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Spartacist Canada No. 175

Winter 2012/2013

South Africa

Miners Struggle Shakes Neo-Apartheid Capitalist Order

Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government!

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1011, 26 October, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.

In the face of the horrific August 16 massacre of 34 striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, South Africa’s miners have persevered in their struggle. The Lonmin strikers won a substantial pay increase and the strike acted as a spur to numerous other workers in platinum, gold, chrome and iron ore mines. Seeking to catch up with the workers’ militancy, the bureaucrats in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other labor officials authorized a truck drivers strike that lasted for three weeks.

The striking miners at Lonmin and at Impala Platinum (Implats, where there was a strike earlier this year) successfully defied their leadership in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and proved that hard class struggle can win. One observer noted that this represented “an industrial relations meltdown” in South Africa that included “total collapse of collective bargaining structures and agreements; destruction of the majority union and emergence of often uncoordinated strike and interim committees to represent workers; emergence of a new minority union,” etc. (Mail & Guardian, 12 October).

COSATU is a component part of the Tripartite Alliance government led by the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) and also including the South African Communist Party (SACP). In this role, the COSATU bureaucrats have imposed on the mainly black working class a stifling code of labor laws that limit strikes, require advance notification for strikes and solidarity actions, and substitute arbitration procedures for industrial action. But the mineworkers ignored these straitjackets, engaging in wildcat strikes and bringing into the sharpest relief the union tops’ loyalty to the capitalist government at the expense of the working masses.

The Tripartite Alliance is a nationalist popular front, a class-collaborationist alliance in which the leaders of COSATU and the SACP subordinate the working masses to the capitalist exploiters. Such popular fronts are a classic mechanism through which the Stalinist Communist parties in such countries as France and Italy repeatedly sold out revolutionary opportunities, as well as in Spain in the 1930s when the Stalinists helped to violently suppress insurgent workers. In this regard, the Stalinists are no different from the Social Democrats, who have staunchly upheld the capitalist order since World War I.

The leaders of COSATU and the SACP have been in the forefront of the government’s witchhunting of militant miners. The NUM leadership solidarized with the cops, even after the massacre. An article in the Daily Maverick (13 October) by Jared Sacks cites eyewitness accounts that the first killings in Marikana, prior to even the big massacre by the cops, were carried out on August 11 by NUM shop stewards and other officials who fired on striking miners protesting the NUM’s complicity with the Lonmin bosses. After an emergency meeting called by South African president Jacob Zuma, COSATU head Zwelinzima Vavi praised Zuma for “showing leadership” and expressed relief that the meeting “condemned the violent strikes and urged law enforcement agencies to curb the illegal action” (City Press, 14 October).

At last month’s COSATU congress, the pro-government bureaucrats organized an attack on a literature table of our comrades of Spartacist South Africa. A 25 September SSA statement sharply pointed out that the purpose of this attack was to threaten any expression of solidarity with the mineworkers’ strike wave and noted that “the COSATU bureaucrats fear that other sections of the working class, inspired by this, will take the road of class struggle” (see WV No. 1009, 28 September).

In fact this projection has come to pass. Not only did workers at the South Africa Toyota plant in Durban go out on strike, but there was a trucking strike in which scab vehicles were burned. The deeply oppressed, mainly coloured (mixed race, partly of Malay origin) clothing workers in the Western Cape went on strike in September for a modest wage increase, while more recently farm workers in the province also launched a strike. Earlier, the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union had negotiated a 30 percent pay cut for new hires, thus acting to cut salaries that are already the lowest in the manufacturing sector. This speaks volumes about the COSATU tops’ “living wage campaign,” which they ballyhooed at their recent congress while knifing the miners who were trying to win just that.

A central purpose of the emergency meeting of union and company bigwigs convened by Zuma, which was also attended by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the FEDUSA trade-union federation, was to reassure foreign investors in the face of the downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. S&P expressed concern that the continuing mining strikes and “social tension” would “increase spending pressure and reduce the country’s fiscal flexibility” (City Press, 14 October). The genuflection to overseas businessmen underscores the dependence of the South African bourgeoisie and its ANC-led government on foreign capital.

