secondly, the general character of the movement is its unevenness. There is unevenness with respect to what issues are taken up. There is unevenness with respect to when issues are taken up. There is also unevenness with respect to the way i.e. with how issues are taken up. The unevenness exists between areas as well as within areas. The most obvious danger in this period, which arises out of this unevenness, is that of a possible stampede within the working class, as different layers of the working class enter battle when others are retreating. Comrades therefore need to be informed of this possible danger when intervening in the small issue movement.
What are the sources of this unevenness and fragmentation? There are two sources from which this unevenness derives. Firstly, the unevenness is a result of what we can call objectives factors. These include the nature of the small issues themselves and also the nature of the working class under capitalism. Since small issues arise out of very specific local conditions the way they affect the different areas tends to differ.
On the other hand, although suffering from similar conditions under capitalism the working class is divided into many strata. The specific histories of capitalist development also have variations from region to region e.g. Coloured Labour Preference area in the Western Cape, etc. The effect of the division of the working class is that various layers and strata of the working class respond differently to issues. It is important that comrades understand and take note of the objective basis of the unevenness within the class. We must be sensitive to this unevenness when we intervene in the small issue movement.
The second source of this unevenness is what we called subjective factors. The most important factor here is the role of leadership. By leadership we mean not only the ANC NEC, but also all the layers of leadership down to local level. The inability, reluctance, or refusal of leadership to centralise, coordinate and bring together struggles reinforce the objectively uneven and fragmented struggle and make it even more so. Which bring us to the third point.
Thirdly, we have already looked at the role of leadership in this period. It has been to diffuse mass struggle around small issues and so reinforce the unevenness within the mass movements. Another effect of the role of leadership has been to reinforce the illusion within the masses that freedom can be won without a fierce and determined struggle against the existing state. On the one hand the separation of the big from the small was an index of the constitutional illusions already favoured by the masses, on the other hand the actions of the leadership have served to reinforce these illusions.
The development of the mass struggle since the Defiance Campaign has revealed that the most intense struggles have been fought when the big and small issues have coincided. This was in the period we have called the third period, i.e. immediately after February 2. In fact, even within the second period, the homeland struggles were the most intense. And they were also the ones which expressed the coincidence the best.
In Qwa Qwa public servants take up struggle against low wages, the right to join COSATU (a ”South African” trade union federation!) and the central government announces that independence for the homelands is not viable. In Gazankulu concrete educational demands are raised together with calls for the government to disband and this leads to mass stay-aways, marches and pitched battles with SADF.
In this general feature of the movement lies an important strategic lesson for us. The fact that the most intense battles are fought when both big and small issues are raised at the same time must determine our attitude to the small issue movement and to its relationship to the big issue. For us the task is not to just ”use” the small issue to get to the big, after which we can focus our attitude on the big issue. In fact, such an approach can have an effect of deepening instead of breaking the constitutional illusion under which the masses (and our leadership!) labour. This is because of constitutional illusion we do not only refer to a situation where the masses leave the big political question to the leadership. We also refer to that situation where the masses, even while taking up the big political question, continue to separate them from the small issue, both in their consciousness and in their action.
For instance, where the capitalist system and its daily effects are seen as separate from the political oppression expressed in apartheid laws. In this sense the SACP’s theory of national democratic revolution, where the struggle against apartheid is separated from the struggle against capitalism represents the highest expression of constitutional illusions in the South African context. It represents an illusion that bourgeois parliamentarianism can solve the pressing problems facing the oppressed and exploited.
It is only when in our daily practice we consistently link the big issues with the small issues that the constitutional illusions can be broken. On the other hand, our task of linking the big and the small is not a simple act of will. It is a task that arises out of, and is made possible, by the relationship of apartheid to capitalism in SA. We have already shown how apartheid and capitalism are inextricably linked. It is this inextricable link that provides the basis for the coincidence, in struggle of the big and the small issues.
