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southern africa / workplace struggles / opinion / analysis Saturday May 12, 2018 19:31 byBongani Maponyane

There has been a lot of talk about the promise of a National Minimum Wage (NMW) in South Africa. This means wages cannot go below a certain level. But capitalists and politicians continue to eat the food of the workers, the poor and unfortunate. Why? In some cases, the NMW is an improvement – but generally, the NMW is not a “living wage,” meaning a wage on which you can live a decent life. Prices keep going up. This society is based on the maximization of profit, this is its logic, and this means wages are not linked to what the workers and poor need, but to what bosses and politicians need. Wages are a system of exploitation. We live a capitalist society of stress and fear and jealousy, rooted in a system of cheap black labour, and power and profits for the bosses and politicians. We need to fight for something more, take back our unions, and lay the groundwork for an anarchists society, with equality based on workers and community councils.

There has been a lot of talk about the promise of a National Minimum Wage (NMW) in South Africa. This means wages cannot go below a certain level. But capitalists and politicians continue to eat the food of the workers, the poor and unfortunate. Why? In some cases, the NMW is an improvement – but generally, the NMW is not a “living wage,” meaning a wage on which you can live a decent life. Prices keep going up. This society is based on the maximization of profit, this is its logic, and this means wages are not linked to what the workers and poor need, but to what bosses and politicians need. Wages are a system of exploitation. We live a capitalist society of stress and fear and jealousy, rooted in a system of cheap black labour, and power and profits for the bosses and politicians. We need to fight for something more, take back our unions, and lay the groundwork for an anarchists society, with equality based on workers and community councils.


The workplace we have is not based on mutual aid (ubuntu), with people working together in harmony with each other to survive. It is based on feuds, due to people not being satisfied with what they earn, struggling under heavy workloads and overtime, and being squeezed by taxes like VAT (sales tax). This situation is squeezing workers dry, causing stress and conflict among workers, with finger pointing: who is working a better position and getting more pay? Is this because he or she has a good relation with the manager or supervisor? Meanwhile, management engages in massive retrenchments. The remaining workers end up working twice as hard for the same old wages. Wages are always lower than the value of work done under capitalism: this is exploitation. A NMW does not change that.


At the end of 2017, there were massive job losses at Anglo-Ashanti Mine at Carletonville, on the West Rand, with the closure of two of the biggest shafts. This was an unfortunate turn of events for the miners: some were retrenched and others were pushed to take up a Voluntary Service Package (VSP). This is something very common in the mining sector: it downsizes workers and ruins their lives, and brutalizes their families, to make extra profit for the individuals who own and run the business. This devastates local mining-based black working class communities like Khutsong township.


At Marikana, in Rustenburg, the 2012 massacre did not stop mine workers in the platinum mines. There was a massive strike some months later. Workers won a wage raise, but when all was done and dusted, thousands of jobs were lost afterwards.

This was to punish workers and ensure profits. So, people lost jobs after the successful negotiations for higher wages, which were led by the breakaway union, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Capitalists and economists and politicians saw the workforce as a problem, hampering capital and profit. They were right: higher wages do cut into profits. But that shows the system is unfair, because it makes profits by paying people indecently, and by always paying less than the value of work done.


Mines, like other sectors, were built on the backs of cheap black labour, a racist wage structure. Workplace structures were racist as well, with authoritarian management systems that controlled “general” workers in so-called unskilled jobs. This involved long hours at work for low pay, sometimes some of it kept back through various fines, deductions and cheating. More often than not, the worker was scared to claim the missing money.

The bosses want to keep this, post-apartheid, but in new ways: job losses, casualisation, police atttacks, and crippling the unions. In the mining sector, which the lifeblood of places like Carletonville, word is going around that jobs are becoming scarce. Unemployment is massive. People will take any job they can get, even bribing to get it, no matter the wage.

The leadership of the former vanguard trade union, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was corrupted by mine management and by the post-apartheid (the ruling African National Congress, ANC, has built a specially close link to the NUM leaders). At Carletonville, which is based on gold, NUM is still the main union.

But NUM numbers have been withering away. The biggest crisis for NUM is in platinum. Here AMCU, starting as a NUM breakway, has become a powerful challenge to NUM. It rode the 2012-2013 strike wave. But it has serious internal issues: lack of democracy and very high salaries for top union leaders, this is exactly what workers complained about in NUM.


Parliament talks about the corruption issues at leadership level, but the issue of massive job losses and the criminal nature of society based on exploitation and suffering is not addressed. There is not even a solution for people that lose their jobs. There is no welfare grant for the unemployed: only for children, pensioners and disabled.

Political parties talk “job creation” at elections but deliver nothing. Political parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have revived the NUM idea about employee share-ownership schemes (ESOPs) that would give some access to dividends and annual bonuses. But the money from shares comes from exploiting workers through the wage system, and falls when wages up. So ESOPs will actually punish workers for pushing wages up. They don’t ever involve enough shares to give real control, and don’t change the capitalism of the companies.


What we anarchists/ syndicalists want is workers and their communities to take complete and direct control of the firms, mines and workshops. Then they can control the real wealth for the country, and use it to benefit the masses – not the agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank or big firms like Lonmin or Anglo-American, or the politicians, no matter the party.

Workers must be united and not divided, this will make them a formidable force within the workplace. With this will be born a new revolutionary workers movement. We need to take back the unions, fight harder and stop hoping politicians will save us. We need to fight for a living wage, at a level set by the working class through campaigns and open discussion, and then win it by mobilising. The NMW level was set from above, without our say, but as a deal between elites, and that is why it is not a living wage.

To take back the unions, we need to form a rank-and-file reform movement in the unions, all the unions, to rebuild real workers’ control, independence from parties, and a fighting agenda for deep change. This means fighting by using daily struggles and education, and organising to build for a new anarchist/ syndicalist society of equality, workers and community councils – not more of the criminal system we have today. Politicians and parties are part of the problem, hand in glove with the bosses and capitalism and the state.

We need a movement of the working and poor masses.

southern africa / community struggles / press release Sunday April 22, 2018 02:43 byAbahlali baseMjondolo

Freedom Day is a national public holiday in South Africa. Each year Abahlali baseMjondolo, which has more than 50 000 paid up members in good standing, holds a heretical 'UnFreedom Day' to contest dominant ideologies.

20 April 2018
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

Unfreedom Day 2018

Abahlali baseMjondolo will hold its annual Unfreedom Day Rally on 22 April 2018 at the Springfield Park Sports Ground from 10:00 a.m.

We reject any so-called ‘freedom’ without access to land; the right to the cities; basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity; decent housing; accessible quality education; safe and affordable public transport; proper health care; safety in the streets and in our homes; and the right to participate in all decision making that affects our lives and communities.For as long as we, the majority of black people, are still living below the breadline we not free. Land and wealth must be shared fairly.

For as long as we remain excluded from decision making we are not free. Democracy must be extended into everyday life – into communities, workplaces and political organisations. Repression must be stopped and everyone must be able to organise and speak freely everywhere.

For as long as the ruling party actively encourages discrimination based on where people were born, and what languages they speak, we are not free. A neighbour is a neighbour and a comrade is a comrade without regard to the province or country in which they were born, or the language that they speak.

For as long as woman are not safe and respected, whether in the streets, at work or in their homes, we are not free. For as long as women are excluded from decision making we are not free. We are committed to building women’s power in struggle.

For as long as workers are exploited we are not fee. We need to build a progressive bloc that can unite organised workers, communities and movements in struggle.

We cannot lie to ourselves and say that we are free when those who are occupying land in order to live are tortured, harassed and murdered by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, the Red Ants and Law Enforcement, as well as the ruling party. We must be honest. In 2018 we are still oppressed. We are still being murdered in the struggle for land and dignity. Our lives still count for nothing in the eyes of the state.

We first called for the expropriation of land in 2005. Since then we have occupied and held land in numerous occupations at great cost. Our members know that the cost of land for impoverished black people is paid in suffering, blood and life. Knowing this our members continue to occupy and to hold land.

