National Sections of the L5I:

The Crisis of leadership

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Stuart King argues that the ANC cannot provide a real revolutionary leadership to the oppressed Black population of South Africa

Writing nearly fifty years ago, Leon Trotsky, chief figure within the Military Revolutionary Committee that planned and directed the October insurrection, the founder of the Red Army and the “organiser of victory” in the civil war wrote,

"Political leadership in the crucial moments of historical turns can become just as decisive a factor as is the policy of the chief command during the critical moments of war. History is not an automatic process. Otherwise why leaders? Why parties? Why programmes? Why theoretical struggles?"

(Trotsky: “The Party, the Class and the Leadership")

The South African proletariat has demonstrated incredible revolutionary strength, tenacity and intelligence in the struggle of the past three years. It would be folly to draw from this the stale and complacent recipes of spontaneism. The leadership of the South African masses lies largely in the hands of the ANC, whose chief inspirer is the South African Communist Party. The leadership of the unions is more varied but certainly COSATU does not represent an alternative political leadership to the ANC. The leaders of the ANC, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo in prison and exile and Winnie Mandela have enormous prestige amongst the masses. While their courage and sacrifice have earned them this, their political strategy is nevertheless a disastrous one for the black proletariat. There is in the South African revolution a crisis of leadership, one that will become all the more obvious in the months ahead.

In the revolutionary situation in South Africa, the question of leadership, of strategy and tactics, of programme and party, take on a burning urgency. It is vitally necessary for revolutionary communists to voice clearly and openly their criticisms of the leaderships in the South Afrlcan/Azanian struggle because their policies will make the vital difference between victory and defeat.

This article deals with the history and current strategy of the ANC and SACP as well as the UDF. Our criticisms of these currents are placed firmly within the context of giving them unconditional support in their struggle against the South African ruling class and its imperialist backers. We recognise that, in imperialist Britain, it is our first duty to expose the lies and hypocrisy of Botha’s ally, Thatcher, and to help organise workers’ action to aid those in struggle in South Africa.

Unfortunately, not only is the South African movement dominated by a powerful Stalinist current. It also contains a number of organisations which bear all the hallmarks of degenerate, centrist “Trotskyism"; the Unity and the New Unity Movements, the Cape Action League and, through the influence of the CAL, to some extent AZAPO itself. This article, therefore, also deals with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USEC), one section of which has already politically gone over to Stalinism, the SWP(US). Meanwhile, the other wing, supporting Ernest Mandel, has abandoned all semblance of Trotskyism and waits on the “objective process” of the revolution to carry the struggle to victory.

If this were not enough, two of the largest centrist organisations In Britain, the Militant Tendency and the Socialist Workers Party, one of which has supporters in South Africa (the Militant-linked Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC), have put forward a caricature of Trotskyism. Both are united in their sect like passivity in the face of a revolutionary crisis of enormous proportions. Alex Callinicos, a leading member of the SWP, has recently claimed that the MWT, “has produced some of the best recent analysis of the struggle in South Africa. Its basic analysis is very similar to that of this journal . . . “ (International Socialism 2:31)

Indeed it is. While the USEC lauds the “revolutionary process", Militant/SWP deny its very existence. The revolutionary crisis is “years in the future". This has to be the case for these centrists because they have no operative programme and tactics for the complex revolutionary situation which stares them in the face. This leads both of them to attack the ANC/SACP from the right on the question of tempo and the immediate tasks in South Africa.

Trotsky summed up the role of such would-be leaders in the French situation of 1935,

"At the present time, all that the pious mouthings of the phrase ’non revolutionary situation’ can do is crush the minds of the workers, paralyze their will, and hand them over to the class enemy. Under the cover of such phrases, conservatism, indolence, stupidity, and cowardice take possession of the leadership of the proletariat, and the ground is laid, as it was in Germany, for catastrophe.” (Once Again, Whither France)

Had these groups any mass influence in South Africa this is precisely the role that their degenerate “Trotskyism” would play.

The African National Congress (ANC) claims to represent the whole people of South Africa in their struggle against apartheid. It is a petit-bourgeois nationalist formation dominated politically by the Stalinist South African Communist Party (SACP). Through the United Democratic Front (UDF the ’legal’ anti-apartheid organisation in South Africa, and through control of the now illegal students’ organisation, COSA, the ANC exercises considerable influence in the present struggle against the racist state.

The ANC was formed in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress. It was the black African organisation formed alongside similar types of Congress in South Africa for ’Indians’ and ’Coloureds’ with the objective of pressuring white liberals (especially the English) to grant limited reforms, such as the right of blacks to vote for blacks, subject to a property qualification, a right that existed in Cape Colony. It was dominated by chiefs, known as the ’princes of African blood’, who formed an upper house in the Congress.

