National Sections of the L5I:

Can apartheid be destroyed by reforms?

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The LRCI immediately recognised the real threat posed to the liberation struggle by the negotiation process. We argued that the ANC leadership would:

“. . . direct the whole mass movement into a strategic compromise—a multi-racial imperialist capitalism based on the super-exploitation of the black and coloured masses, and perhaps even a small section of poor whites.”1

Our previous analysis of the development and crisis of South African imperialism2 meant that we were not deceived by the pseudo-radical theory that apartheid and capitalism formed an indissoluble whole.

The de-coupling of apartheid from capitalism would seek to demolish the overt racist laws and regulations that prevent the full development of a black bourgeoisie and hinder the growth of a black middle class and a stratum of skilled workers.

These latter classes and strata, especially a black labour aristocracy, are essential to the stability of a still-capitalist and perhaps expanding imperialist South Africa.

The designation “apartheid-capitalism”, popular with the left in South Africa and beyond, had an apparently revolutionary purpose: to explain that apartheid could not be removed without the destruction of capitalism.

It was absolutely correct to argue that the poverty and super-exploitation of the black popular masses could only be overthrown by revolutionary means aimed at capitalism.

This was and remains the only way to secure and guarantee real and full democratic rights for the multi-millioned majority, and an end to racial oppression.

But the idea that there was an automatic process connecting the fall of apartheid to the fall of capitalism was a cover for all kinds of confusion and opportunism.

It was not a concretisation of the theory of permanent revolution but its negation.

This false perspective certainly contributed to the failure of the left to build an independent anti-capitalist workers’ party, or to fight for a programme which openly links revolutionary democratic to socialist tasks.

The “apartheid-capitalism” conception fosters the illusion that as long as the mass movement is fighting apartheid it is by this very fact fighting for socialism too.

It thus wittingly or unwittingly adopts a stages perspective which de-prioritises the fight for class demands, for a class programme, for working class leadership in the democratic struggle and thus for a revolutionary workers’ party.

Revolutionaries who say that it cannot succeed are engaging in a false radicalism which hides a fatal passivity that hopes objective events will solve these tasks.

The project can succeed if the present leadership of the ANC/SACP is not defeated and replaced by a genuine working class alternative. l

1 Trotskyist International 4 Spring 1990
2 See Permanent Revolution 4, London, Summer 1986

What future for the South African economy?

The alternative strategies presented by economists of both right and left in South Africa can be broadly categorised as “growth through redistribution”, or “growth then redistribution”.

The latter is, of course, the preferred strategy of the IMF and the advisers of big business in South Africa.

The IMF and the banks insist that resources for the necessary social investment should come from holding down wage rises to no more than 1% per annum.

This strategy also implies little or no increase in government spending, which already runs at around 30% of GDP reflecting the legacy of state welfare and payments to white farmers.

The resources which could be freed for social spending and crucial infrastructural projects would be small since huge reductions in defence spending are ruled out.

As a former Development Bank chairman put it with admirable frankness, “We don’t have the resources for the kind of welfare state we have been running for whites”. 1

In fact all that is on offer is a “trickle down model” which would benefit only a small layer of the black population—obviously the growing black bourgeoisie now able to expand businesses and buy land and a black middle class layer of professionals.

Black industrial workers in stable employment might also benefit from better social and educational provision.

There is a further problem.

The IMF model is one which projects export-led manufacturing growth. Raised productivity is crucial to any success here. Unit labour costs have risen by 600% since 1975 and productivity has risen hardly at all. 2

Even the Economic Trends (ET) group (advisers to COSATU) agree that a growth model based simply on an expansion of demand through redistribution is “unrealistic”.

Nevertheless, they believe it is possible to “achieve growth through the more extensive and rapid redistribution of wealth”. 3 In the first outline of their strategy they stressed

“The simultaneous creation of employment and the expanding production of basic consumer goods”, through a strategy “based on a synthesis of interests bringing together not only the employed working class and the mass of urban unemployed, but also the middle classes (black and white).” 4

The ET group rests theoretically on the positions of the Regulation School of political economy, itself originally influenced by Maoism and Stalinism, which argues that capitalist development can be seen as a series of phases with different “regimes of accumulation”.

Capitalist crises can give way to new periods of stability through changes resulting in new forms of capital accumulation using new forms of social control and changing conditions of production and realisation.

According to this view, in South Africa “racial Fordism” allowed dramatic growth for a whole period; that is, mass production of mineral wealth by super-exploited labour.

Now, the argument runs, new employment and expanding production of consumer goods could produce a new equilibrium.