Today the ruling party speaks the language of Expropriation of Land without Compensation. But there are no clear answers to all the questions that arise: Who is doing the expropriation? Which land is going to be expropriated? Who will be given the land that is expropriated? Will it be politicians, the rich, traditional authority or impoverished people? What will the expropriated land be used for? How will the expropriated land be governed?

Private property was imposed by colonial conquest. Will there be a redistribution of private property from white to black owners? Will land be placed under the authority of chiefs who are no longer chiefs by the people but are now oppressors of the people? Or will land be placed under democratic and collective forms of ownership?

Our members have repeatedly stated and shown that they are willing to die for land. Yet the same people who are willing to suffer and to sacrifice their lives in the struggle for land, the same people who are actually occupying land, are not included in this new discussion about land.

We reject the new position that has been taken on the land question by the ANC as a lie to lure votes, a lie by an oppressive ruling party that has lost credibility among impoverished black people. If the ANC want to be seen as being on the side of the people they must immediately stop their on-going repression of land occupations and recognise that the land occupations in the cities are a form of urban planning from below. They must recognise that justice requires that the social value of land, land for living, is placed before its commercial value. They must support land occupations.

We will continue to build the democratic power of the oppressed from below. We will continue to build women’s power in the democratic movement from below. We will continue to make alliances with other popular organisations and struggles in South Africa and internationally to build a powerful and democratic movement from below for real freedom. We will continue to occupy land for living and survival.

We will make two major announcements that will be of interest to the media during UnFreedom Day. We have now concluded a long process, involving thousands of people in numerous discussions over many months, to arrive at a collective position on the land question. We will announce our position on the land question during UnFreedom Day. We have also been undertaking a membership audit. We will also announce the audited figure of our members in good standing.

Freedom without dignity is meaningless. Therefore Freedom Without Land Means Nothing.

Revolutionary democracy will make the path that will take us forward.

Land. Housing. Dignity.

Occupy. Resist. Develop.

Contact people:

Thapelo Mohapi 062 8925 323
Mqapheli Bonono 073 067 3274
Zandile Nsibande 062 947 1947
région sud de l'afrique / divers / opinion / analyse Monday April 16, 2018 17:56 byLeroy Maisiri

Cela fait environ cent jours depuis la naissance du "nouveau" Zimbabwe. Cent jour qu'il en est enfin fini des 37 ans de règne autoritaire par Robert Mugabe, chef d'état depuis 1980. Le Zimbabwe a un nouveau président, Emmerson Mnangagwa, qui a accédé au pouvoir grâce à un coup d'état militaire "soft" contre Robert Mugabe et son successeur choisi, Grace Mugabe. Récemment le Zimbabwe a également pleuré la mort de Morgan Tsvangirai, un leader de l'opposition, issu du syndicalisme, qui a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie à se battre contre Mugabe.

Cela fait environ cent jours depuis la naissance du "nouveau" Zimbabwe. Cent jour qu'il en est enfin fini des 37 ans de règne autoritaire par Robert Mugabe, chef d'état depuis 1980. Le Zimbabwe a un nouveau président, Emmerson Mnangagwa, qui a accédé au pouvoir grâce à un coup d'état militaire "soft" contre Robert Mugabe et son successeur choisi, Grace Mugabe. Récemment le Zimbabwe a également pleuré la mort de Morgan Tsvangirai, un leader de l'opposition, issu du syndicalisme, qui a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie à se battre contre Mugabe.

Mais qu'est ce qui a changé? Et que pouvons nous attendre désormais? Cet article s'oppose à la notion selon laquelle "des changements profonds ont lieu". La légère libéralisation de la vie politique (illustrée par l'hommage de Mnangagwa à Tsvangirai par exemple) et certaines promesses de réformes économiques (bonnes et mauvaises) sont certes importantes. Mais les changements à la "Maison Blanche du Zimbabwe" se centrent sur la suppression d'un d'état vicieux type capitalisme gestionnaire pour faire place à un autre, et n'apporteront pas la libération des masses populaires.

Ce remplacement n'aborde pas les problèmes auxquels le Zimbabwe est confronté : une classe dirigeante impitoyable, un état prédateur, un capitalisme en crise et le pouvoir de l'impérialisme. Le problème n'est pas les individus : le système est le problème. Cet article est anti-Mugabe et anti-Mnangagwa, mais il est aussi anti-étatique, contre cette forme d'organisation sociale qu'est l'état. Tous les états oppriment les prolétaires, les paysans et les pauvres, et l'état zimbabwéen en est juste un exemple extrême. Cet article tient l'état du Zimbabwe comme coupable du plus haut degré de restriction individuelle de liberté et de choix économiques, coupable d'interdiction d'une vie digne pour tous les citoyens et coupable de promouvoir les intérêts des élites économiques et politiques (la classe dirigeante) au détriment des citoyens. Cet article rejette l'idée que Mugabe était le champion des pauvres et des sans-terre ainsi que l'affirmation que son éviction était une défaite pour les forces progressistes. Mais il n'y a aucune illusion en ce qui concerne Mnangagwa.

Pourquoi une perspective anarchiste aide-t-elle?

La théorie anarchiste nous aide pour comprendre ce qu'il se passe. Elle fournit une conceptualisation holistique de l'état et de sa classe. L'approche anarchiste explique comment l'état lui-même n'est pas un instrument de démocratie mais un pilier du système de classes : il centralise le pouvoir et la richesse, créant et laissant place à la domination par une minorité et travaillant avec des alliés capitalistes privés. Les changements dans le personnel peuvent affecter la politique et le style, mais pas le système.

C'est exactement ce qui est arrivé au Zimbabwe : la dynastie Mugabe a été évincée, mais le pouvoir de la classe dirigeante n'a pas été supprimé. En fait, il n'y a même pas eu de changement dans le parti politique au pouvoir. Mnangagwa et Mugabe sont du même parti, l'Union Nationale Africaine du Zimbabwe - Front Patriotique (ZANU-PF), qui dirige le pays depuis 1980. La prise de pouvoir est le résultat des scissions du groupe dirigeant du ZANU-PF, qui s'est déchiré en son centre pour savoir qui remplacerait Robert Mugabe. Cela a entraîné un changement de dynamique de pouvoir. Le changement ne venait pas d'en bas, mais à travers Mnangagwa utilisant son pouvoir dans l'armée contre le pouvoir de Mugabe dans la bureaucratie et la police.

La culture politique autodestructrice.

Robert Mugabe est arrivé au pouvoir en 1980, lorsque l'Union nationale africaine du Zimbabwe (ZANU) a remporté les premières élections libres. Mugabe a repris la partie quelques années auparavant, et la partie a maintenu une prise d'étranglement sur le pays depuis. Les années 1980 ont vu les syndicats réprimés et les partis rivaux attaqués : les massacres perpétrés par l'armée contrôlée par la ZANU dans le Matabeleland entre 1983 et 1987 ont tué 20 000 personnes et ont écrasé l'Union populaire du Zimbabwe (ZAPU). ZAPU a été forcé de fusionner en ZANU, maintenant rebaptisé ZANU-PF. Au début des années 1990, la ZANU-PF dirigeait un empire commercial, imposait des politiques néolibérales et se livrait à une corruption généralisée.

Le Zimbabwe a connu une agitation politique massive à la fin des années 1990. Cela a été en grande partie motivé par les syndicats, les groupes d'opposition et les étudiants qui luttaient contre la répression de la ZANU-PF et le néolibéralisme. Les ex-soldats, frustrés par la corruption dans le système des retraites et la lente réforme agraire, étaient actifs. C'est à cette époque que Tsvangirai a fondé le Mouvement pour le changement démocratique (MDC).

Cependant, la combinaison de la répression systématique, de la faiblesse de l'opposition (le MDC a toujours été devancé et manipulé par le ZANU-PF), de la propagande étatique, des élections truquées, du favoritisme et d'un programme de réforme agraire controversé ont permis au ZANU-PF de garder le pouvoir. Des occupations de terres spontanées avaient lieu depuis des années : le ZANU-PF désespéré, faisant face au MDC, détournait les occupations, distribuait les meilleures terres à ses dirigeants et alliés et plaçait le reste sous contrôle de l'État, pour extraire les impôts et les loyers des petits agriculteurs pour ainsi piéger dans des relations de patronage dirigées par le parti. La réforme agraire a également presque détruit la section de la classe dirigeante la plus opposée à la ZANU-PF, les fermiers capitalistes blancs, qui avaient remplacé leur soutien antérieur à Mugabe par un soutien à Tsvangirai.

