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southern africa / migration / racism / press release Monday May 18, 2020 02:32 byMqapheli Bonono

Since its formation in 2005 Abahlali baseMjondolo, which now has more than 70 000 members in good standing in Durban, has opposed xenophobia and sought to build a politics rooted in democratically run land occupations open to all. During period waves of xenophobic violence, always incited and sanctioned to some degree by the state, the movement has taken direct action to 'shelter and defend' people under attack.


Friday, 8 May 2020
Abahlali baseMjondolo press statement

Serious Concern at Escalating State Xenophobia



The crisis caused by the coronavirus is being exploited by the government as an excuse to repress those it has always wanted to repress. There have been illegal and violent evictions in all the major cities, and for weeks our movement was specifically targeted for violent daily attacks in Durban.

Our members, neighbours, comrades and fellow human beings who were born in other countries are also facing serious discrimination from a xenophobic state during this crisis.

From the time that our movement was first formed in 2005 we made no distinction between people based on the country or province in which they were born. The strength of our movement is in the occupations and the unity between families and neighbours. We have always worked on the principle that if you live in an occupation you are from that occupation and you have the same rights as every other resident of that occupation, including the right to participate in all discussions and to accept nomination for elected office. We are proud that people born in different provinces and countries hold elected positions in our movement. We invite migrant organisations to participate in and address our assemblies and rallies. When there have been xenophobic attacks we have always committed ourselves to shelter and defend the people under attack.

The politicians always try to divide us by telling people that they are not getting secure access to land, or services, or houses, because there are people born in other provinces and countries in their communities. We always resist this. A person is a person where ever they may find themselves. The strength of the oppressed is in our unity.

When the coronavirus crisis started the first thing that the government did was to build a very expensive wall along the border with Zimbabwe. Now people who were born in other countries are being denied access to food parcels. Communities that are being told that ‘foreigners’ will be deported before their settlements are ‘dedensified’. Senior people in government are saying that when people are allowed to go back to work jobs must be reserved for South Africans and that businesses with ‘too many foreigners’ will not be allowed to reopen. All this talk from the South African government of ‘putting South Africans first’ is no different to the language of Donald Trump. They are trying to divide the oppressed and to encourage us to blame our own neighbours and comrades rather than the government and the capitalists for the worsening impoverishment in which we find ourselves.

The government keeps saying that ‘putting South Africans first’ is not xenophobic but this is no different to racists wanting to be able to keep being racists while denying that they are racists. All things must be given their true names. The work to ensure that all things are given their true names is important political work. Just as racism is racism xenophobia is xenophobia and we wish to say clearly that our government is deeply and deliberately xenophobic.

After the escape from the notorious Lindela ‘repatriation centre’ people from African and Asian countries are being forcibly ‘repatriated’. People from the UK and the USA are being treated with dignity and voluntarily sent home if they so wish. The racism that drives the government’s xenophobia is clear.

We have been providing food to our members who are not able to access grants. We make not distinctions on the basis of the province or country in which people were born. In some branches we have also set up communal kitchens, in which men and women are encouraged to share the work of cooking, to make food available to all our neighbours. Many people who were born in other countries are eating from these communal kitchens. This is not a case of South Africans helping migrants. It is a case of residents and neighbours working together to build mutual aid and solidarity. There are people born in other countries who are helping with the cooking and people born in South Africa who are only eating because they have access to the communal kitchens.

We will never deviate from the principle that a neighbour is a neighbour and a comrade is a comrade no matter where they were born.

We call on our comrades in the trade unions, residents’ associations and all other progressive forces to join us and take a clear and strong position against the xenophobia that is being pushed by the government while popular organisation and mobilisation have been radically restricted during this crisis.

South Africa belongs to all who live in it.

Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu.

Unyawo alunampumulo.

Mqapheli Bonono 073 0673 274
S’bu Zikode 083 547 0474
Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686

southern africa / history / opinion / analysis Thursday December 12, 2019 14:58 byWarren McGregor (ZACF)

The history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), formed in South Africa in 1919, is replete with lessons for today's movements. The ICU, which also spread into neighbouring colonies like Basutoland (now Lesotho), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Southwest Africa (now Namibia) was by far the largest protest movement and organisation of black African and Coloured people of its time. Influenced by a range of ideas, including revolutionary syndicalism, the ICU had both amazing strengths and spectacular failings. This piece explains.

The relevance of the ICU of Africa for modern day unions and liberation movements

Presentation at the launch of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) Centennial Exhibition, William Cullen Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

17 August 2019

Author’s note: the following is based on a 15 minute spoken presentation delivered by the author at the event. It was not meant and should not be read as an exhaustive historical or critical account of the ICU.

INTRODUCTION

Amandla!

Audience: Awethu!

So, the audience is good. I suppose there is no need to talk about myself. Noor Nieftagodien, of Wits History Workshop, has mentioned I’m involved in workers’ and union education, and an activist. Importantly, I am an anarchist, which means I am a syndicalist. But, despite my ideological affiliations, I am also quite non-sectarian.

I am excited to be part of a larger project on revisiting the history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), along with Professor Noor, and with my comrade Professor Lucien van der Walt, down at the university still-called Rhodes. My experience in Industrial Sociology over the last few years, and my interest in labour history and left theory have indicated to me that there has been a dramatic drop in interest in labour studies, and in particular labour history.