E. TASKS IN THE PRESENT PERIOD
We have looked at the relationship between apartheid and capitalism, and we have seen that De Klerk’s agenda is to reproduce apartheid capitalism under new conditions of struggle in SA and internationally. We saw that given the existing relationship between classes – specifically the position of the white middle classes – and given the fact that capitalism in SA will continue to depend on cheap black labour, De Klerk (or anyone else for that matter) is incapable of delivering a ”non-racial capitalism”.
We have also noted the capitulation of the leadership in the last eight months. We saw that this capitulation was a product of the change in the balance of class forces internationally, and that under the changed conditions the leadership became a conduit for ruling class and imperialist pressure on the masses. We also examined how this capitulation was made possible by the state of the organisation of the masses, especially the ANC.
On a still deeper level, we saw that the orientation of the leadership is a result of a lack of faith in the masses. We went further and looked at how the deepening reformism was both a result of, and also a reinforcing factor for, the constitutional illusion under which the masses labour. We saw that concretely these illusions expressed themselves through the separation of the big and the small issues – whereby the masses focused on small issue and the leadership on the major political question. We went on to analyse the small issue movement. From that analysis we learnt that for our struggle the most important lesson is the need to link the big and the small and not substitute the big for the small. We now need to look at the tasks that confront revolutionary socialists in this period.
1. From the ”small” issues to the ”big” issue: Prepare for the Mass Strike!
We have seen that the most important characteristics of the current period are the separation between the big political questions and the small day-to-day issues. It is clear that this continued separation bodes ill for the struggle for socialism. As revolutionary socialists we know that the liberation of the masses can only be achieved by the masses themselves. No party, no leadership, no matter how ingenious and profound, can achieve liberation on behalf of the masses. It follows therefore that for revolutionary socialists the most critical task facing us at the moment is to understand how the current separation of the big and small issues will be overcome; how will the two movements converge. Tied to this task is the question of what our role as revolutionary socialists will be in this process of overcoming the separation.
At the heart of this question lies a number of interrelated issues. The first thing we need to be aware of is that as revolutionary socialists we always begin on the basis of the existing levels of consciousness of the masses. But how do we know the ”existing levels of consciousness”, and what do mean by this? We know that at any one point the working class enters struggle unevenly and shows differing levels of the preparedness to fight.
At one point, some layers of the class engage in militant battle while others lack confidence and are passive. At other moments these layers change places, whereby the previously passive ones enter battle at a time when the previously militant ones retreat from battle. The ”existing level of consciousness” is not the ”averaging out” of the preparedness of the whole class to struggle – if indeed such ”averaging out” can be ascertained. The ”existing levels of consciousness” at any one point are determined by those who are most prepared to struggle. It is determined by the advance-guard of the working class army. It is to these layers, whose composition is ever changing, that we orientate ourselves. Therefore to begin at the ”existing levels of consciousness” does not mean to follow in the wake of the most passive layers of the working class.
Now, we have argued that at this point in time the most daring and fighting layers in the working class are struggling around small issues. The ”existing level of consciousness” is expressed precisely around these partial or concrete day-to-day struggles. ”A call for the masses to be directly involved in the big political questions of the day as an immediate and practical slogan will fall on deaf ears.” As revolutionary socialists, therefore, the key to the current situation lies in our attitude to the localised, small issue struggles. Our orientation to these issues must be guided by a number of considerations.
I) Earlier on we stressed the importance of analysing the working class’s consciousness of its own strength. What this means practically is that at all times we must strive to centralise, to bring together the isolated struggles in which the working class is engaged in. Comrades must appreciate the immense strategical and political value of this centralisation. Even a simple knowing by the fighting layers that they are struggling side by side with their class brothers and sisters is a very important morale booster. The practical coming together of the fighting battalions of the working class not only provides an immense boost for the morale of those engaged in battle, but it also has the effect of inspiring other passive layers to enter struggle – it shows these layers that it can be done! The working class must become conscious of its own strength.