Le Zimbabwe est passé par un processus de réécriture de son histoire, toute l'histoire devenant une histoire patriotique de Robert Mugabe, un culte de la personnalité où tous ceux qui s'opposaient au régime - ouvriers, étudiants, paysans, pauvres, MDC - étaient considérés comme traîtres et opposants impérialistes. Alors que le financement des anciens alliés de Mugabe - le gouvernement impérialiste britannique - s'éteignait sur les réformes agraires, Mugabe trouva de nouveaux alliés, avides de ressources africaines - le gouvernement chinois, se lançant maintenant dans une grande poussée impérialiste en Afrique. Cela a nécessité l'octroi de concessions chinoises et l'ouverture des frontières pour les importations chinoises bon marché.

Dans cette situation, il y a eu un déclin économique majeur, avec une baisse de l'agriculture et la fermeture de l'industrie locale. Plutôt que de mettre un terme à la dépendance impérialiste, le ZANU-PF n'a fait que négocier avec les impérialistes. Les réformes sociales et éducatives très positives des les années 1980 ont été ébranlées par le néolibéralisme, puis étranglées par la corruption et la crise économique, et le chômage massif - plus de 80% - a contraint une grande partie de la classe ouvrière à entrer dans l'économie informelle. Le syndicat le plus important des années 1990 était le syndicat des travailleurs agricoles ; aujourd'hui c'est fini, et le plus grand syndicat est celui des marchands de rue.

L'état prédateur et ses problèmes.

Le Zimbabwe est devenu un exemple classique d'état prédateur, où le contrôle de l'appareil d'État par une petite élite est essentiel à l'accumulation par cette élite, où cette accumulation repose sur l'extraction des ressources de la société par les impôts, la nationalisation et les pots-de-vin et ou même le capitaliste privé ne peut faire des affaires que s'il remplit des offres publiques. La grande armée joue un rôle clé dans ce système, permettant au processus de s'étendre dans les pays voisins, comme la République démocratique du Congo, où le Zimbabwe a rejoint la guerre.

La survie de la section de la décision basée sur l'état est directement liée à l'exploitation massive et à la répression de la classe ouvrière, des paysans et des pauvres, qui ont été martelés au cours des dernières décennies, constamment économiquement, socialement et politiquement battus.

Ce que cela signifie, c'est que l'état est un site central pour l'accumulation, et cela signifie que les combats pour les bureaux clés et les sections de l'état sont des affaires sérieuses. Au Zimbabwe, la classe dirigeante est maintenant principalement basée sur une élite de l'état en grande partie Noire, qui a fini par compter sur l'accumulation de capital par le biais du pouvoir de l'état. Perdre son poste signifie perdre l'accès à la richesse et au pouvoir.

Le coup d'État a été célébré comme étant sans effusion de sang et il a été accueilli avec joie par les masses, qui sont sorties nombreuses. Mais le déclencheur n'était pas les masses, mais un combat entre deux factions de la ZANU-PF. Les forces utilisées dans le coup d'Etat n'étaient pas le pouvoir du peuple, mais les moyens de coercition contrôlés par l'Etat - plus précisément, par un groupe puissant du ZANU-PF, les généraux autour de Mnangagwa. C'est après tout l'armée qui a placé Mugabe en résidence surveillée, qui a été le premier à occuper les rues, qui a pris en charge toute la radiodiffusion nationale et un général (Mnangagwa) a publié la nouvelle vision du Zimbabwe. Et c'est par le même moyen de coercition que les citoyens ordinaires ont été privés de la possibilité de diriger et de reconstruire un Zimbabwe qui reflète leur lutte. Une fois que l'armée a été utilisée pour régler la question de savoir qui succéderait à Mugabe, les citoyens ordinaires ont été de nouveau déplacés, on leur a dit de retourner chez eux et d'attendre que leur avenir soit à nouveau entre les mains de l'élite étatique. Et la nouvelle direction du ZANU-PF n'était pas si nouvelle : Mnangagwa était un leader de longue date de la ZANU-PF, qui a joué un rôle central dans les massacres du Matabeleland.

La ZANU-PF avait, dès le début, utilisé son contrôle des moyens de coercition - l'armée et la police - pour consolider le pouvoir de ses dirigeants - qui contrôlent complètement l'appareil du parti - afin de détenir le pouvoir de l'état, tout en utilisant les moyens d'administration - la bureaucratie d'état, y compris son contrôle sur la terre, les licences, l'éducation, les médias, etc., pour reconstruire le Zimbabwe en propriété privée de la ZANU-PF. Il ne s'agit pas que de Mugabe. Ce n'est pas aussi simple : il y a eu de durs combats pour empêcher le ZANU-PF de perdre le contrôle et beaucoup de mesures qui aident l'élite de l'état-parti ZANU-PF à accumuler des richesses (comme la corruption et le contrôle des terres) peuvent causer de graves problèmes économiques. De manière générale, les classes dirigeantes sont basées sur des élites économiques (normalement aujourd'hui des capitalistes privés) et des élites politiques (dans l'état), et ces deux secteurs trouvent généralement un terrain d'entente : au Zimbabwe, la crise de la fin des années 1990 ont vu l'élite politique (Noire) écraser l'élite économique (principalement Blanche); mais les masses ont toujours été laissées de côté.

De quoi a besoin le nouveau Zimbabwe?

C'est le cycle de la politique officielle : occuper et prendre en charge l'appareil d'État pour générer un changement transformateur, plutôt que de mettre le pouvoir et la richesse entre les mains des masses.

L'élite dirigeante - dans l'ancienne Rhodésie puis au Zimbabwe - a toujours été incapable de répondre aux besoins populaires. Les décisions ont été basées sur les avantages pour la classe dirigeante. La combinaison d'un règne autoritaire, d'abord sous Ian Smith, puis sous Robert Mugabe, le pouvoir de la classe dirigeante, le manque d'analyse de classe cohérente de la gauche au Zimbabwe (qui considérait l'État comme un outil de changement révolutionnaire) et les faiblesses des syndicats ont permis au Zimbabwe d'être le tabouret de la ZANU-PF.

La vraie et réelle liberté ne passera jamais par le parlement, elle ne viendra pas par des prises de contrôle militaires, ni par des vieillards qui se relayeront pour lancer une rhétorique néo-libérale ou ultra-nationaliste, alors que leurs mains sont couvertes de sang. La vraie liberté pour le Zimbabwe repose sur l'action de masse, qui est le moteur de la transformation pour construire un véritable socialisme démocratique sans état, basé sur l'autogestion, la liberté politique, la tolérance et la propriété commune : l'anarchisme. Tant qu'il y aura ne serait-ce qu'un seul zimbabwéen qui se retrouve sans nourriture, qui n'a pas les moyens de s'éduquer, qui n'a pas accès au logement, à l'emploi, à la dignité, notre combat n'est pas terminé. Ce qu'il faut, c'est sortir de l'illusion Mnangagwa et commencer à s'organiser concrètement parmi les masses, pour la liberté et la justice, et comprendre clairement que l'état est une structure hiérarchique et bureaucratique qui aide à créer la minuscule classe dirigeante qui nous opprime tous.

On peut y résister mais on ne peut pas l'utiliser. »

southern africa / workplace struggles / opinion / analysis Wednesday March 28, 2018 01:14 byJonathan Payn

On 17 November 2017, the Minister of Labour announced the state intends to carry out a new round of attacks on workers and their rights. The attacks come in the form of three Labour Bills currently being considered by parliament: the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill, the National Minimum Wage Bill and the Labour Relations Amendment Bill. If passed, the changes to the labour laws these bills propose will be a major attack on workers’ rights, won through decades of struggle, and will further deepen and entrench inequality and roll back important democratic gains.

Government claims the bills are intended to reduce the number of protracted, unprotected and so-called violent strikes. The fact, however, is that these bills are designed to restore and increase bosses’ profits, severely hit by the ongoing economic crisis, and attract foreign direct investment by providing ultra-cheap black labour and limiting workers’ ability to strike in defense of their rights and interests.