This project, that I am fortunate to be involved in, will help change this. It aims at revisiting the history of the ICU, to recover or uncover and publish primary and secondary material, and to redevelop an interest in relatively neglected histories of popular and working class resistance and movements. The labour scholars involved in the project are also quite interested in questioning many earlier narratives established about the ICU. These narratives include a “rise-and-fall” thesis, which ignores that much ICU organizing in colonial southern Africa well beyond its “heyday” of the 1920s. Some are also questioning understanding the ICU through the prism of the personalities and actions of leaders and, thus, the narratives around contestations of power within the ICU.

I think what the project is proposing is a deeper look at its history – a much richer history that is to be uncovered. This panel is part of that initial discussion. This project, this exhibition and this discussion today goes beyond these narratives, and also aims at examining the ICU’s particular relevance for working class and poor people’s organisations and movement building today. This is what I want to focus on in the minutes that I have remaining.

WHAT WAS THE ICU?

Firstly, the ICU, as most of us will know having gone through all of the material at this was formed in 1919, amongst black – meaning coloured and black African – workers at the docks in Cape Town. That’s a 100 years ago, and that’s what we are commemorating.

In a few years, it quickly developed into a large-scale black protest movement. Although not the first trade union of black African workers – that being the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa formed in 1917 in Johannesburg – the ICU rapidly developed into the most important black organisation and movement of working class and poor people in protest against colonialism, racism and capitalism in the early 20th century. It organised in urban, rural and small town communities and work places not only in South Africa, but across the southern African region including branches located in what was then Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, Southwest Africa and Basutoland.

It was by far the largest protest movement and organisation of black African people in its time, dwarfing and eclipsing the early South African National Native Congress (the early ANC) and the Communist Party of South Africa (the CPSA). To explain: by the 1940s, some 30 years after its formation, the ANC still only had around 4000 members; by the late 1920s, the CPSA had close to 2000 members. The ICU, however, at its height claimed close to 150 000 members in just South Africa. It drew its rank-and-file from communities experiencing the twin processes of a dramatically changing economic order that was violent, racist and exploitative, conditioned by colonial oppression, and the changing nature of African and black society with the breakdown of pre-existing social, political and economic orders under capitalism and the modern state.

The ICU’s influence must not only been seen in terms of numbers of rank-and-file members, but also in light of the impact and influence working class organizations have on the consciousness of the communities where workers and rank-and-file union members reside. These communities also benefit in real terms from the progressive gains won by movements in which workers are involved. The ICU was a pivot of protest, was involved in community-based movements, and was a power in the land.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE ICU

The ICU’s weaknesses have been written about in depth. Some of these include the “big man” politics it suffered, and which split it; there was little follow-through on promises, and weak articulation between its means and ends in key regards; there was and no real, developed sense of how to sustain and continue to build a large movement over a long period of time. At particular points in its history there was little democratic rank-and-file involvement in organisational affairs, beyond electing certain local representatives. Many officials were also appointed by leaders and hired from outside the organization. Later, parts of the ICU developed quite an unfortunate penchant for ethnic tribalism, which was mobilised in contestations for control by certain leaders.

However, its key strength, and what made it so attractive to many, was its ability to develop its own repertoire of ideas and actions. The ICU, importantly, developed a new consciousness and militancy amongst oppressed black people, and the Union acted as a consciously political movement. It was a union but it was not a union with a narrow focus. It was the primary political movement for oppressed black people at the time, a filter for expression and a body for action by the downtrodden. It spoke to, and form a black majority. Importantly, it not only organised in urban workplaces, but in small communities and rural towns, not just amongst workers, but among sharecroppers and other peasantry battling against capitalist land dispossession and racist accumulation and proletarianisation.

Its tactics were conditioned by local experiences, and from its outset, by both racial liberation, and class-based struggles. It did not distinguish race and class as separate terrains of struggle, but saw these conjoined forces of domination in the southern African economic, political and social condition. It saw the black working class and poor as one big body of the oppressed, it actively organised across colonial borders, and it located the struggle in southern Africa in the global struggle of the working class.

REVOLUTIONARY UNIONISM OF A SPECIAL TYPE

Now, how was it actually perceived? According to one-time ICU activist, Jason Jingoes (quoted in Helen Bradford’s fantastic book on the rural ICU, A Taste of Freedom),

“…although its initials stood for a fancy title, to us Bantu, it meant basically that when you ill-treat the African people, I See You. If you kick them off the pavements I See You. When an African woman with a child on her back is knocked down by the cars in the street, I See You. I See You when you kick my brother. I See You.”


Thus the ICU exhibited many aspects of a highly politicised unionism – not the political unionism we see today, where the union outsources politics to a party and chases state power. It aimed at fundamentally transforming relationships of ownership and control for oppressed black and working class people. It saw itself as a transformative organization; an organisation that would be at the forefront of challenging domination, oppression and exploitation.

Despite some members and leaders having “dual” membership, including in the ANC and CPSA, the ICU had tenuous, mostly informal links with political party, and nationalist formations. I wold argue that it did not see political parties, nationalist formations or state power as the vehicles for social transformation. I think this is vital to any present and future reading of the ICU.

It engaged the state, to be sure, for example, attempting to leverage its position by utilizing Native Advisory Boards in the townships, or even running court cases and appearing at government commissions. It engaged with other organisations that were claiming leadership of African, black and workers struggles, including parties and other unions. But it never saw parties and state power as the primary loci of transformation.

RELEVANCE FOR UNIONS AND MOVEMENTS TODAY

There are many lessons trade unions and oppressed people’s movements can learn via a critical reappraisal of the ICU, not only what pitfalls to avoid, but also by understanding that many circumstances confronting organizations today were faced by the ICU in the first half of the 20th century.