The bosses are now stepping up strikebreaking efforts. With the Chamber of Mines hardlining it in talks with striking gold miners, tens of thousands of these workers are being threatened with dismissal. Anglo American Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum mining company, has fired 12,000 workers for engaging in an “illegal” strike. But what the bosses can actually get away with depends on the course of the class struggle; the Lonmin strikers successfully won their jobs back. Virtual martial law exists in the mine fields, with the army called in as a standby to assist the police. The cops regularly use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse pickets and workers’ meetings. Such tactics are also employed regularly by local councils, generally controlled by the ANC, to prevent community organizations in the impoverished townships from holding protests demanding basic services such as electricity and water.

The State: Machine of Class Oppression

Mass murder and abrogation of the rights of the workers and poor—this is the face of South Africa under bourgeois rule, today under the Tripartite Alliance as it was yesterday under the white-supremacist apartheid regime. On paper, the constitution of South Africa is one of the most democratic in the world, guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly and so on. But as V.I. Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party that led the workers to victory in the Russian October Revolution of 1917, pointed out, proletarian rights are always thrown to the wind by capitalist states when the workers begin to rebel against wage slavery:

“There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violation of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner.”

The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918

The struggle to bring down the hated apartheid regime mobilized literally millions of workers and youth, and the ANC’s 1994 electoral victory was greeted with huge expectations of liberation for the oppressed masses. But after 18 years of the Tripartite Alliance in power, the anger at the base of society is increasingly being expressed in class and other social struggle. Many members of the SACP and COSATU are fed up with their leadership’s repeated betrayals of working-class struggles such as the Marikana strike. But it is necessary to understand that the SACP’s treachery flows logically from its Stalinist-derived reformist program of “revolution in stages.”

According to this false ideology, South Africa is undergoing a “national democratic revolution” that will “grow over” into socialism. The SACP’s line is that the South African state is not bourgeois but “class-contested terrain” and thus can be pressured to act in the interests of the working class. This schema flies in the face of the elementary Marxist understanding that there are two fundamental classes in society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and that a state must be ruled by one or another of these classes. The Marikana massacre is about as pure a demonstration that there is a capitalist state in South Africa as you can ask for! It also demonstrates what we have always noted about “two-stage revolution”: in the first stage the “progressive” bourgeoisie comes to power; in the second stage workers are massacred. Meanwhile in South Africa, some leading “Communists” and union officials become millionaires.

By its nature, the capitalist state defends capitalist profit and necessarily seeks to suppress workers struggle. While virtually the entirety of the South African and international left pandered to the widespread illusions in the ANC, claiming that it would achieve “national liberation” for the oppressed masses, the Spartacists told the truth. When the ANC was elected in 1994, we headlined “ANC/De Klerk Deal Is Betrayal of Black Freedom” (WV No. 599, 29 April 1994) and “Mandela/ANC Front for Racist Capitalist Rule” (WV No. 600, 13 May 1994). The latter article stressed: “Black Freedom Requires Socialist Revolution.”

We pointed out that while the legal superstructure of apartheid was abolished, social and racial inequality remained essentially unchanged. Hence we termed this society one of neo-apartheid oppression. Today many South Africans see the similarity between the cop butchery of miners at Marikana and the apartheid rulers’ murder of black people at Sharpeville in 1960 and Soweto in 1976. But what must be driven home is that the ANC-led regime is simply the changed face of bourgeois class rule, which, like its predecessor government, slaughters black workers to defend the rule of the (mainly white) capitalist masters.

Over the years, we have documented in our press viciously anti-working-class acts carried out by the ANC along with the misleaders of the unions and SACP. We noted how NUMSA metal workers’ leader Moses Mayekiso and SACP top Joe Slovo were sent to break a week-long plant occupation by Mercedes-Benz workers in East London in 1990; how the newly installed ANC-led government under Nelson Mandela brutally repressed striking Pick ’n Pay grocery store workers in 1994; how in 2000 the NUMSA bureaucracy openly sided with the Volkswagen bosses who fired 1,300 workers in Uitenhage in response to a wildcat strike they carried out in defense of their shop stewards. And we have consistently politically opposed all wings of the bourgeois ANC, whether Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Zuma (who a few years ago was passed off as “pro-worker” by the SACP and COSATU tops) or Julius Malema.