Two of the most important weapons that workers have to defend themselves against the ruling class and win better wages and conditions, and to advance struggles for other rights and needs, are the rights to strike and to organise around their interests independently of bosses and the state.

The proposed amendments to the LRA would further undermine the independence of unions and make it more difficult for workers to go on protected strikes through the introduction of a secret strike ballot, default picketing rules, compulsory arbitration and more cumbersome bureaucratic procedures before strike actions. This is an attack on the right of workers to make their own collective decisions about their organisations and about strike action without interference from bosses or the state. By increasing the conciliation period before workers can go on a protected strike from 30 to 35 days the amendments would make it easier for bosses and the state to undermine, delay, interfere with and prevent workers from striking. Moreover, although the LRA amendments are supposedly intended to prevent strikes from becoming ‘violent’ they do not address one of the main factors that cause strikes to become violent in the first place: the bosses’ use of scab labour.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) and proposed changes to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) would take away important rights for some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers by phasing out Sectoral Determinations and replacing them with the NMW.

Sectoral Determinations currently set minimum wages as well as conditions of employment in a given sector. For example, the Sectoral Determination governing the farm work sector says that farm workers have the right to housing on the farms. If the Sectoral Determination is removed thousands of workers and their families could face eviction. Similarly, the Domestic Work sectoral determination prohibits bosses from charging a domestic worker more than 10% of their wages for accommodation. If the sectoral determination goes there is nothing to stop bosses charging workers anything they think they can get away with.

Moreover, the NMW does not actually set a monthly minimum wage. It only sets an hourly minimum wage of R20 per hour (R18 p/h for farmworkers, R15 p/hour for domestic workers and R11 p/h for public works, to be increased to R20 p/h by 2020) with a minimum number of four working hours a day. This means that workers that work less than 40 hours a week, such as those who work part time or flexible hours, might not even get the already inadequate R3 500 per month. This is not nearly enough to live a dignified life on and a slap in the face to the workers that died at Marikana for a living wage of R12 500.

While it is vital to resist the bills and defend hard-won workers’ and democratic rights we must remember that even now, while we do still supposedly have these rights – at least on paper – they are violated by the bosses and the state daily and millions of people still cannot access them.

This is not simply due to corruption, mismanagement, lack of finance or imperialist meddling etc., but is the direct result of the neoliberal war on the poor that the ruling class – black and white – has waged against the black working class in South Africa for four decades; first under apartheid and continued under the ANC. These bills are a clear example of how the ruling class uses the state to do this. And how what the state gives with one hand – such as the right to strike – it does so under duress, when the working class is strong and united, and will just as easily take away with another hand when it serves the interests of the ruling class and the working class is weak and divided. This is because the state is not neutral but an undemocratic institution of elite minority rule over the working class majority.

The struggle to guarantee human and workers’ rights for everyone, once and for all, and to meet their needs will necessarily have to be a revolutionary struggle against capitalism and the state to radically change the structure and purpose of the South African economy and the society we live in.

southern africa / miscellaneous / opinion / analysis Saturday March 17, 2018 21:59 byLucien van der Walt

This commentary, an input at a Globalization School debate in Cape Town, engages current labor and Left debates on building alternatives, drawing on the experiences of the radical wing of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and on anarchism and syndicalism. It argues for a strategy of bottom-up mobilization based on debate and pluralism, and building structures of counter-power and a revolutionary counter-culture that can prefigure and create a new social order. The aim is to foster a class-based movement against exploitation, domination, and oppression, including national oppression, that can win reforms through self-activity, unite a range of struggles against oppression, and develop the capacity and unity needed for deep social change. This should be outside parliament, the political party system and the state. The outcome, ultimately, would be the replacement of capitalism, the state, and social and economic inequality, by a universal human community based on self-management, the democratization of daily life, participatory economic planning, and libertarian socialism.

Lucien van der Walt, 2016, "Alternatives from the Ground Up: Globalization School Input on Anarchism/Syndicalism and (Black) Working Class Self-Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa," “WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society,” volume 19, number 2, pp. 251-268.

**This is a lightly edited transcript of Lucien van der Walt’s input at the 2010 Globalization School in Cape Town, for the public debate “How Do We Develop an Alternative?” Co-panelists were Mazibuko Jara (Conference of the Democratic Left, now national secretary of the United Front), Zico Tamela (South African Communist Party, SACP), and Lydia Cairncross (Workers Organization for Socialist Action). It was very well received. Lucien van der Walt is a South African writer and sociologist, long involved in the working class movement. He is the author of numerous works, and editor of “Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870–1940” (with Steven Hirsch, preface by Benedict Anderson, 2010/ 2014, Brill). The Globalization School is an annual event by the Cape Town-based International Labor Research and Information Group (ILRIG), attracting 150–200 activists from unions and social movements.

LvdW: I think the previous panelists have put forward some pretty powerful arguments. So, I must start by thanking these comrades. We are addressing the issue of “How Do We Develop an Alternative?” and, more precisely, at how unions and community movements can develop this alternative. And by that, of course, we mean an alternative to the existing system, which traps millions upon millions in misery.

We need to be very careful not to reduce our critique of the current system to a critique of the system for creating *poverty*, for not creating enough *jobs*, for not building enough *houses*. We must not forget that, originally, socialism stressed creating better material conditions for the working class, the peasantry, and the poor more generally (the “popular classes”) only *as a means to an end*, only as means to enable people to have *free, meaningful lives*.

Our disagreement with liberalism was not on whether people *should* be free; rather, it was that liberal solutions—free market capitalism and parliamentary democracy—were completely *inadequate* to the task of enabling ordinary people to have free, meaningful lives.


But this stress on freedom was lost with the rise to power of state-centered Left traditions, such as social-democracy from the 1890s and Marxist “communism” from the 1920s.

I know when the term “socialism” comes up, many in our movements will speak about the Soviet Union, or Cuba, as somehow “socialist.” A speaker on Monday, for example, said that the Soviet Union was a “work in progress”—but progressing in the right direction. That same speaker added that the working class would be “demoralized” if something happened to Cuba, which has a similar system to that which the Soviet Union had before its collapse, along with its satellite states in Europe and Asia, from 1989 to 1991.

But what we are really doing if we identify the Soviet or Cuban models with “socialism,” is saying that it is possible to have a socialist system where the working class does not have basic trade union rights, is subject to internal passports (or, as we knew them in South Africa, pass laws); that we can have socialism where the working class and peasantry are ruled by a small bureaucratic and political and economic elite—a ruling class minority—that terrorizes its opponents, and uses secret police, forced labor, and ruthless dictatorship; that we can have socialism where the popular classes are not, in fact, in power.

Well, if that is “socialism,” then socialism is completely pointless. And I know someone will respond: “But comrade, consider the material gains of the Soviet people, the lack of unemployment, the massive industrialization—and the great health care system in Cuba today.” But basic freedoms and human rights, and working class and peasant power, are not optional extras! If having jobs and hospitals or steel factories is what (p. 253 starts) counts in measuring “socialism” then there is nothing that makes socialism superior, in any way whatsoever, to a range of explicitly capitalist dictatorships.There were and are jobs and hospitals and steel factories under a range of capitalist, military dictatorships in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. But we do not call those socialist. Apartheid itself actively promoted heavy industry, and had less than 10 percent unemployment as well as continually expanding social services, until the 1970s. But we would never call it socialist.

Systems like the Soviet Union did not, and could not, deliver freedom and the opportunity for meaningful lives; they were systems of totalitarian state-capitalism. Freedom was not on the program. Having a red flag and citing Karl Marx and calling Cabinet Ministers “People’s Commissars” does not make one bit of difference if the basic social relations are exploitative and hierarchical.


And that is why I get uncomfortable when comrade Zico Tamela, whose background is in the SACP, talks in favor of Bolshevik vanguard parties, the seizure of state power and so on.

I agree with the comrade on the need for radical change. And I say that the SACP has heroic traditions, and we should respect and learn from those traditions.