The ICU organised in what organisers and activists have always considered difficult terrains. Its rural base, particularly by the later 1920s in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in the 1930s, was substantial, and at times militant in thought and deed. This allowed the ICU to articulate and develop a profound response to the land question, which included union ownership schemes, through which it espoused the aim of eventual collective, de-colonised and de-commodified working class and black ownership.

It had many ideological influences, including Garveyism, social democracy and Christian millenarianism. However, its ideas for organisation and social transformation, and its stress on the centrality of unions, not parties, also signify its revolutionary syndicalist roots and influences. It imagined, and saw itself as a One Big Union, and this union seen as the most strategic tool for anti-capitalist and anti-colonial struggle. The syndicalist impulse cannot be ignored because it saw in the union the instrument of working class and black liberation in southern Africa.

CONCLUSION

I will conclude by saying that a re-examination of the ICU reveals a broader imagination of what a union can be, and its potential role in transforming society. It had a somewhat pre-figurative politics, aiming to build tomorrow today; this was developed in relation to an Africa that was being transformed by colonial domination and racist capitalist development.

It was not simply the product of external ideological influences and socio-economic pressures, but also made by its rank-and-file, and by its internal organizational imperatives and pressures. It was able to use its organisation and its struggles to develop its own repertoire of ideas, politics and action, prefiguring a new social order by developing independent working class organisation bent on transforming society.

I would propose that as you consider the ICU you shift your analytical eye from the more usual national and nationalist lens and personality narratives that I mentioned earlier – with their focus on individuals and contestations for individual power, their triumphalist story of the rise of the ANC and CPSA, and their narrow views on what unions can or should be.

I would advise a focus on the modes of ideological, political and organisational development as dialectical processes informed by the cries, demands and actions of the working class and peasant rank-and-file and their communities. Thus considered, it is not that difficult to see the ICU not just as a union, as we know them now, but a creative rebellion. Its experiences offer rich lessons, to be visited through honest analytical re-appraisal, which are relevant to modern day unions and liberation movements – if they choose to learn these. The ICU fought for the possibility of a better world…we can redevelop this imagination by learning from it and our collective pasts.

Thank you.

ENDS

Η Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (Ένωση Βιομηχανικών και Εμπορικών Εργατών Αφρικής - ICU) ιδρύθηκε στο Κέιπ Τάουν το 1919. Το 1920 συγχωνεύθηκε με την επαναστατική συνδικαλιστική ένωση, Industrial Workers of Africa (Βιομηχανικοί Εργάτες της Αφρικής) και άλλα συνδικάτα. Μεγάλωσε ταχύτατα στη Νότια Αφρική μεταξύ της έγχρωμης και μαύρης εργατικής τάξης και των εκμισθωτών γης. Εξαπλώθηκε επίσης, τις δεκαετίες του 1920 και του 1930, σε γειτονικές χώρες.

Η ηρωική ιστορία της Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (ICU): Αντλώντας διδάγματα

Η Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union of Africa (Ένωση Βιομηχανικών και Εμπορικών Εργατών Αφρικής - ICU) ιδρύθηκε στο Κέιπ Τάουν το 1919. Το 1920 συγχωνεύθηκε με την επαναστατική συνδικαλιστική ένωση, Industrial Workers of Africa (Βιομηχανικοί Εργάτες της Αφρικής) και άλλα συνδικάτα. Μεγάλωσε ταχύτατα στη Νότια Αφρική μεταξύ της έγχρωμης και μαύρης εργατικής τάξης και των εκμισθωτών γης. Εξαπλώθηκε επίσης, τις δεκαετίες του 1920 και του 1930, σε γειτονικές χώρες.

Η ICU δεν ήταν ακριβώς επαναστατική συνδικαλιστική ένωση, αλλά επηρεάστηκε από τον επαναστατικό συνδικαλισμό.

Οι στόχοι της ICU ήταν μερικές φορές λίγο συγκεχυμένοι. Είχε δεχθεί επιρροές από αρκετές και ετερόκλητες ιδέες και ρεύματα. Ωστόσο, από το Καταστατικό της, που υιοθετήθηκε το 1925, και πολλές ομιλίες και ανακοινώσεις, συνάγεται ότι ο απώτερος στόχος της ήταν να καταργηθεί το ταξικό σύστημα μέσω της εργατικής και της άμεσης δράσης και να αναδιανεμηθεί εξίσου η οικονομική και πολιτική εξουσία σε συνδυασμό με τους οργανωμένους εργαζόμενους ανά τον κόσμο. Τα συνδικάτα να αναλάβουν τη λειτουργία των εργοστασίων και των αγροκτημάτων. Στη Νότια Αφρική, αυτό σήμαινε επίσης την κατοχή γης από πλευράς των μαύρων και των έγχρωμων εργατών, τερματίζοντας έτσι την εξουσία των λευκών μεγαλοαγροτών. Η ICU είχε ως στόχο να τερματίσει την εθνική καταπίεση στη Νότια Αφρική, φέροντας στο προσκήνιο του έγχρωμους εργάτες.

Στο Καταστατικό της ICU δηλωνόταν ότι η οργάνωση επιδίωκε την αναδιοργάνωση της κοινωνίας σύμφωνα με τις σοσιαλιστικές γραμμές και σύμφωνα με την αρχή: "Από τον καθένα σύμφωνα με τις ικανότητές του, στον καθένα σύμφωνα με τις ανάγκες του".