For a Joint Strike Committee

Miners at Lonmin and Implats have resigned from the NUM en masse and signed up with AMCU, while thousands of Anglo American Platinum strikers recently marched on the NUM’s Rustenburg office to cancel their membership. In general, revolutionaries favor organizing workers in one union in a given industry as a means of maximizing the strength of the working class against the capitalists. However, we do not condemn all splits within the trade-union movement; these need to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and certainly if the majority of platinum and other miners want to join AMCU they have that right. It is the NUM tops’ class treachery that is fundamentally responsible for undermining workers’ unity in the mining industry. But in any case, new unions are not in and of themselves an answer to the bosses’ attacks. What is necessary is the forging of a class-struggle leadership in the unions, based on complete independence from the bourgeoisie and its state, as a crucial part of building a revolutionary workers party that champions all the exploited and oppressed.

It is appropriate today to call for a joint strike committee based on elected local mine committees, many of which have already been constituted during the strikes. Such a committee would organize and unify the miners’ struggles, bringing together workers irrespective of union affiliation. It would fight to ensure equal pay for the same work, striving to drive out the parasitic labor brokers, whose employees at Lonmin were not covered by the pay hike. It would coordinate workers defense guards to stop scabs and organize defense against the cop thugs. It would promote demands in the interests of the surrounding black communities and would seek to draw in those, like the miners’ wives, who have actively supported the strikes.

Trade unions generally organize a minority of the working class and tend to express the particular interests of the more skilled and conservative layers of the proletariat. Thus, the Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky emphasized the importance not only of fighting within the unions for class-struggle politics but of forming organizations in periods of intense class struggle that embrace broader sections of the working masses, such as factory committees. He wrote in the Transitional Program (1938):

“Therefore, the sections of the Fourth International should always strive not only to renew the top leadership of the trade unions, boldly and resolutely in critical moments advancing new militant leaders in place of routine functionaries and careerists, but also to create in all possible instances independent militant organizations corresponding more closely to the tasks of mass struggle against bourgeois society; and if necessary, not flinching even in the face of a direct break with the conservative apparatus of the trade unions.”

Elected strike committees would more democratically reflect the will of the workers than existing union bodies. Moreover, should an effective joint strike committee be established, it would take responsibility for food provisioning, organization of security, public transport, etc. Thus, the workers would in fact be taking over many of the functions of running society in the mining areas. This would be an invaluable experience, instilling consciousness in these miners of the capacity of workers to organize society on the basis of proletarian state power.

According to the Daily Maverick (15 October), a meeting of wildcat strike leaders took place in Marikana, representing miners from several provinces. The article noted in particular the presence of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), which has been active in the Rustenburg area. The DSM says that a national strike coordinating committee was launched on October 13 and that the committee is calling for a general strike on November 3. On October 19, Vavi and NUM officials were pelted with rocks by striking workers at AngloGold Ashanti’s mine in Orkney, North West Province. Earlier, several DSM members were detained by mine security and grilled by police after addressing the strikers. The workers movement must defend the DSM and all others victimized for their role in the miners struggle!

However, mineworkers and others need to be aware of the thoroughly opportunist history of the DSM, which is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI [in Canada, Socialist Alternative]) headed by Peter Taaffe. The Taaffe group formed the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC, remaining inside this bourgeois party until 1996. In a speech in New York given shortly after the 1994 elections, Taaffe, then the leader of the British Militant Labour Tendency, opposed the call for a workers party, saying: “The working class in South Africa has to go through the experience of an ANC government. The slogan of a workers party was an incorrect slogan in the period prior to the elections in South Africa. We wanted the biggest possible ANC majority” (WV No. 602, 10 June 1994).

The DSM emerged from its entrism inside the ANC when the latter’s “national liberation” credentials were starting to wear thin as a result of economic policies aimed at reassuring investors. Indeed, few if any left groups persist in uncritically cheerleading for the regime and its leaders, who are unashamedly riding the “gravy train.” But the DSM, like the other reformists who hitched their wagon to the Tripartite Alliance, maintains its class-collaborationist politics, which are at bottom the same as those of the SACP and COSATU tops. This can be unmistakably seen in the DSM’s attitude toward the state (see the 1994 Spartacist pamphlet, Militant Labour’s Touching Faith in the Capitalist State). Just like their reformist big brothers, the CWI/DSM believes that the police are part of the workers movement.

In the 1994 speech cited above, Taaffe supported the cop union POPCRU (Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union), enthusing that “these very same black police who were tools of the apartheid regime, were radicalized by the situation.” His conclusion was: “We can neutralize the forces of the state and win them over.”