But not uncritically! The SACP’s historic vision of socialism had very little “socialism” in it: its original reference point, the Soviet Union, was not socialist, but state-capitalist; and until the 1990s, the SACP ignored the dictatorship, repression, and the subjugation of the working class, peasantry, and poor that was central to the Soviet bloc. The SACP’s more recent reference point is social-democracy. Although this term is carefully avoided in SACP texts, the current project is effectively a social-democratic one: slowly reforming capitalism, through the capitalist state, and expanding the state bureaucracy.

Neither vision really deals with the key point that socialism should create freedom. Although social-democrats try to democratize society, they seek the impossible: to give capitalism a human face, using the state, and evolve it slowly into socialism. This is a *reformist* project—it seeks change through a series of reforms *only*—and it is a *failed* project, having collapsed worldwide by the early 1970s.

I am not confident that the SACP has a plan for change that will benefit the working class. And I also do not want to be ruled by SACP people like Blade Nzimande or Jeremy Cronin, given the heavy imprint on the party’s political culture of the Soviet Union model, with its stress on a top-down “vanguard” party model.


For me, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Soviet model, while it was temporarily disorientating for the popular classes (especially the large sectors ( p. 254 starts) that mistakenly saw this model as socialist), also opens up new vistas, new possibilities, space to rediscover the soul of the socialist project. The end of an illusion is always disorienting, but illusions need to end.

Militants will remember how hard it was in the 1980s to talk about “socialism” without talking about the Soviet Union. How, if the Soviet leadership said or did something, the impulse was to cheer and to ignore all the problems, or to claim the system was basically revolutionary, despite some “degeneration” or “deformation.”

Without the continual presence of the Soviet-type regimes we can start to re-envision—or should I rather say rediscover?—the more libertarian and genuinely socialist ways of thinking about socialism, the ways outside of the mainstream Marxist and social-democratic traditions, and recover the core values of socialism. That Left project can again be fundamentally delinked from the mirages of the old East bloc, and the failures of Western social-democracy, again be relocated in radical democratic, libertarian Left traditions like anarchism and syndicalism.


Because really, socialism at its best, is also a critique of the *rule* of the many by the few. Not just a critique of the *exploitation* of the many by the few, not just a demand for a system in which people are not exploited. Not just a critique of the system for generating poverty.

It was, and is, also a critique of the *domination* of the many by the few, and of *multiple* relations of domination and *oppression* across society. It was, and is, about opposing people being impoverished, dominated, oppressed, not having dignity, about not having any real power in work, the neighborhood, the school.

Just to give a small example: when we look at the so-called “service delivery protests” in South Africa, it is easy to assume that these are just protests about getting more water, electricity, and plumbing, delivered from on high, at the convenience of politicians. But what people are actually highlighting is the simple, horrible fact that they have to blockade roads, confront town councilors, even damage property, just to get taps and toilets. This is an expression of the fact, the harsh truth that the common people exist in a disempowering system, where only protest, sometimes violent protest, gives the popular classes a *voice*. Because between protests, the masses *are* voiceless, ruled from above, and ignored.

And if we look at exploitation as well, what makes this possible? Partly, yes, working class people have no real choice but to work for wages: owning no productive resources, they must sell their labor-power. But at the workplace, it is *domination* by the employers, both private and state employers, through their apparatus of supervision and punishment, that actually *enables* exploitation by controlling movement, time, and energy. ( p. 255 starts)


If we want to seriously talk about alternatives to capitalism, we need to think about much more than more jobs and hospitals and steel factories: important as these are, they are not socialism. We need to think beyond the Marxist regimes and social-democratic and capitalist models of the twentieth century, rejecting all models that manifestly failed to meet the most basic criteria of working class and popular class power, dignity, autonomy, and freedom. We need to think about much more than just changing the political parties in office.

We need to think of radical, dramatic change—a social rupture, not just a series of modest reforms in the existing order. It is better to have a bigger cage, but it is still a cage. *Reforms are valuable, but reformism is a dead end*. It is essential to link reforms to a larger project of accumulating power and ideas for a revolutionary change in society.

This is why I like the point that my co-panelist comrade Mazibuko Jara of the independent Left was making, that we need to think about how socialism can change *everyday life*. That we need to think of socialism as a project that will *empower* the mass of the people—and therefore, I would say, as something very different to the old Soviet model, as well as something very different to the social-democratic model, which retains capitalism and bureaucratizes society.


In rediscovering the progressive, emancipatory, Left and working class project, we can start by rediscovering other paths that were opened by our own struggle in South Africa.

In the 1990s, we took the path of elections and state power. Our movements, including the SACP, decided to put the African National Congress (ANC) into parliament—the idea was that we would then “engage” the ANC, “contest” the ANC, and try to get it to implement pro-working class policies. This approach has also been pretty much the program of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a program some have called “radical reform” or “strategic unionism.” The labels sound very impressive, but amount to a social-democratic project. This project was a key rationale for establishing, in the early 1990s, the formal “Tripartite Alliance” between the ANC, COSATU, and the SACP, which continues today.

This project has not worked; capitalism and the state and the ANC were impervious to social-democratic interventions, and the Alliance seems impervious to policy proposals by the SACP or COSATU. If anything, the Alliance is used by the ANC to control COSATU and the SACP. The social-democratic project is here, as elsewhere, dead in the water. Only struggles seem to make the state listen.

The big path that we abandoned in doing this was the path opened up in the 1980s, of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the radical “workerist” ( p. 256 starts) Federation of the South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) at their best. These formations insisted that rather than be exploited, oppressed nationally, and disempowered, oppressed people should rather create *democratic organizations autonomous of the state*, through which to run their own lives and rebel, and *accumulate through these, the might to overthrow the regime*, and capacities that could *lay the basis for a new society*.

The UDF called this “people’s power.” FOSATU called this “workers’ control.” Here, democracy was not something that happened at elections, or through lobbying parties through structures like the Alliance, or through proposing policies through corporatist structures, but something built *right now*, in struggles and organizing. A new South Africa and a new nation *built from below*, from *outside* the state, and *by, primarily, the working class and the poor*. Thus, the UDF insisted (Morobe 1987, 40):

“By developing active, mass-based democratic organizations and democratic practices in these organizations, we are laying the basis for a future democratic South Africa. When we speak of majority rule, we do not mean that black faces must simply replace white faces in parliament.

“A democratic solution in South Africa involves all South Africans, and in particular the working class, having control over all areas of daily existence—from national policy to housing, from schooling to working conditions, from transport to consumption of food. When we say that the people shall govern, we mean at all levels and in all spheres, and we demand that there be real, effective control on a daily basis.”


But in the 1990s, we put our faith into elections, into parties. The UDF was closed, its remnants turned into ANC structures. COSATU was re-geared as an Alliance partner for the ANC. And we never got anywhere near a situation of “all South Africans, and in particular the working class, having control over all areas of daily existence.”

Now, large sectors of the working class and the poor are waking up and seeing that the ANC cannot be fixed. But most, including most on the Left, have not recognized that the *whole system* is the problem. Most do not see the basic fallacy of using elections and lobbying political parties—they reject the ANC, but put their hopes in a new or a different party, like a workers’ or Left party of some sort.

What gets lost is the simple fact that all successful electoral parties become part of the capitalist state—and therefore, enemies of the people. If the ANC of Nelson Mandela—which rose on the back of the massive struggles and movements of the 1980s and which was watched with awe by the eyes of the whole world—failed to be different, why would any other party succeed?

The ANC is not the problem. *The system is the problem*. And it cannot be fixed. (p. 257 starts)


But why do I say the state is *always* anti-working class?

When we talk about the ruling class, we often seem to think that the ruling class is a bunch of rich white capitalists in Constantia in Cape Town or in Sandton near Johannesburg, the owners of private capital. And yes, they are part of the ruling class! But while it is correct to highlight the power of the (economic) elite that sits atop the private corporations, a focus on these completely fails to take into account the state (or political) elite that sits atop the state machinery, whose power resides in state institutions, including the army and the bureaucracy (and the state corporations). There are the people who run the state: minsters, directors, mayors, parliamentarians, vice-chancellors, generals. Their power rests not on private economic resources, but in the organizations they control.