Ο βραχυπρόθεσμος στόχος της ICU ήταν η οργάνωση των εργαζομένων σε όλες τις βιομηχανίες, τόσο στις αστικές όσο και στις αγροτικές περιοχές. Οι αγωνιστές της ICU πίστευαν ότι η δύναμή τους ήταν στους αριθμούς τους που θα μπορούσε να αυξηθούν με τη συνένωση όλων των εργαζομένων σε μια "Μεγάλη Ένωση” (“One Big Union”). Πολλά μέλη δεν ήταν εργαζόμενοι. Ήταν εκμισθωτές αγρότες, δηλαδή αγροτικές οικογένειες που ενοίκιαζαν γη από λευκούς μεγαλοαγρότες, πληρώνοντας με εργασία, καλλιέργειες ή χρήμα.

Ένα μεγάλο επίτευγμα της ICU με τους αριθμούς, ήταν ότι η οργάνωση είχε πάνω από 100.000 μέλη μόνο στη Νότια Αφρική - και κατάφερε επίσης να κινητοποιηθεί σε μεγάλο μέρος της ευρύτερης περιοχής της Νότιας Αφρικής. Η ICU ήταν το μεγαλύτερο συνδικαλιστικό σωματείο που είχε ριζώσει στην αφρικανική ήπειρο μέχρι τη δεκαετία του 1940.

Ένα άλλο σημαντικό επίτευγμα ήταν ότι τα μέλη της οργάνωσης, στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του 1920, ήταν κυρίως εργάτες γης και μισθωτοί αγρότες, οι οποίοι γενικά είναι πολύ πιο δύσκολο να οργανωθούν από ό,τι οι εργάτες των πόλεων. Δημιουργήθηκαν επίσης διεθνείς συνδέσεις, κυρίως με αμερικανικά και βρετανικά συνδικάτα.

Η ICU είχε μια βασική ταξική ανάλυση και μια ιδέα για το τι ήθελε (μια ελεύθερη κοινωνία, όπου οι μαύροι και οι έγχρωμοι αντιμετωπίζονταν με αξιοπρέπεια και όπου οι εργαζόμενοι δεν εκμεταλλεύονταν) και τι να χρησιμοποιούν (συνδικάτα) για να φτάσουν εκεί. Ωστόσο, δεν υπήρχε στρατηγική ανάλυση του τρόπου με τον οποίο θα μπορούσε να συμβάλει η συνδικαλιστική οργάνωση της ICU. Αυτό, σε συνδυασμό με την κακή οργάνωση και τα προβλήματα με τη χρηματοδότηση και τις εσωτερικές διαμάχες, έκανε τη ICU εντελώς αναποτελεσματική, παρά τη δύναμή της σε μέλη.

Επίσης, η πολιτική της ICU συχνά συγχέεται. Μερικές φορές η ICU χρησιμοποιουσε μια ταξική ανάλυση, μερικές φορές ήταν εθνικιστική, μερικές φορές ήταν ριζοσπατική, μερικές φορές ήταν πολύ μέτρια. Μίλησε για απεργίες, αλλά δεν διοργάνωσε πολλούς. Μίλησε για δομές από τη βάση προς την κορυφή, αλλά πολλοί ηγέτες της ήταν διεφθαρμένοι και η ευθύνη ήταν αδύναμη. Στις αρχές της δεκαετίας του 1930, η ICU είχε καταρρεύσει στη Νότια Αφρική.

*Το κείμενο γράφτηκε από τον Warren McGregor (TAAC, ZACF), με τη βοήθεια των συντρόφων Abram, Anathi, Bongani, Eric, Jane, Leila, Lucky, Mzee, Nobuhle, Nonzukiso, Pitso, Siya, Warren.

**Μετάφραση: Ούτε Θεός-Ούτε Αφέντης.

***Πηγή: www.zabalaza.net

southern africa / the left / opinion / analysis Sunday September 08, 2019 06:04 byJonathan Payn

The first part of this series stated that, despite various well-intentioned efforts by forces on the extra-Alliance and independent left over recent years to unite working class struggles in South Africa, these largely have and will continue to fail to resonate with the working class, help build unity in struggle and form the basis of a new movement because of the theoretical understandings of class and power – and their strategic implications – on which they are founded and which are prevalent on much of the left.

This article will give a basic overview of these theoretical understandings of class and power and their strategic implications and limitations and why it is therefore necessary to refine and develop understandings of class and power more capable of responding to the context of the neoliberal restructuring of the working class in order to advance the class struggle in pursuit of socialism.

[Part 1]

Class struggle, the Left and power – Part 2

Jonathan Payn (ZACF)

The first part of this series stated that, despite various well-intentioned efforts by forces on the extra-Alliance and independent left over recent years to unite working class struggles in South Africa, these largely have and will continue to fail to resonate with the working class, help build unity in struggle and form the basis of a new movement because of the theoretical understandings of class and power – and their strategic implications – on which they are founded and which are prevalent on much of the left.

This article will give a basic overview of these theoretical understandings of class and power and their strategic implications and limitations and why it is therefore necessary to refine and develop understandings of class and power more capable of responding to the context of the neoliberal restructuring of the working class in order to advance the class struggle in pursuit of socialism.

THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS OF NUMSA’S NON-MOMENT

The strategic approach that Numsa’s bureaucracy and permanent leaders have taken since its 2013 Special National Congress, from calling for the launch of a “United Front against to neoliberalism”, exploring “the establishment of a Movement for Socialism” to the launch of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) is, like Cosatu and the SACP, informed by its class analysis. In fact, it is informed by the same class analysis.