One can cite any amount of evidence disproving this suicidal illusion, the cop massacre of miners at Marikana being an obvious example. In the wake of that event, the DSM, in a 17 August statement titled “For a General Strike to End the Marikana Massacre,” violence-baited the Lonmin strikers, rebuking them for “killing first two security guards, on Saturday, and then two police officers on Monday” (quoted in a 23 August SSA statement published in WV No. 1007, 31 August). Now, in a 16 October statement, the DSM refers to a wave of workers militancy sweeping through the country, which supposedly includes “the police as well as the municipal workers”! Of the Taaffeites, it can truly be said that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The police, black and white, are enforcers for capitalist rule. We say: Cops, prison guards and security guards out of the unions!

The DSM calls for “nationalisation of the mines under workers’ control and management.” A black-centered workers government would expropriate the mines, banks, industry and land without compensation, while struggling to extend the revolution internationally. Such a government could only be put in place through the expropriation of the South African bourgeoisie as a class, i.e., through proletarian revolution. The DSM statement does not mention socialist revolution, and this is not an accident. They don’t believe that the workers must smash the capitalist state and replace it with a workers state. In Britain, Taaffe’s organization claims that industry will be nationalized through the mechanism of an “enabling bill” passed by the bourgeois Parliament. This is just a version of what the British Labour Party did after World War II: it’s social democracy, not communism.

Malema, Corruption and COSATU

Expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema was arrested last month and charged with money laundering, accused of using his former position to enrich himself and his business partners. The bourgeois press has carried prominent exposés of the slush funds he uses to collect kickbacks from wealthy “tenderpreneurs”—beneficiaries of government contracts—and the alleged profits he’s made from his business deals are big enough to owe some R10 million [$1.15 million] in unpaid taxes. Much of Malema’s fortune is apparently derived from acting as a parasitic middleman, plundering the state coffers in Limpopo, one of the most impoverished provinces.

Whatever the “legality” involved here, Malema is getting rich through exploiting his connections to the ANC-led government, which makes him no different from an entire layer of the new black elite. Cyril Ramaphosa, a former NUM leader, is a rand billionaire and stockholder in Lonmin. The timing of Malema’s arrest indicates that the motive was not concern over corruption—Malema “crossed the line” when he claimed to support the strikers. In fact, the elite Hawks police unit is also reportedly going after Malema for “incitement to violence” stemming from his visits to striking miners in Marikana and elsewhere. The legal vendetta aims to gag critics of the government’s attacks on miners. For this reason, the state prosecution of Malema is against the interest of the proletariat.

Julius Malema is a bourgeois populist demagogue who skillfully exploits the anger and discontent among the country’s impoverished black majority in order to advance his own political career. His calls for nationalizing the mines and white-owned land angered not only foreign capital and the racist reactionaries but also the leaders of the Tripartite Alliance. But Malema’s call for “economic freedom” is a fraud. He fully supports capitalism. His call for nationalization of the mines, for example, envisions transferring wealth from the white Randlords to the bourgeois state and the politically connected elite who benefit from the “black economic empowerment” program, which like all capitalist enterprise in South Africa is based on exploiting mainly black labor. His use of the “race card” inflames racial and ethnic divisions among layers of the oppressed and is empty when it comes to taking on the mainly white rulers. But Malema has won support among black youth and some workers including many miners. He must be defeated politically and exposed as a class enemy of workers’ emancipation.

The SACP and COSATU tops have cheered on the prosecution of Malema. But the corruption in the workers movement results from the class collaboration of the reformists and their integration into the bourgeois state. There are numerous instances of unions running business enterprises; for example, leaders of the NUM and SACP help run a mining venture, Kameni, in Limpopo, and the NUM and the bosses’ Chamber of Mines jointly own Unibank. An article in Business Day (19 September) noted that Patrice Motsepe, the owner of African Rainbow Minerals, had contributed R1.75 million to COSATU over the past three years, not including his donation to this year’s congress. He also gave R1.75 million to a trust that supports the dependents of deceased national union office holders. Other large corporate donors included Investec, which funded last year’s central committee meeting with a R1 million donation, and Standard Bank, which contributed R850,000 to the 2009 congress. These capitalists understand whose interests are served by the Tripartite Alliance and its labor-bureaucratic component; the working class needs to learn this lesson.

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party!