The centralisation of the struggle also lays the basis for the transition from the very immediate issues to the more general issues. Earlier on we said that when the movement became fragmented the very specific, localised issues tend to predominate over the more general issues. Conversely, when struggles are centralised, the tendency is for the more general issues to predominate over the specific ones. In the process of bringing together the isolated struggles the task of revolutionary socialists is to show the real interconnection of these struggles, to show the relationship of apartheid to capitalism, and so lay the basis for the transformation from the small to the big. The role of revolutionary socialists is to ensure that the process of centralisation leads to the emergence, in struggle, of a set of common demands which reveal the interconnection of the big and the small.
II) We say that the working class must become conscious of its own strength. We also say that the process of centralising existing struggles is crucial in such a process. Equally crucial in how we approach the small issue movement is the task of always drawing lessons, in front of the working class, from existing struggles. The drawing out of the lessons of the existing struggles does not mean that we evaluate individual struggles when they are over. This is undoubtedly important. But this drawing of lessons must also take place at each successive stage of the struggle. There are two reasons why this is important. The first we have already referred to. Through this process the working class heightens its consciousness of its own strength. The second is that through this ”analytical” process we are also arming the working class and thereby facilitating the process of the emergence of layers upon layers of leadership from the ranks of the struggling masses themselves. Furthermore, this process is also crucial in facilitating the breaking of the constitutional illusion of the working class, which is based on the separation of the big issues from the small.
III) Earlier on we warned about the danger of substituting the big issue for the small. We said that such substitution has the effect of entrenching constitutional illusions. We argued that it is necessary to struggle for the coincidence, the coming together, of the big and the small. Viewed from another angle, this raises once again the question of our attitude to the small issue movement. Let us take a lesson from the vast experience of the working class movement internationally:
Some centrists think that their programme of nationalization (e.g. of the mining industry) is in line with the Lassallean idea of concentrating on all the energies of the proletariat on a single demand, using as a lever of revolutionary action that then develops into the struggle for power. However, this theory is false. In the capitalist countries the working class suffers too much; the growing hardships and the blows that rain down thick and fast on the chosen in a doctrinaire fashion. On the contrary, revolutionary action should be organized around all the demands raised by the masses, and these separate actions will gradually merge into a powerful movement for social revolution.
It is this general approach that guides our approach to the small issues. When we say that comrades must centralise the isolated struggles it is important to warn that this centralisation cannot and must not be done artificially. It is crucial that comrades learn the skills of revolutionary strategy. At the heart of these skills is the struggle to resist artificially. It is crucial that comrades learn the skills of revolutionary strategy. At the heart of this skill is the struggle to resist artificial solutions to questions of struggle; to resist the tendency for formulas; in a word, to engage in concrete analysis of concrete struggles. Our ability to centralise existing struggle does not simply rest on our desire to do so; it fundamentally rests on the nature of apartheid capitalism, and on the revolutionary propensity of the working class.
IV) Now, this process of bringing together the isolated struggles, this process of centralisation of existing struggles, of drawing lessons from the existing struggles, of struggling for the coincidence of the big and small; this process is the historical process that leads to the mass strike. The mass strike expresses the interconnection of small issues and their convergence with the big issue, in action. It expresses the interconnection of the factory strike with the housing struggle, of the student struggle for books with the struggle of the unemployed, of the struggle for the re-incorporation of the Bantustans into South Africa with the right of public servants and agricultural workers to organise. Finally it expresses the interconnection of all these and many other struggles with the struggle for the conquest of political power by the working class and its revolutionary allies.
It is clear that the mass strike cannot be created artificially. It is equally clear that the development of the mass strike is not a single act. As an historical process it involves a series of advances and retreats on the part of the working class; it involves shifts in the centres of gravity of the class struggle from one area to another, from one layer of the working class to another; over and above all this, it involves successive phases in which the revolutionary masses become ever more conscious of their own class power, of their ability to change the world.
Comrades, the fundamental task of the present period is to prepare for the mass strike. A mass strike must be prepared for. The preparatory work involves, centrally the utilisation of existing struggles. We have not ”chosen” the mass strike as a task of the present period because we like the mass strike. It is because the elemental process of the mass strike is unfolding right before our own eyes. Decades of apartheid-capitalism have ensured that the current situation contains all the elements of a social explosion.