Capitalists are only *one* part of the ruling class. The ruling class is a minority, its power rests on two institutions that centralize power and wealth so that this minority can rule the majority, the popular classes. And these two institutions are the corporation and the state, which share the basic features of top-down rule by and for an elite, exploitation of workers, the priority of ruling class interests.

These two institutions are interdependent, bound together, by these imperatives: the ongoing subordination and exploitation of the popular classes. There is a *single ruling class* that comprises those who own or control the means of production through private (and state) companies, plus those who own or control the means of administration and coercion, mainly through the state apparatus.


Another set of important resources to be drawn upon in rethinking socialism can be found in the tradition of anarchism and syndicalism, which is the main expression of libertarian socialism, of anti-authoritarian socialism.

This is against hierarchy and social and economic inequality. Its critique of capitalism arises from these positions. It is for participatory and democratic decision-making wherever possible, including in the workplace, and in the larger economy, through measures like self-management and participatory planning, as well as in neighborhoods, schools, and other sites. It is for the democratization of daily life, and about democracy in all possible areas.

And, because this tradition understands the state as an institution that shares basic features with corporations, and as fundamentally bound to the corporations at all times, and as beyond any possibility of capture by the popular classes, its position is anti-statist. *It does not see the state as the solution, but as part of the nexus of ruling class power*.

It argues that it is pointless having a revolution if you keep any system of domination, hierarchy, oppression or exploitation. That is not really a real (p. 258 starts) change in society: it is a change in the masters, but not freedom for the slaves, the basic system of people dominating, oppressing, and exploiting each other remaining.


Other speakers on the panel have spoken about the need to capture the state, or to stand Left candidates in elections.

But as I have argued, the state cannot be captured by the popular classes, used by the working class, because it is a centralized institution of minority class rule, inextricably allied to the private corporations. This means that any workers’ or left-wing party, aiming at state power, is a dead-end, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter its size, no matter its program or rules.

And that is why I take the UDF and FOSATU approaches, as well as anarchism/syndicalism, as key references in thinking about how we build an alternative—not because these are perfect, but because these stress a different way of doing things, “people’s power” and “workers’ control.”
Because these aim—at their best—to build popular *self-government outside*, even *against* the state, and *outside*, even *against* party control, by *popular resistance, building a future* based on deep-reaching changes in social relations.

And that it’s only by creating a new society, from below, through the struggles and movements of the popular classes that we can move to new social relations. This is completely different from the dictatorial system that existed, for example, in the Soviet Union, completely different from the bureaucratic social-democratic welfare state that existed, for example, in Sweden, completely different from the passive politics of elections.

Let me be clear here that I am not claiming that modest changes in daily life and more democratic ways of doing things now, suffice to change society. A new society based on self-management and self-government can only be created through ongoing, escalating class struggles, and will ultimately require the transfer of means of administration, coercion, and production into the hands of the popular classes. And that will ultimately involve a radical rupture in the social order, not a slow process of gradual transition or mass “exit” from the existing order.

Rather, it involves building organizations of *counter-power*, organizations that *counter* the power of the ruling class in immediate struggles, but that can eventually can take power, *displacing* ruling class power, displacing the top-down system and *replacing* it with a bottom-up system that we build from below. This system of “people’s power” and “workers’ control” is built now, day-by-day, block by block, factory by factory, mine by mine, office by office—and it prefigures, as the UDF and FOSATU understood, a better future

*Power is not abolished here, it is taken. But not by a party, not by an elite, but by the great majority of society.*
( p. 259 starts)


A key principle that I want to extract from these two reference points—the UDF and FOSATU, and anarchism and syndicalism—is the importance of linking the *methods* of struggle to the *outcomes* of struggle. The way that people struggle now, is going to shape what they get in future.

There is no Chinese Wall between how people struggle, and what people get. The one shapes the other. Fighting through state elections, for example, means organizing to elect elites to deliver—at their convenience—some changes, from above, through the state. Building organizations based on authoritarian leadership, demagogy, and manipulation is a direct route to a Promised Land based on authoritarianism, demagogy, and manipulation.

If we organize democratically, and in a participatory way wherever possible, then we train ourselves in democratic practices, and we keep power in our own hands; we do not create, from within our movements, a new elite that will hijack our struggles. The way that struggle is conducted is extremely important.

*How* we fight shapes what we get: building this future also means building a unified popular class movement *now*, across the barriers and the borders, rejecting the idea that different sections of the popular classes are enemies of one another. Like FOSATU, the UDF insisted that a movement fighting for a society based on justice, including racial equality and national liberation, must include people on the basis of their willingness to fight unconditionally for progressive change, rather than exclude people on the basis of their race or nation, which they cannot choose. The enemy was framed as a particular social system, rather than as particular races or nations. Thus, the UDF (Mosiuoa Lekota, quoted in Neocosmos 1996, 88):

“In political struggle ... the means must always be the same as the ends ... How can one expect a racialistic movement to imbue our society with a nonracial character on the dawn of our freedom day? A political movement cannot bequeath to society a characteristic it does not itself possess. To do so is like asking a heathen to convert a person to Christianity. The principles of that religion are unknown to the heathen let alone the practice.”

This stress on prefigurative thinking means, above all, an end to instrumentalist approaches. All too often, movements think in terms of how best to get “the masses” to a march, about how many heads can be counted. But bussing people to events they do not control is not building an active, self-governing movement. It is about turning people into spectators, or clients.

There is nothing to be gained from such methods, if the aim is self-emancipation. So, our movements have to be vigilantly, ruthlessly democratic. Let me stress here that this requires
*formal organization*:
there must be clear procedures, mechanisms of accountability, and decision-making systems in place. Informal relations and processes are a recipe for cabals and powerful individuals to take control and manipulate. And while consensus-based decision ( p. 260 starts) making can be useful, it easily turns into a means for stubborn minorities to veto majorities, effectively controlling decisions. Majority-based decision making is often more democratic.


Which brings us to important lessons that need to be drawn from the failures of South Africa’s 1980s.

On the plus side: the broad working class built radical structures—street committees, civic/area-based structures, self-defense units, parent-teacher-student committees—exemplified by UDF affiliates and stressing “people’s power” as a method of organizing, and as a way of transforming society; and a radical union movement—based on assemblies, committees, and solidarity— exemplified by FOSATU and the early COSATU, and stressing “workers’ control” as a method of organizing, and as a way of transforming society.

On the negative side: all too often, ideas and practices undermined the principles and potentials of these great efforts. All too often, only one political line was permitted in the community-based structures: other currents were not allowed to participate, rival currents denounced as traitors, collaborators, and counter-revolutionaries. Many structures became “owned” by a party—normally the ANC. This happened throughout the UDF. By the late 1980s, COSATU was also becoming ANC territory, ANC-only. And ANC was not the only one that did this; all the nationalist parties had this impulse.

This undermined, weakened, corrupted the bottom-up structures of “people’s power” and “workers’ control.” Street committees sometimes degenerated into street terror; mass mobilization and careful education were sometimes replaced by forcing people to join campaigns; an anti-apartheid approach was often simply a code for blind loyalty to one party, sometimes violently enforced.

Such practices have cost the popular classes heavily, opening the door to the blind, even paranoid loyalty to certain political parties that we see today, to the intolerance of criticism that we see today in the ANC and in COSATU. That is the legacy of the failings of the 1980s.


Instead of this closing down of space, we need to enable *political pluralism* in our organizations: many views, open debates, and issues decided on their merits, not on personalities and not through cabals. This builds stronger movements, *and* it is essential to any project of building a bottom-up, freedom-based alternative, both in the present and for the future.

Not all views are correct—but let us debate them, not suppress them; let us be tolerant of difference, willing to listen. Let us also avoid the debating tactics and styles that close down real discussions, like labelling people, like dismissing theory as “dogma,” like using jargon. (p. 261 starts). And let us realize that a future society, governed from the bottom-up, also has to ensure political pluralism, and avoid the temptation to close debate and contestation in the name of “saving” the revolution.