This growth model was obviously attractive to the reformists of COSATU and the ANC when they were in opposition. Now they see themselves on the verge of assuming governmental responsibility their tune has begun to change.

The 1992 ANC policy guidelines dropped “growth through redistribution” as a slogan and the SACP manifesto stresses export-oriented policies:

“There is no ‘royal road to growth’. Growth will depend on investment, a successful export strategy, and so on. If the slogan ‘Growth through Redistribution’ has been understood as implying an inward-oriented, single measure strategy, this is not what is in reality needed.” 5

The ET group itself, in its Industrial Strategy Project, lays stress on industrial restructuring and the involvement of workers and the trade unions in a “restructuring accord”.

In the past the ET group and the SACP have stressed the need for anti-trust measures to reduce the power of the big corporations and greater state intervention to encourage investment.

Nationalisation all but disappeared from the agenda.

Now even anti-trust measures are going the same way in the name of realism and responsibility. Instead, debate revolves around the type of social contract that the working class should concede:

“It is only in reaching some kind of strategic accommodation between labour, the state and capital that unions will be able to extract what potential benefits the reorganisation of manufacturing production offers.” 6

Well-organised workers should agree to wage restraint in return for certain social measures to be taken by the bosses and the state.

This class collaborationist model is a reactionary utopia.

Like the British “Social Contract” of the 1970s or other similar deals between reformist parties, trade unions and the bosses, it will mean sacrifice on the part of workers without any means of enforcing the deal on the employers.

The idea of a friendly government of the ANC siding with the working class, or rather neutrally overseeing fair play between unions and management, is based on the typical false reformist understanding of the role of the state.

However independently the state can appear to act at certain junctures, it expresses the interests of the ruling class.

If a government were forced to make serious concessions to the working class at the expense of the bosses it would meet the fate of Allende in Chile—bloody overthrow at the hands of reaction.

1 Financial Times, 5 June 1992
2 Quarterly Guide to the Economy, Ned Bank, November 1992
3 Gelb, South Africa’s Economic Crisis, London, 1991, p30
4 ibid.
5 SACP Economics Forum, “Redistribution and Growth” in African Communist Second Quarter 1992.
6 Joffe and Lewis, “A Strategy for South African Manufacturing”, in SALB16/4 March/April 1992

Revolutionaries and the national question

The response of the nationalist and working class movements to ethnic conflict in South Africa have been varied.

Very influential on the non-Stalinist left have been a number of “one nation” theories which call for the building of one non-oppressive, united nation state.

This theory was adopted by the left and black consciousness organisations in South Africa—such as AZAPO and the Cape Action League whose theorist, Neville Alexander, gave it its most sophisticated expression.

Its progressive impulse was that it reflected the desire of militants to oppose the ethnic and linguistic divisions in the working class and oppressed strata which apartheid sought to maintain.

The LRCI has argued that this theory had two enormous weaknesses. Firstly, it abandoned the Leninist principle that Marxists are fighters against all national oppression and privilege but are not nation builders.

We have no positive commitment to creating and preserving one or another national culture or national state.

We are against forcible retention within a state of a people which has democratically expressed the desire to leave it and whose exercise of this right will not result in the oppression of another people or act as a means to sabotage a great democratic or socialist struggle.

We are, in short, not nationalists, however progressive or enlightened. We are internationalists, like our class. For us, as Trotsky said, “the working class has no fatherland” is not an agitational quip but the bedrock of the proletariat’s existence as a class for itself.

The core of the struggle to end racial and national oppression is the ending of the monstrous political and economic privileges of the whites. This requires first and foremost unifying the artificially divided peoples of South Africa.

It means overcoming the “tribalist” ideologies of the bantustan leaders like Buthelezi and counter the constant attempts to set the linguistic groups and communities at one another’s throats.

It means also combating any manifestations of concealed favouritism or privileges for one linguistic group or another within the liberation movement.

The fears of any particular oppressed language group or community that it could become a vulnerable minority in the new state have to be put at rest. For this reason we believe that revolutionaries should include in their programme of democratic demands the recognition of the right of any of the oppressed ethno-linguistic groups to territorial self-determination after the racist state has been overthrown.

We should, however, argue unremittingly against any group separating, as it injures class unity, hampers the development of the productive forces, and weakens the fight against imperialism.

Socialists should fight for the maximum unity of the working class and the largest possible workers’ state in the form of a federation, first of southern and then the whole of Africa.

To recognise the right to separate, however, is a pledge given to all those who genuinely fear the fate of minority peoples, an understandable fear given the history of Africa.

It will help win them and hold them to the united struggle against the racist state. It is not a concession to tribalism but a weapon against it.