V) The preparatory work for the mass strike become politically irresponsible or downright criminal if we do not put at the centre of our work the question of self-defence. The development of the mass strike is bound to induce an extreme instability among the ruling class and the middle classes. Earlier on in our discussion we noted the development of the right wing, including Inkatha, vigilantes and the white right. Comrades, this point should not require elaboration. Our experience over the last few months is enough to alert us to the vital importance of self-defence in this phase of our struggle. The leadership of our movement is guilty of the most serious mistakes. The leadership imagines that they can achieve freedom without tears. Comrades, our tasks in the present period must involve centrally the struggle over the fate of MK. At a time when MK is being effectively disbanded, it befalls all militants to struggle to redress this most serious mistake in the history of our struggle. The integration of MK, not with the SADF butchers, but with our local defence organisations, is our most immediate task.
There is yet another important reason why preparation for the mass strike must centrally involve preparation for effective self-defence. It is that the development of the mass strike will change, fundamentally, the very meaning of ”big issues”. Earlier on we said that the understanding of the small issue movement depends on the political terrain on which the issues are being fought out. The mass strike is unthinkable without the working class building its own organs of power. The form that these organs of people’s power take will be determined by the struggle itself. Our history already knows the examples of these; the street committees, area committees, and other such structures.
At the moment the masses labour under constitutional illusions. Parliaments appear to be the only possible forms in which the people’s power can be exercised. The development of the mass strike, which is also the development of the organs of people’s power, will shatter these illusions. For the masses it will be clear that there are other forms through which to exercise power. Once again, self-defence is central to the development of these organs of power. Integrally tied up with the question of self-defence is that of agitation in the armed forces of the state. In the immediate aftermath of February 2 we saw how sections of the army in the bantustans came over to the side of the people. We saw struggles being waged in the prisons by the warders. All these instances of ferment within the army acquire an added significance in the context of how the mass strike changes the very meaning of ”big issues”.
2. Let us build a mass ANC! Let us draw the ANC into the ”Small Issue” Movement!
We have seen that the strength, activities and compositions of the ANC was an important fact in making capitulation of our leadership to De Klerk. We also know that without organisation the masses are nothing. The greatest danger facing our organisation at this point in time is that the reformist leadership is turning our organisation into a Democratic Party of the Zac de Beer type.
Our most immediate task is to struggle against this tendency which seeks to stifle our movement and draw it further away from the masses. But we also said that at the moment the masses’ attention is drawn towards the small issues. Therefore, the most immediate task is to build a militant ANC through ANC branches taking up small issues. The ANC must not be allowed to become a ”party” of middle class elements with ties and suits. The ANC must be an organisation of the masses, which is controlled by masses.
A related struggle of revolutionary socialists and militants in the ANC is to make the leadership accountable. The attempt to turn the ANC into the DP has the same political basis as the undemocratic practices in which the leadership engages. The political basis of this reformist tendency is lack of faith in, and sometimes a downright disdain for – the masses. The struggle to democratise the ANC is inseparable from the struggle to draw the ANC into active struggle. Only in a democratic and accountable ANC will the masses be able to give the ANC a mass character.
In the tasks paper written immediately after February 2 we called for an ANC built as a front of mass organisations. This has clearly not happened. But it is crucial that comrades grasp the underlying principle of our perspective at the time. The underlying principle is that the ANC must reflect the militant and genuine aspirations of the masses. In calling for the ANC to transform itself into a front of sectoral organisations we were struggling to ensure that the militant and democratic traditions of COSATU and other mass formations give the ANC a working class stamp.
The terrain of struggle around this issue has changed. For revolutionary socialists the struggle to ensure a working class dominance in the ANC must continue, although it must take account of the drawing of the ANC Youth League and the Women’s League into the ANC in such a way that the militant tradition of these sectors are able to influence the ANC in a direction of taking up militant struggle and reversing the reformism of the leadership.