If revolution—this what the radical rupture of which I spoke means, a class-based revolution—is to occur, it is about replacing domination, exploitation, and hierarchy with a radically democratic social order: self-management, self-government, collective property, classlessness, and statelessness.But since the aim is maximize freedom, efforts to save the new society by *closing* down freedom will kill the revolution from within—just as surely as any external counter-revolutionary threat. This is the genesis of Soviet Union-type regimes: genuine revolutions were killed from within, by self-declared vanguards claiming to “save” the revolution.


Another principle that can be drawn from FOSATU, the UDF, and anarchism/syndicalism, is that most of the struggles that are being fought by different parts of the popular classes—whether around health issues, or gender equality, or job loss, or even municipal demarcation for that matter—are largely responses to a *common system*; they are *different fronts* in the class struggle. A great many of the problems we face have roots in a *common system*. And those that cannot be reduced to that system, are intensified, worsened, by that system.

The UDF, for example, was able to link the fight against racist, oppressive laws to fights around wages, rents, and education, and capitalism, framing the main enemy as apartheid. FOSATU, for example, linked struggles for union rights to fights over control of production and efforts to mobilize working class neighborhoods, framing the main enemy as racist capitalism.

The enemy is not corrupt individuals, or a particular party, or individual, or group, but a *class system* centered on a ruling class. Now if there is one main enemy, it is possible then to think of building a common working and popular class front, a *revolutionary front of the popular classes*.


What FOSATU (with its stress on working class power) understood better than the UDF (which aimed at a multiclass nationalist front, including the “progressive” bourgeoisie) was that *only the popular classes can bring about the deep, radical changes needed to ensure the complete class and national emancipation of the majority*.

Why a class-based movement, and a revolutionary front of the popular classes?

Because only oppressed classes, which do not exploit, have the numbers, power and interest in creating a new, classless, stateless, society. Exploiting classes cannot end exploitation; ruling classes cannot end class rule. So making (p. 262) alliances with sections of the ruling class, even “progressive” sections, as the UDF did, means accepting class society.

Class provides a basis to unify people across the divisions like race, culture, nationality, and gender, around common interests. It enables the struggle of the popular classes against an oppressive system that generates multiple oppressions and inequities—not a struggle against individuals or against specific racial or ethnic groups. And without unity along a class axis, society fractures easily into all-sided conflicts, from which no progressive outcomes are possible. The cases of Germany in the 1930s and Rwanda in the 1990s show what horrors such fracturing can generate.

So, I like the point that comrade Zico was making about revisiting about the option, raised in COSATU and in the SACP, of forming a broad *working class* front, rather than a multi-class *national* [popular] front.


Also, so long as class systems remain, not only will most people remain exploited and dominated as members of the popular classes, but the class system will generate—or at least, worsen—other forms of oppression.

This means that even issues like racial and national oppression are difficult to resolve within class societies. As an example: the apartheid legacy, which is central to South Africa’s ongoing national question, cannot be resolved without a massive redistribution of wealth and power to the black working class. But this massive redistribution requires massive class struggles. The majority of the South African working class—black African, Colored, and Indian—is not just oppressed as an exploited and dominated class. *It is still oppressed on national (or if you prefer, racial) grounds*.

The apartheid system, and its segregationist and colonial predecessors, rested on the exploitation of the whole working class, white workers included, but its political economy centered on *cheap black labor*, what some call the “colonial wage.” Capitalist relations of production were intertwined with colonial relations of domination, and involved a battery of racist measures, extra-economic coercion, and urban and rural underdevelopment on racial lines, plus poisonous doctrines of white supremacy, which still scar our land.

And while today, we have a post-apartheid society, with a growing black elite, it is *still* a capitalist society. And that capitalist society still rests upon the ongoing national oppression of the black African, Colored, and Indian working class, on cheap black labor, *still* involves the continued power of the old apartheid-era “white monopoly capital” private corporations, and is *still* present in everyday life in the form of a deep apartheid legacy of fractured cities, low-grade education, electricity and other services in townships and rural areas, and racist thinking.

(p. 263 starts) And such a situation simply *cannot* be ended by a few reforms. It requires radical change, and *only* a working class movement—specifically, one centered on the black African working class—can make that radical change. Because that means a fight against the ruling class, both black and white, since the *whole* ruling class [black and white] rests on, benefits from, the system of cheap black labor.


So, let us be clear here: building a class-based movement, a revolutionary front of the popular classes, does *not*—as some critics suggest—mean *ignoring* issues that cannot be neatly reduced to class, like racial or national oppression. It simply means addressing these issues on a *class-struggle* basis, and linking them in the largest possible class front against *all* oppression.

Unions must be a key part of any class-based movement, any revolutionary front of the popular classes, as they have numbers and power—and above all, access to the workplaces, a crucial site of struggle. But the class front is more than a union front: it needs to bring together movements and struggles in a range of areas and struggles. And, as I have said, it also needs to bring together people with a range of views, meaning that it must have space for a range of ideas, for debates, and for tolerance.

It is possible and necessary to build a united movement, linking working class/poor communities, labor movements, and other sites of struggle, among them those of working class students. To build a common movement that fights on a class basis for the *general interests* of the popular classes, that at the same time gives a high priority to the *specific problems* faced by the *most oppressed* sections of the popular classes. A common movement that *prevents elite classes* from hijacking the struggles, and that is based on *anti-authoritarian, class-struggle principles*.

Let us take women’s oppression. I have been a member of the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) in the past, and I remember in my union branch, 80 percent of the members were women but 80 percent of the leaders were men. And this was partly because of the specific problems women workers faced in society—a gender-based wage gap, discrimination, the dual burden of waged work and housework, gender-based violence, and so on—and also because of the gender stereotypes that comrades, women and men, brought into the union.

Now those are the sorts of things we have to challenge. *How* we build the movement, as I say, is very important. We cannot build a society where women are equals if we leave the fight against women’s oppression for later. It has to be waged now, as core to building and a revolutionary class politics.


This comes up, of course, against the claim pushed from a range of positions—including many nationalists and feminists, and some “identity politics” (p. 264 starts) currents—that insists that some groups in the working and popular classes benefit from the double or triple oppression that others face.

The *opposite* is generally true, as the divisions in the popular classes harm *all* sections, creating antagonisms, undermining conditions, and weakening organizations. (Leaving aside the special case of apartheid’s white working class).

Black immigrant workers in South Africa face severe oppression *as immigrants*, but who *benefits* from this? Not local workers, whose wages are undercut, but employers who get cheaper labor, and politicians who get easy scapegoats. Even if every immigrant was deported, mass unemployment would remain—a truth hidden by blame-the-“foreigner” thinking.

South African workers are not “privileged” in being free of this anti-immigrant oppression, they are harmed by it; and it is not a “privileged” position to not suffer every possible form of oppression and humiliation.

The solution is *not* to unite the popular classes on a crude “economistic” basis that ignores the specific, additional oppressions some sectors face. Rather, it is to build a *principled unity* that understands that the principle “An Injury to One is an Injury to All,” means *opposing all forms of special/additional oppression*, whether based on race, nation, gender, or whatever. But *through a common and united class-based movement*.


Obviously elements of the approach I have outlined were absolutely central to the UDF and FOSATU. But just as obviously, the UDF and FOSATU never walked the path that they themselves opened, to its logical end point: a radical rupture and new social order, based on bottom-up democracy and a system of common property, without a state and without classes.

Why? It comes down to political ideas. The battle for change involves a battle of ideas. No revolutionary ideas? No revolution.

UDF structures, FOSATU structures, at their best, had the basic *structures* of a counter-power that, if more fully developed, expanded, and extended, could have helped displace and replace ruling class power. But *ideologically and politically*, they were eventually *flooded* by ideas, especially the ideas of the ANC and SACP, which prevented such outcomes. This included the ANC’s top-down tendencies, its intolerance of rivals, its politics of Messianic leadership, and its focus on getting state power. But even before the big revival of ANC and SACP influence in the 1980s, the ideas in the UDF and FOSATU were too *confused* to carry out a project of counter-power.