According to this analysis capitalism is a class society in which the ruling class minority (bourgeoisie) exploits the working class majority (proletariat) in order to extract a profit (surplus value) to become even more rich and powerful. It is able to do this because it holds private ownership of the means of production (factories, land, mines etc.), which is legally recognised and protected by the state. Because the working class owns nothing – due to “primitive accumulation” (e.g. colonialism, dispossession of land and the means of production from the direct producers) – workers are force to sell their labour in exchange for a wage in order to buy the goods they need to survive (commodities) on the market. Class is defined primarily in terms of one’s relations to the means of production: the ruling class owns the means of production but doesn’t do productive work, the working class sells its labour for a wage at the point of production but doesn’t own it.

This, inevitably, gives rise to the class struggle for greater economic gains and an extension of rights and freedoms, in which the (permanently employed) industrial proletariat is identified as the only revolutionary subject because of its location at the point of production (factories, mines) and, therefore, its ability to withdraw its labour by going on strike. Because they are not considered to have the potential to be revolutionary other sectors of the working class, such as the peasantry (small farmers and rural workers) and “lumpen proletariat” (the unemployed, people working in the informal economy etc.), are typically ignored. Something which might help explain why, despite all their lip service to the contrary, all the major unions – whether Cosatu, Saftu or others – have by and large not only failed but never seriously tried to organise precarious labour broker, casual and short-term contract workers.

However, according to this theory the working class, including the revolutionary subject (industrial workers), is struggling so much just to survive that they cannot develop a revolutionary consciousness and their demands and struggles are only centred around so-called bread and butter issues. Because the working class is only capable of reaching this, what Lenin called “trade union consciousness” it needs to be led by a political vanguard of so-called revolutionaries organised in the form of a political party that seeks state power in order to implement socialism through the state.

Sectors of the working class outside of the permanently employed industrial proletariat are not only ignored or dismissed for not being revolutionary but even looked down on with disdain by this self-declared revolutionary vanguard – which might explain both the Numsa leadership’s reference to community struggles as “leaderless and disorganised” and the heckling by Numsa delegates to the Working Class Summit when, for example, unemployed community activists and farmworkers expressed different opinions.

STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS & LIMITATIONS THEREOF

As stated, the ruling class minority is able to get away with this situation of exploitation and injustice with the help of the state. The state, according to this analysis, is a neutral institution that can function in the interests of the working class or ruling class depending on what forces are in control of state power. Because the state is understood to be neutral state power is therefore something that, if under the control of a socialist or workers’ party, can be used in the interests of the working class and in pursuit of socialism.

The implication of this analysis, besides overlooking the creative revolutionary potential of the vast majority of the working class, is that the building of a political party to contest state power is both necessary and inevitable. This can either be done by contesting elections (reformist socialism) or an armed uprising (revolutionary socialism).

Because, again according to this analysis, the broader working class is supposedly incapable of being revolutionary and therefore requires an enlightened revolutionary vanguard to take control of the state and implement socialism from above; and because power is seen to lie primarily in the state and as something to be “seized” or “taken” so-called mass movements, such as unions, social movements and the United Front, are but a means to an end. That end is to build support for the party and help get it into state power – either by voting or through revolution.

However, because the state by its nature is an authoritarian and hierarchical institution that centralises decision-making and other power, which flows from the top down, so too does every political party whose aim it is to gain state power replicate this structure. Moreover, because the leaderships thereof – including socialist and workers’ parties – inherit the privileges and power of the predecessors they dispose of, instead of destroying exploitative class relations they tend to and have, historically, simply reproduced them in the name of the workers and poor.

The next installation in this education series will look at a more nuanced theoretical understanding of class and power and the strategic implications thereof for building working class unity in struggle that offer an alternative to the tried, tested and consistently disappointing state-centric one on which the SRWP and much of the left is based.


This article first appeared in issue 113 of Workers World News, produced by the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)

southern africa / the left / debate Sunday September 08, 2019 05:38 byLucien van der Walt

This is a lightly edited transcription of a talk given by Prof. Lucien van der Walt on a panel on the eve of the 2019 national elections in South Africa: the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)/ Workers World Media Productions (WWMP) Public Forum, Isivivana Centre, Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa 25 April.

Should the Anti-Capitalists Contest Elections?

THANK YOU comrades for the points that you have made. Should anti-capitalists vote? The quick answer is "no." Let's be clear, the right to vote is important. It is better to be under a state where you can vote, where there are some basic civil and political rights, than under, for example, the apartheid state that we had. It is not that there is no difference - it is big victory for the working class that we're under a bourgeois parliamentary democracy.

Having said that, using the state and using elections is not something that is going to take the working class forward, it is not something that is going to enable the working class to build the capacity to take power directly by itself, through bottom-up organs of working class democracy.

Let's be clear: this isn't an argument about whether comrades are sincere in their programmes when forming parties, it is not an argument that genuine comrades who believe in the party model secretly have malicious plans to get rich. We know that there are many politicians who are in it to get money, but not all.

So this is a message to the sincere comrades, of the left.

Fundamentally the state is not an organization that is able to ensure the deeper change, the creation of social and economic equality which we need in our country and in our society. The state is a top-down, centralised pyramid in the hands of a political elite of politicians, and of top government officials, who work with an economic elite, of big business people. Together this is the ruling class, a powerful minority that contrls society, and monopolizes power and wealth through states and corporations.