This means that the current attempts of the existing SAYCO and ANC youth section leadership to transform the Youth League into an ”autonomous” organisation must be combated. The YL must remain a sub-structure of the movement, and in this way be able to bring the militancy of the youth into the ANC. The same must hold for the Women’s League.
At another level the task of struggling to ensure that the ANC reflects the militancy of genuine aspirations of the masses must involve the struggle to draw the ANC into the daily lives and struggles of the masses. The struggle to ensure that the ANC is involved in the small issue movement is central to this struggle.
On yet another level, this struggle (to ensure a militant mass ANC) must be taken up from the point of view of the ANC’s relationship to sectoral organisations. The practice whereby the leadership proceeds to take important decisions and actions as if there are no sectoral-based mass organisations that have carried the banner of our movement in our darkest days must be fought.
This attitude has already led to unnecessary delays in the formation of branches, but more importantly also partly accounts for the slow growth of the ANC, and its organisational weakness. At the bottom of this arrogant attitude lies the self-same lack of faith in the masses that is so characteristic of our leadership. Our task as revolutionary socialists is to build a consistent and active relationship between the ANC and the sectoral organisations.
Earlier we saw that the leadership has intervened in the struggle of the mass organisations when it wants, and has put up a false argument about how the ANC is supposed to be a ”political party” when it wanted to shy away from the daily struggle of the masses. This entirely false ”argument” is also being ”theorised” by some pseudo-Marxists under the cover of Gramsci and the concept of ”organisations of civil society”. For would be Marxists, the ANC belongs to the ”political sphere” whereas the masses and their militant organisations belongs to ”civic society”. Despite all their so-called Marxism, these reformists only want an ANC of the DP type.
As revolutionary socialists we know that the state and the so-called ”political sphere” arise out of the daily struggles being waged in civil society, and in turn the state intervenes in the daily lives of the masses in civil society. After all, ”civil society” is that sphere of social life where the masses live their lives: the schools, the factories, the churches, the communities and so on. Once we unmask this ”big” word ”civil society” it becomes clear to any militant that – in SA more than anywhere else – the attempt to separate political from civil society is not only theoretically false but politically reactionary. Its only results would be to cut the ANC off from the masses, to weaken our movement, to transform the ANC into an organisation that will rule and make deals behind the backs of the masses. This theory must be exposed for what it is: it is an attempt to sow illusions within, and demobilise, the masses under the guise of ”Marxist” theory.
The practical task that flows out of this is that revolutionary socialists must look for ways in which the ANC can be built into a mass force through the sectoral organisations. On the other hand, it means that the ANC must be at the forefront of building strong sectoral organisations. Comrades must recognise that the weakness of the organisation is not only confined to the ANC. Our sectoral organisations are also suffering from serious weakness. We must recognise that we have not yet recovered from the attacks on organisations undertaken by the Botha regime. As with our approach to the ANC, we must draw our organisations closer to the masses by taking up the small issues, and through this build and strengthen our organisations.
Furthermore, the relationship between the ANC and sectoral organisations must be forged at a local level. The existing practice whereby the alliance between the ANC, COSATU and the SACP, for instance, means the meeting of the national leaders at best, or just membership of all three organisations by leading personalities, does not even begin to turn the alliance into a real, militant alliance. The alliance, which must also draw in students and youth, must be built form the bottom up.
We also need to look at the relationship between our strategic objective of the present period, the mass strike, and our other important task, that of building a militant mass ANC and sectoral organisations. We have already stated that the period demands the centralisation of dispersed struggles, the drawing out of the lessons of the struggles at each successive phase of development, and the preparation of self defence.
We also said that as the mass strike develops, the big political questions become defined in an entirely different way. The mass strike is not an artificial act; it cannot be simply ”called into being”; it develops out of the movement of the class struggle itself.