Some miners have expressed the view that unions should stay out of politics and concern themselves solely with the economic betterment of their members. This undoubtedly reflects their bitterness at the Tripartite Alliance. However, struggles at the point of production, important as they are, cannot by themselves do away with or even fundamentally alleviate the brutality of capitalist exploitation. The system will simply breed another layer of bourgeois politicians like Malema who exploit the discontent of the masses.

Wage and other economic gains are inherently reversible, subject to the vicissitudes of the capitalist market. With sagging demand on the world market for platinum, the bosses are already threatening layoffs. Moreover, only a small fraction of South Africa’s working masses and plebeian poor is represented by trade unions. Many people are jobless or unorganized. The unemployment rate for youth exceeds 50 percent. Farm laborers are at the mercy of wealthy white farmers. The government’s land redistribution program is a farce. A revolutionary party would fight to organize these workers and demand the expropriation of the land without compensation. A workers government would establish cooperative and state farms, which alone can provide a decent life not only for the farm laborers but for the millions more living in desolate rural backwaters.

The lot of the township poor is equally harsh, subject to cutoffs in electricity and water, if they had ever gotten these essentials in the first place. Despite the government’s phony promises to provide housing for all South Africans, millions continue to live in shantytowns. Capitalist misery hits black women the hardest—from significantly higher rates of poverty and HIV infection to the widespread practices of polygamy, lobola (bride price) and even ukuthwala (“marriage by capture”) in some rural areas. Studies show that up to 50 percent of women are assaulted by their partners.

What is necessary is a Leninist vanguard party—not a party of working-class betrayal like the SACP or a reformist labor party as advocated by the DSM but a party modeled on the Bolsheviks who led the workers to power in Russia in 1917. Such a vanguard party, consisting of the most class-conscious section of the workers as well as revolutionary intellectuals, will be forged by winning over the best elements of the SACP from their pro-capitalist tops, as well as other militants. The discontents of society, unless they are expressed in struggles on a class axis, can easily take on reactionary form in polarizations along racial, national, ethnic and tribal lines. As we wrote in 1995, what is needed is a revolutionary workers party which:

“does not simply defend the particular interests of the working class, especially its unionized sector, but is fighting to eradicate all forms of national and social oppression.... To unite all of the oppressed, a workers party must staunchly champion the democratic rights of those who have cause to feel threatened by the ANC’s brand of nationalism—e.g., coloureds, Indians, Zulu villagers, immigrants from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other neighboring African states.”

—“Two Letters to the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action,” printed in the 1997 International Communist League pamphlet The Fight for a Revolutionary Vanguard Party: Polemics on the South African Left

The overlap of race and class in South Africa has given credence to the nationalist ideology pushed by the ANC, the false belief that the black African people have a common interest that stands higher than class divisions. But the investor-friendly policies of the ANC have caused widespread disillusion among the working masses. Large protests over service cuts began years ago in the townships, and now important sections of the proletariat have begun to move. The government has responded with savagely repressive measures. This points to the brittleness and instability of bourgeois democracy in South Africa. The gulf between the impoverished masses and the privileged white caste, along with their black “gravy trainers,” is simply too vast to be easily subsumed in parliamentary horse-trading and the seemingly endless succession crises at the top of the Alliance.

The masses’ expectations for national and social equality require the proletariat taking power. This is the heart of Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution, which recognizes that in countries of belated capitalist development, the achievement of the burning democratic tasks requires the destruction of capitalism. A black-centered workers government would expropriate the bourgeoisie, establishing a planned collectivized economy that would undertake the much-needed improvement in the living standards of the black toilers while upholding the democratic rights of the coloureds and Indians and of those whites who accept a government centrally based on the black working masses.

A workers government must be linked to the toilers throughout the region in a socialist federation of Southern Africa, and it would have to fight like hell to extend workers power to the advanced industrial countries. A socialist revolution in South Africa would confront powerful enemies; at the same time it would find important proletarian allies in the imperialist centers devastated by the long economic downturn, as well as other countries where the masses have strongly identified with the struggle against white supremacy. On the basis of international socialist planning, we can build a truly humane society in which the exploitation associated with the rule of the mining magnates and imperialist bloodsuckers is a relic of the past.


Spartacist Canada No. 175

SC 175

Winter 2012/2013



South Africa

Miners Struggle Shakes Neo-Apartheid Capitalist Order

Fight for a Black-Centred Workers Government!


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