We can have formal political and civil rights, but in the context of deep, profound, immiserating inequality in power and wealth, those rights are very limited. We all have the right to free speech but one person, sleeping under a bridge, and another person, the editor of a newspaper -- well, one person's right to free speech and another person's right to free speech, can be completely different in reality. If you are desperately dependent on an employer to survive, to get a small amount of money, so that you can feed your kids, you are not likely to cause trouble and invoke your formal rights as a worker.

So, for the proper exercise of rights, you need equality in society -- not just to be equal on paper. To that end we need a massive redistribution of power and wealth in society: we need to move away from a society in which run by, and for, a small ruling class of politicians, officials and capitalists.

As a simple example, to get decent housing in South Africa, we would have to spend billions of rands, we would have to redirect the construction industry away from producing shopping malls, from suburban houses, gentrified coffee shops and craft beer saloons. We would have to control the resources -- the labour, the materials, the infrastructure -- and we would have to have the power to decide that those resources go into housing -- rather than something else.

Then we can start to talk about the large-scale delivery of decent housing for ordinary people. I don't mean a little shacks, I don't mean the tiny two room houses the state provides when pressured.

FROM FLOOR: Viva!

I am talking about housing where you can live in dignity, where, essentially we abolish the township system of large, segregated, impoverished working class districts, under-serviced, badly maintained, ill-treated, and sharply distinct from the suburbs. A massive redistribution of power and wealth enables us to move away from that system, and create unified towns -- not bigger townships, but the end of townships by making the townships suburbs.

Now, that requires some massive redistribution of wealth and power -- and direct control by ordinary people. And you will never get that by getting a piece of paper in a box every five years and hoping some politician will carry out their promises.

Comrade Zama Timbela, on my left, of the Progressive Civic Movement, was quite clear and totally correct: we have tried, and we are not the only ones who have tried. Many, many people have tried this. People much better than me have tried. If someone like Nelson Mandela couldn't change the system, if pretty much anyone you care to name ended up producing that same inequality in society, why is it going to be different this time? How many more times do we have to form and support parties, and watch them fail the working class?

You cannot with the best will in the world make a car fly. It is the nature of the thing. You cannot make a dog go "meow." You cannot take a state, which has got a very specific purpose in society -- keeping the ruling class on top -- and make it do something different.

I understand comrades' argument that we want to use the state, and parliament, and elections, to make propaganda -- and there we agree. But we disagree on how.

This comes down to how we analyse the state. The nature of the state is twofold. One, it is about the defence of inequality in society. Adam Smith, the famous liberal economist said, the wealthy, could not sleep peacefully at night unless there was an armed body, which could protect them: the state. The state's role is to maintain the status quo.

FROM FLOOR: Thank you!

Second, the state serves is controlled directly by that ruling class, and the ruling class is not just capitalists in the private sector. The ruling class includes those people who control the army, the police, the parliamentarians, the mayor, the vice chancellor -those are all part of the ruling class and they have some disagreements, how much cattle or cash must this one pay to this one in a bribe, who gets a contract from ESKOM for coal, how much tax must be paid, how best to control and exploit the working class.

But all these differences fall aside when it comes to basic things. If you want to occupy some land for a shack, you are going to face evictions, jail. The union comrades will know that when you go on strike, the police will be there -- not to arrest the bosses, but to police you. On strike you can be beaten, you will not get paid, you will get killed in some cases. On the other side, you could be like Marcus Jooste, and defraud people of nearly R40 billion, or like Jacob Zuma and be involved in "state capture" scams that amount to an estimated R100 billion, and you will not be arrested, evicted, or jailed. You will have to testify in parliament, maybe, and then you can go home to your mansion. You can loot ESKOM so much, that South Africa now has less electricity than it did in 2009, and all you will face is a toothless commission.

So, on one side, simply by maintaining the status quo of inequality, powerful monopoly corporations, deeply entrenched inequality in decision-making and income and resources across society, including in the state -- the household of the former president, Zuma, cost tax payers up to R500 million, while people in expanded public works earn less than R20 an hour -- the state ensures the current system goes on.

And, on the other side, the state is an apparatus for the direct accumulation of wealth and power. Senior state office, whether national, provincial or local, gives access to state resources. High salaries and perks -- more than a million rand a year, a house, flights, free airtime just to sit in parliament -- and even more -- access to big money through the Public Investment Corporation (PIC)and state banks, giant state capitalist firms like ESKOM, and thousands of opportunities for graft through state contracts and outsourcing, all the way down. The Eastern Cape province has tens of thousands of "procurement points"; a municipality can have up to a thousand contracts with the private sector. State power means you can give those contracts to family, friends, fronts: then you, the politician, are sorted. And this is, sadly, what a lot of political party activity in South Africa is all about. Not the people, the politicians.

Votes are not going to change the system. Voting is not going to change the system. Major decisions are completely outside of the control of ordinary people on a day-to-day basis. It is better to have a non-racial parliament than P.W, Botha, but parliament is not democracy. It is a shell covering something else. Look on TV at parliament, watch the shenanigans of overpaid politicians, earning a million rand a year, wearing overalls or Gucci suits -- I don't care which -- as they posture, parade and make speeches! These are rich, powerful people; they are not there for you, they are doing a job where you do not even get fined if you never come to work.

If you think they really represent you, then think about what they really do. At elections they talk to you and promise the world, but you will see, sooner or later, what world you will get. We never voted for privatization in 1994, but we got it. We never voted for police to be sent onto our campuses, we got it. We never voted for a job-loss bloodbath, we got it. We never voted for the "state capture" project, we got it.