On the other hand, the mass strike is not a purely spontaneous movement. The very character of the mass strike as a living, dynamic and complex movement requires even better leadership than the normal drab struggle of ”clever negotiations”. That is why we said comrades need to learn the skills of revolutionary strategy. But the question of leadership, and its quality, is not purely a question of ”individual talent”, neither is it the question of the simple commitment of the individuals to struggle (although this is undoubtedly important). The question of leadership and its quality is a question of organisation. The task of centralising struggles, of drawing the appropriate lessons, in a word, of preparing for the mass strike requires strong and vibrant organisations of the working class. The urgency with which we undertake our task of building organisations must be formed by the centrality of organisations to the process of preparing for the mass strike.
Furthermore, engagement in militant mass struggle together with a commitment to build organisations lays the best conditions for the emergence not only of competent leadership from the ranks of the struggling masses, but also of a leadership whose commitment to the working class is tested in the crucible of the class struggle. Comrades need to understand and give appropriate attention to the fact that the level of development of our activists in the movement is generally low. The consciousness of this fact must have reflection in how we take up struggle, how we build layers upon layers of leadership in our movements. We must therefore view our organisations, and the work of building them, as both a tool in our struggle as well as schools of revolutionary strategy. At all times our slogan must be: LET US TAKE THE ANC TO THE MASSES.
3. Pay attention to propaganda! Build a Marxist Culture!
We have agreed that the development of the mass strike involves the transition from the small issues to the big issues. We have also argued that part of this process of transformation involves the centralisation of existing struggles, the building of strong fighting organisations (both as organs of struggle and as schools of revolutionary strategy) and the building of self-defence units. We also said that it is crucial that we reveal, to the masses, the real interconnection of existing struggles. This raises the crucial question of the role of propaganda in this period. In other words, what is the role of propaganda in the preparation for the mass strike?
We began the discussion of our tasks in the present period by noting that the existing level of consciousness of the masses is such that the masses have shifted their attention to the small, local issues. We said that any call for immediate and practical involvement by the masses in the big political question will fall on deaf ears. But what happens to the big political questions in the meantime? Moreover, how does the consciousness of the working class suddenly ”leap” from small issues to big issues? At the heart of the understanding of these ”leaps” from single-issues consciousness to consciousness about the big political questions lies an understanding of the role of propaganda. Let us look at this more closely.
There are varying levels of propaganda (and agitation). Viewed separately, these different kinds of propaganda and agitation serve specific functions in specific contexts; viewed as a whole, they serve as the facilitator of the transition from small issues consciousness to big issue consciousness. Let us examine the role of the different kinds of propaganda.
Firstly, there is what we may call agitation. Agitation is generally viewed as popularising or explaining the single-issues, the localised small issue. The understanding here is that we are targeting a specific group and we are aiming at specific action. There are, moreover, different forms that agitation can take. It can take the form of verbal agitator, where ”agitators” engage individual workers or youth; or it can take the form of written agitation, i.e. a leaflet directed at a factory. All this is known to comrades. But agitation has another crucial role outside of specific attempts to get action going.
Let us put the question this way: How do we know what the level of combativity of the masses is at any one point? As Marxists we know that we can only know this level practically i.e. by testing it. In a meeting situation, for instance, we can propose a form of action and motivate it. This is a form of agitation. We would then listen and watch the meeting’s response. These responses, coupled with our knowledge of the history of the struggle in the given locality and beyond, would be able to estimate the level of development of the masses. Even this, however, can only be performed in practice. ”Agitation is a dialogue with the masses”. Agitation means that socialists do not talk or write, but equally important, it means that they listen and watch.
Secondly, there is the kind of propaganda which expresses the interconnection of the given struggle with other struggles around it. It goes further and shows the connection between these individual struggles and the general struggle against apartheid–capitalism. Again, here the propaganda can take two forms. On the one hand we have where, in a housing struggle for instance, we explain in general the relationship between housing and apartheid-capitalism.
On the order hand we can draw this existence of this relationship from existing struggles. We have already examined the role of the drawing of lessons at each successive phase of the struggle for the task of centralising existing struggles and so in the process of preparing for the mass strike. Only a real analysis of the situation can tell us which approach is appropriate or whether a combination of both is appropriate. Like agitation, this form of propaganda can involve verbal propaganda (impromptu speeches, prepared speeches etc. comrades need to develop our grasp of this important skills) or written propaganda. The development and training of skilled propagandists, who write simply and well, is a vital task for our movement.