And this got us to where we are today. ANC ideas had a very good side— stressing non-racialism, anti-apartheid, rebellion, and social justice—along with a very bad side—a national alliance of *all* classes against apartheid, rather than class struggle; the aim of creating a reformed capitalism, rather than deep change; and the use of the state, rather than a direct transfer of power to the masses.(p. 265 starts)

And this led directly to what we have today: despite real gains in basic rights and welfare, and the abolition of apartheid laws, South Africa’s transition remains limited and frustrating, the legacy of the past remains everywhere in the present. The black elite, frustrated and humiliated under apartheid, segregation and colonialism, has largely achieved its national liberation. The black working class *has not*—and its fight for *complete national liberation* is being beaten back by the *whole* ruling class, black and white.


So, changing the world requires building organs of struggle and developing these into *organs of counter-power*. But building counter-power has to be accompanied by a revolutionary shift in what people believe, that is, it involves building a mass-based *revolutionary counter-idea or counter-culture*.

The idea is the thing. Unless we have what Mikhail Bakunin called a “new vision,” a “new faith,” we will fail, as the UDF
and FOSATU failed. Here, comrade Mazibuko’s point about South Africa being a socially conservative society, despite its high levels of protests, is very important. Many people believe that the existing system is, in its essentials, fine, and that the system works, except that it’s abused by foreigners, or crooks, or politicians like current ANC head Jacob Zuma, or minorities, or young women on welfare etc. The idea of a bottom-up society is far from the minds of most people.

The South African state has maybe 159,000 police and 70,000 soldiers. Public order police are less than 7,000. At least 35 million South Africans are working class, but the working class—despite its vast numbers—does not move to a big struggle for decisive change. This pattern of containment is not a military issue.

What keeps the people down is *the soldier in the head*—who says we cannot emancipate ourselves, that we cannot possibly run society, that we cannot possibly have something different, better.

And that is why I am talking about the need to complement the battle for *counter-power* with the battle to build a revolutionary *counter-culture*, together countering the ruling class’s control at the ideological, cultural, and organizational levels.


Now, a political formation, based on clear ideas, a clear strategy, and disciplined unity, which aims to promote counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture is, in my view, *essential* to this project.

It can play a key role in conscientising people, in mobilizing, in organizing, in fighting the battle of ideas—but it must never be substituted for the self-activity of the popular classes, never assume direct power over the popular classes; it should act as a current within the masses, and aim at the leadership of the revolutionary Idea; and it must never enter the state. (p. 266 starts)

It can play a key role, if it aims to build counter-power and counter-culture, and facilitates and assists this building, if it fights to *democratically win the battle of ideas as a tendency within a pluralistic working class movement*, if it aims *at getting its ideas to be the leading ideas* to be implemented by the masses.

But a conventional political party? No thanks. These treat the movements of resistance as wings of the party, these place control in their own hands, these build within themselves new hierarchies and new elites, these aim to use the state, these enter into the state. They cannot achieve the goals of counter-power and counter-culture—in fact, they undermine them.


As I stressed before, the state cannot be an instrument for working class power and freedom. The state institution, by its basic nature and its basic imperatives, must always place ruling class interests first.

Politically, this means that movements of counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture need to be movements *outside* of, and *against*, the state itself, not movements to launch parties, to lobby parliament, to tweak policies, but movements of struggle, bulwarks of the popular classes facing off against both state and capital—and aiming to replace them with something better—themselves!

This does *not* mean refusing to fight for reforms, it means fighting for reforms *through* counter-power. *And this means rejecting reformism but fighting for reforms in ways that build counter power/counter culture*.

States do sometimes make progressive reforms, but these reforms arise under the pressure of the struggles of the popular classes. Just as wage gains are primarily produced by campaigns and strikes, so are progressive changes in laws and policies.

*The reforms are concessions forced upon the ruling class*, the product of popular class power, imposed upon the ruling class through *struggles*. They are not the consequence of which party, leader, or faction is in state office at a given point. They have nothing to do with elections, policy lobbying, or corporatism.

Counter-power is, in fact, *built through fights for small reforms*. And even though these fights are for small things, these struggles also provide a basis from which to fight for bigger things, by building capacities, momentum, and confidence. So small strikes, small struggles are important, and lay the basis for big struggles. If people cannot win fights to keep the lights on, they cannot possibly win fights for deeper, more systemic, change. And it’s also in daily battles that people become most open to the radical ideas expressed in a revolutionary counter-culture.


This does *not* mean economism: as I said earlier, it’s essential to fight of a range of fronts, and to fight all forms of oppression.

This does *not* mean only dealing with narrow and immediate issues either, ignoring larger economic and social policy issues. (p. 267 starts) We have spent a great deal of time, especially in our unions, trying to propose alternative policies to the state, the ANC, the Alliance.

But these policies center on trying to tweak the existing system, and so, accept its framework. They try to control and fix capitalism—a system we do not control, and cannot fix—and rely on the state—an institution we do not control, and cannot control.

And these efforts have involved a top-down mode of politics where efforts are centered on making proposals at NEDLAC (National Economic Development and Labor Council), a corporatist body, or lobbying parliament, or the ANC’s National General Council. And they have involved developing very technical policies that most people in the unions and elsewhere do not understand— and, more importantly, played no part in designing.

And pretty much all of these policies have been completely ignored, so it’s all been pointless anyway.

Let me rather suggest that a movement of counter-power can engage in economic and social policy, but through tactics that I will call *policy-from-below*. Instead of policy as a technocratic exercise, we should use conflicts around policies proposed or developed by the state as a means of *movement-building*, of *campaigning*. This involves building campaigns in which our policies are developed *through mass movements and discussions*; not developed by a few experts at COSATU House or in a university or an NGO.

Let’s say the state is talking about cutting the Child Support Grant, the monthly cash transfer to poor parents. It is *not* the movements’ job to come up with an alternative state Budget so that the state can fund the grant more *effectively*. It is not the movements’ job to develop an alternative set of welfare and economic policies for the state, within the existing system, as if the problem is *not* also the state, not the *system*, but just bad policies.

Rather, from this perspective, it is the movements’ job to find the level of Child Support Grants that the working class *wants*, and to do this through participatory processes and discussions; and to use these discussions to raise larger issues around how society works, the distribution of wealth and power that favors the ruling class, the political economy; to educate the masses around these issues; to use these processes to build our organizations, to struggle for what we want. And to mobilize for the demands developed, and *impose* these on the state and capital through struggle.

The stress here is on direct action, mass mobilization, self-emancipation, and building counter-power and revolutionary counter-culture.


Building counter-power/counter-culture requires a clear strategy for moving from resistance to reconstruction. This includes generalizing immediate and sometimes localized defensive struggles into larger battles, linking fights around wages and conditions to drives to standardize incomes and conditions and (p. 268 starts) universalize rights, unifying the popular classes including by fighting all forms of oppression, and accumulating capacities that will enable counter-power to take direct control over means of production, coercion, and administration— not just in one country, let me stress, but *internationally*.

The approach to struggle and policy-making that matches this strategy is *militant abstentionism*, that is, an insistence on our autonomy from the ruling class and our refusal to co-manage the bosses’ system. It does not aim to come up with any solutions for capitalism or the state, like alternative “people’s budgets” to the government, or industrial policy proposals through corporatism. In terms of workplace relations, it means building a union movement takes *no* responsibility whatsoever for capitalism or the state—that, instead, fights them.


A new social order is the real solution to the multiple crises that wrack humanity and its planet. It will not emerge spontaneously, or from disconnected local struggles and experiments. It can build on the best of FOSATU and the UDF, but it needs to infuse ideas and insights from anarchism and syndicalism, and build a revolutionary class front.

It’s not an easy or quick approach, but there are no shortcuts. We need to engage in forms of protest and organizing and debate and ideas that empower, that break the commodity form, that break the power of the bosses in the factories, that break the power of politicians and elections, that enable national liberation, and that build the framework of a new world in the shell of the old.

**Lucien van der Walt is at Rhodes University, South Africa. He has published widely on labour and left history and theory, and political economy, and on anarchism and syndicalism. He is actively involved in union and working class education and movements.

Morobe, M. 1987. Towards a People’s Democracy: The UDF View. “Review of African Political Economy” 40:81– 8.
Neocosmos, M. 1996. From People’s Politics to State Politics: Aspects of National Liberation in South Africa, 1984-1994. “Politeia” 15:73–119.

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