And this isn't a question of which particular party - I want to be clear - this is not a question of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), or the rival, conservative Democratic Alliance (DA, which rules here in Cape Town) or the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an ANC breakaway that talks about socialism but has allied with DA all over the country. The DA evicts people, the ANC complains. The ANC evicts people, the DA complains. EFF, well it will evict people all on its own, if it ever had direct control of a municipality - and in fact it has served for years in municipal coalition governments with the DA, and so, been party to DA evicting people.

It is not a question of which party. We also need to get away from the thing that the problem is a few bad apples, a few bad people that we solve it if we replace Mbeki with Zuma, and Zuma with Ramaphosa, in the ANC, or Malema from EFF, or Maimane from DA - it does not matter.

This is where the idea of running a party to use elections for tactical reasons is a mistake. Yes, the masses do look at elections: but why not give them a different message? Why tell people to vote for a party, to expose the system, as if that does not teach people to trust the system? Yes, the political temperature of the working class rises at elections, but why give the message "vote" if know voting is based on an illusion in the state? That is creating illusions.

Yes, comrades, I recognize the new Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, linked to the left-wing National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), wants a "dictatorship of the proletariat" and so on -- and states that it does not believe in a parliamentary road to socialism. I know the party says it's running in elections for tactical reasons, mainly to make propaganda. But the reality is that most people outside the party cadre will and do think the party is promising to deliver more and better, and that the issues is just that the state is run by the wrong party.

Yes, you can use parliament for propaganda, the EFF showed it brilliantly - brilliantly! They made parliament interesting to watch. In the old days it wasn't interesting to watch, unless you were having trouble sleeping and then you could take tips from the people in parliament.

But fundamentally that does nothing to build a bottom-up movement, it makes people into spectators at a show, politics into a performance by a few leaders. And, fundamentally the use of parties in elections, whatever the aims, is a method that sows illusions in the state. The idea that the masses must be encouraged to vote, so they can learn the hard lessons, is irresponsible. If you have a child and they burn their hand, they learn a lesson. But you don't encourage them to burn their hand so they can be learn the lesson: you say "don't burn your hand, don't touch the fire!" The same thing with elections.

To sum up: you are not going to change the system with a piece of paper; if you want to vote, vote, that is your right; but it's not going to change things. If people want to set up a party, good for them. And I respect the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party for at least putting a radical platform out there. But it is still not going to solve the problems.

First, political parties don't change the state, the state changes political parties; people change. High salaries, access to contracts, and the exercise of power -- these things change people. We cannot pretend someone from the working class, now suddenly rich, and busy running the state, is still working class in interest, experience or outlook.

Rather than political parties being the power of the people inside the state, they actually become the power of the state inside the working class, using networks of patronage, providing access for a select few to escape the working class and move into the elite, corrupting and capturing the leadership of working class movements including unions, and teaching the masses to have faith in the state -- an organisation that oppresses them.

The party system generates divisions in the working class, as politicians chase votes: in South Africa, it's perfectly clear that race tensions are inflamed by the parties. The party system creates a culture of dependency on the state: "we want the state to deliver, give us this, give us that." People are left passive, disempowered from decisions, only briefly emerging in voting and --sometimes -- in protests. The rest of the time, they have no control over their daily lives. The party system promotes a Moses syndrome: people are taught to wait for a Moses to bring freedom to take them to the land of Canaan. But none of these politicians is Moses, and there is no Canaan to be found in following them. In electing them, you are putting them in a land of milk and honey you will never enter.

If no state can really make a difference, and I include the so-called socialist states, which were class societies based on state-capitalism, if no state has put the working class, the poor, the peasants in power, then we need to think of a way that ordinary people can take power without the state. We need a politics at a distance from the state, we need to build organs of people's power and of workers' control, that in the current period can defend the working class -- and that can develop the capacities for the people to take over, directly, themselves, without the state.

Second, rejecting the use of the vote is not rejecting democracy, but fighting for democracy: parliament is not democracy, so if you want democracy you need to build it outside the state.

Comrade Mandisi Vatu, from the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party: we have had this discussion before, so I am happy to meet you on this panel again. And I still ask: why does NUMSA want to put their faith into a party? What does a party add? Why doesn't NUMSA prepare its members to seize and occupy and run the metal industry? You have 350 000 people, you have structures of workers' control, so expand the workers' democracy, from your structures outwards. The older unions, in the 1980s, argued that workers' control of the unions should be expanded into workers' control of the economy and we should get back to that. A large section of the anti-apartheid movement aimed to replace apartheid state structures with organs of people's power, where civic organisations would take power in the townships. We should get back to that. Why outsource to a party, when a party cannot do these jobs, and when the state is the enemy?

What we have to do is organize and educate people and what that means is organizing people bottom up, to struggle, bottom-up to empower their daily lives, bottom up so they can actually have democracy. You will not have democracy with the state, but you can get it with your neighbours. You can get it with your workmates. And you can build in that a seed of a democracy where people redistribute wealth and power downwards - that is exactly what I mean. Society based on assemblies, community and worker councils that can plan the economy democratic.

FROM FLOOR: Viva!

Organise outside the state. The state is part of the problem. It is not the solution! The problem is not the capitalists, somewhere out there, that the state will sort out, that the state will serve the people. The state and the capitalists are two parts of the same, basic system.

We cannot get away from theory and ideology here. The comrade from the floor who raised the question of the importance of a programme is correct: yes, we need to have ideas and we need to think about how we link struggles today to deeper changes tomorrow, we need to think practically without getting stuck in reformism. And this is where theory comes in.