Thirdly, there is the kind of propaganda which explains the general political questions, which do not appear to have immediate connection with existing struggle. This can involve (in the current context) a paper or talk on what is a Constituent Assembly, why is it the most democratic way of transformation to a new SA and so on.
The immense value of this propaganda lies in the fact that it provides the working class and its leading militants with the general analytical tool which become vital when the general big political questions are taken up. The value of this propaganda lies not so much in the fact that it will move workers and youth to action, but in the general arming of the class. In order for us to bring home to comrades the overriding value – both political and strategical – of this kind of propaganda even when the working class is engaged in the small issue movement (for it would be politically foolhardy to downplay this form of propaganda on the pretext that the working class was not interested in the big political questions), let us take a lesson from the rich experience of the struggles of oppressed masses:
‘The mystic doctrine of spontaneousness explains nothing. In order correctly to appraise the situation and determine the moment for a blow at the enemy, it was necessary that the masses or their guiding layers should make their examinations of historical events and have their criteria for estimating them. In other words, it was necessary that there should not be masses in the abstract, but masses of Petrograd workers and Russian workers in general, who have passed through the revolution of 1905, … it was necessary that throughout this mass should be scattered workers who had thought over the experience of 1905, criticised the constitutional illusions of the liberals and Mensheviks, assimilated the perspectives of the revolution, meditated hundreds of times about the questions of the army, watched alternatively what was going on in the midst – workers capable of making revolutionary inferences from what they observed and communicating them to others. And finally, it was necessary that there should be in the troops of the garrison itself progressive soldiers, seized or at least touched in the past by revolutionary propaganda.
General propaganda might not yield ”palpable” results. But it is indispensable in the development of the revolutionary process. It is the process whereby we arm the working class and prepare it for the task of overthrowing capitalist rule. It is in this sense that we must understand the call for comrades to build a (revolutionary) Marxist culture! As socialists we need to undertake methodical work of this kind; this work is too important to be left to the occasional paper on the occasional day when comrades have time.
There is however no Chinese wall between these forms of propaganda. At particular stages of the development of the movement these different forms merge or coincide. We have already shown that the mass strike represents the coming together of the big or small. So too in propaganda. The development of the mass strike blurs the distinction between these forms of propaganda.
We have seen that the mass strike is not an artificial act. We have also seen that the mass strike develops as a series of practical struggles (which itself has a propaganda value) and propaganda work. To neglect propaganda is to fail to lead, is to bow down to spontaneity. On the other hand, to neglect the living experience of the masses in struggle is to be propagandistic and to substitute one’s consciousness for the consciousness of the working class.
Let us conclude with a summary of the key elements that form the basis for our tasks in the present period.
Two keys considerations that underlie our tasks in the present period. The one is the inextricable link between apartheid and capitalism. This fact gives the current period an exceptionally explosive character. It is this fact which invests the current period with exceptional political opportunities – with tendencies to extreme fluctuations in the intensity and scope of the class struggle. This fact makes a rapid transition from small issues to major battles between the classes an ever present possibility. Our general watchword in this period must be: no routine handling of struggle! Have faith in the creative energy and revolutionary combativity of the masses!
The second consideration is that the masses, the key to the whole situation, labour under deep constitutional illusion. Comrades must not underestimate the attraction of a parliamentary solution among the masses. A ”left-wing” impatience can wreck all the vast political opportunities present in this period. The slogan of the present period should be: ”Against a tendency to substitute our consciousness for our consciousness of the masses! In its own way, institutionalism reveals a lack of faith in the masses. On the other hand, we do not counsel timidity in the way we take up struggle. ”The revolution can only triumph if it is not afraid of itself! ”Our watchwords should therefore be: revolutionary patience and boldness in our intervention!
Copyright © 2021 . All rights reserved..