Struggle just isn't enough. We saw this with the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa, where people rebelled to demand parliamentary democracy. Just that. And what we saw is that, if we don't have direction, you get pushed back or moved aside, and lose out. In Egypt, the masses overthrew the military regime, and got elections to parliament. A far-right party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was the main force ready to take the gap. It won the elections and was so reactionary, killing opponents, terrorising minorities like the Christians, that millions of people breathed a sigh of relief when the military seized power again. They were back to square one. It is nonsense to think that struggle alone is enough, or even to pretend that struggle automatically takes us towards socialism and democracy. It does not and it cannot.

So, it is not enough just to struggle: we need to link daily struggle systematically towards a larger program of changing society. This is why I am glad that the comrades here, from the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, are raising the issues of a bigger project that builds on, but goes way beyond, immediate struggles, Because, ultimately, we need to be clear about what is wrong in society now, what our end goal of a new type of society is, and how we get from one to the other.

Comrade Ebrahim Fourie, on the panel, representing the Housing Assembly, is right that we need to be clear on words. Just to say that our end goal is "socialism" is too vague, as he notes. What does that mean? How do we get there? We need to engage theory, and history does matter; we cannot just say we're now in the 21st century, everything is new, and the past is dead. We need -- as different socialist currents -- to look at what we did wrong in the past and right as well.

Comrades have labelled me an "anarchist" …

CROWD: Laughter.

But it's a label I embrace! I am arguing for exactly that, anarchism and syndicalism: at the end of the day we need to be thinking about how the working class, and the popular classes more generally, can take power directly, and not keeping handing power over to others. If we reject capitalism, and if we reject the state, if we agree that handing power to politicians and parties has failed -- and failed it has, comrades, make no mistake, there is not one successful example of this freeing the masses -- then we need to build mass organisations that can fight in the present and replace capital and state in the future. So we must always draw a clear class-based distinction between the people of a country, and its ruling classes, and stay steadfast in being politically independent of the state, just as we are separate from the private corporations.

I appreciate that many comrades here feel solidarity with Venezuela, and so do I, since I oppose imperialist interventions. But I feel solidarity with the popular classes of Venezuela, not its regime. I feel solidarity with the people against both the United States government, and the Venezuelan government, both of which oppress the people. I do not choose between enemies and call this strategy. Likewise, I feel solidarity the people of Cuba, against the United States embargo, but I have no solidarity with the Cuban regime or the not Castro family.

A free society is one without social and economic inequality - a society in which ordinary people are in charge. In fact "ordinary people" in such a society are no longer "ordinary people" at all, since there is no elite against which we contrast the masses, the grassroots. There are no classes. We are all collectively owners of means of production, and we all collectively decide on how we use administrative, coercive and economic resources. We are in charge of schools, work and the community, and we can live lives of dignity and equality. We govern through assemblies, committees and councils, from the bottom up, with no ruling class minority. We have freedom of speech and association and belief, and we have equality through cooperation and community.

That means the abolition of the state. None of this is possible through, or under, a state structure. That also means the capitalism. While we live under systems which are pyramids, where a small ruling class holds the power and wealth, we will never be free. The masses cannot control a pyramid which is a way for a minority to centralise resources and decisions. You can vote how you like, but you do not control the MPs or the president, you can have a bank account but you do not control the bank. You can tweet President Ramaphosa, or write him an open letter, but he does not have the read it, and he does not have to do anything about it. That is the nature of the empty democracy we have.

You have to have substantial direct control. And that means that at the end of the day we have got to think how the working class can get some power today, and prepare for taking power directly in the future. We need permanent mass organizations in which we can debate the various perspectives, such as unions, neighbourhood groups, and unemployed organisations. I am against putting our faith in parties, but let's have political pluralism in mass organisations, and hammer out the issues. Let's test our different perspectives. Let's be willing to change our minds and learn from one another. Let us not pretend there aren't differences; differences matter. It should not be a precondition of joining a mass organisation that we support a particular party. And let us not exclude any party either.

This is part of building a counter-power, of mass-based organs of counter-power to resist in the present, and build capacities to take over in the future. We need to rebuild an alternative media and radical education. Today union investment firms hold major shares in Power FM, eTV and other broadcasters, yet these do nothing to promote working class hegemony or socialism or anarchism. We need to have a discussion on how to relink Unions and community. We need to think about ways that unions, and communities, have created alternatives in the past. Unions used the run, here in Cape Town, the Ray Alexander Workers Clinic. Why not revive such things? If the state has failed with public health, let's start asking the state to deliver public health, let's have our own clinics. Let's get workers' radio and TV going -- not just a slot here and there, but as part of a systematic alternative. Let's get the big battalions of the working class onto building alternative institutions.

Let's rebuild worker/ community alliances and fundamentally let's find ways to unite the exploited and oppressed, who are pitted against each other, every day: Coloured versus black versus white, South African versus foreign. And to unite people we have to fight the oppression amongst ourselves. Not as something after the revolution but as a precondition to unity now. But, we also have to understand that without a fundamental change in society, and a new system of equality and freedom, we are not going to tear up the roots of women's oppression, of racism, of anti-immigrant ideas.

So, build alternative institutions that educate, organize people and build an alternative at a distance from the state. If you want democracy, make it. Build it now. Parliament is not democracy, the party road has failed, we need to build organs of counter-power and a project of revolutionary counter-culture. Thanks!

APPLAUSE.

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George Floyd: one death too many in the “land of the free”

George Floyd: one death too many in the “land of the free”

Southern Africa

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