The campaigns launched by the ANC included petitions and passive resistance on the model of Ghandi’s National Indian Congress. After 1925, the African Congress took its present name, ANC, but still eschewed any tactics that went beyond its method of ’peaceful persuasion’ to bring about reform. It survived and grew in the 1930’s through its liaison with the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA).

By this time, the CP was a thoroughly Stalinist organisation. In the context of South Africa, this meant that its perspective restricted the revolution that would destroy white supremacy within a bourgeois democratic framework. This was spelt out by the CPSA theoretician of the time, A.T. Nzula:

"The basic content of the first stage of the revolution in Black Africa is the struggle for land and a war of national liberation. In this case, therefore, the revolution will, in its initial stage, be a bourgeois democratic revolution."

This perspective of the democratic stage of the revolution has remained part of Stalinism’s programme since 1928. The strategy has taken various political forms from passive resistance to armed struggle, but the bourgeois-democratic objective has always remained. The revolution is limited in scope to suit the petit-bourgeois nationalists with whom the Stalinists bloc and who are seen as the leading force in this stage of the struggle.

The Stalinists thus subordinate the workers’ movement politically to a ’peoples front’ of petit-bourgeois and even bourgeois nationalists and ’put off’ (in fact abandon) its historical goal and tasks to a distant future in favour of an idealised (bourgeois) democracy. This strategy is reactionary and utopian. It is reactionary because it hands over the leadership of the national, anti-racist revolution to the petit-bourgeoisie, a class not fitted to lead this revolution to success.

The petit-bourgeoisie, whenever it is not firmly led by the working class, because of its thousandfold ties with private property in the means of production, has a historic tendency to submit to the domination of the bourgeoisie at the critical moment. The petit-bourgeoisie will compromise with the big (imperialist) bourgeoisie, first assuring its own rights and privileges and then deserting the proletariat and the rural and urban poor.

The Stalinist strategy is utopian because even bourgeois democracy with its historically progressive features is neither achievable nor maintainable on the basis of the crisis racked capitalism of the last quarter of the Twentieth century. The history of the ’democratic revolutions’ of the Twentieth century, from Mexico and China (1910 and 1927) to Iran and Zimbabwe shows that the possibilities of capitalist democracy emerging are slim indeed. The choice is between a weak capitalism with a bonapartist dictatorship, a bloody disaster for the workers and poor peasants, or a workers’ government and the overthrow of capitalism.

The Stalinist stagist strategy enabled the CPSA to win friends in the ANC and influence its policies. However, the miserable failure of its popular frontist strategy was cruelly exposed by the election of the Nationalist Party Government in 1948. The government carried out the full scale imposition of apartheid and illegalised the CPSA in 1950 under the Suppression of Communism Act. So tied was the CP to the popular frontist perspective (which had taken them so far as to defend racist South Africa and its white bourgeoisie in the Second World War) that it voted to dissolve itself in the face of this Act. Only in 1953 did it re-emerge as the South African Communist Party (SACP).

The ANC’s brand of petit-bourgeois nationalism took root amongst the black masses in the 1950’s. The development of a total segregationist policy under Herzog in the 1930’s, the triumph of the Nationalist Party in 1948 and the beginning of Grand Apartheid ended the influence of the older generation of would-be collaborators in the ANC. A radical leadership, including Nelson Mandela, emerged through the Congress Youth League and took the ANC into a period of mass protest with the Defiance Campaign of the 1950’s. Whilst even they did not move beyond Ghandian methods, they did turn the ANC into a mass nationalist movement.

The failure of the Defiance Campaign sent the ANC once more looking for white ’progressive’ support. It is why it is only in this period that the influence of the SACP on the ANC has been decisive.

In 1955, the ANC formed the Congress Alliance with the white Congress of Democrats (communists and liberals) and the ’Indian’ and ’Coloured’ Congresses. The ANC, with SACP backing, even invited the bourgeois United Party to attend this ’Congress of the People’.

The Congress Alliance adopted the Freedom Charter. The year after it was adopted, Nelson Mandela made clear that the programme was a democratic, not a socialist, one.

"Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far-reaching nature it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, the land, the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes. Its declaration ’The People Shall Govern’ visualises the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of this country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty bourgeoisie."(’ln Our Lifetime’, June 1956)

The SACP and the Marxist Workers Tendency of the’ ANC (Inqaba), like to emphasise the ’socialist aspects’ of the Freedom Charter. It states for instance that “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole". While all other industry shall be ’controlled’ to assist the well being of the people.

Clearly this commitment is vague enough to be interpreted in many ways by various groupings in South African society, and it is intended to be. How many monopolies will actually be nationalised has been carefully left open. Oliver Tambo, after his recent discussions with the monopoly capitalists of Anglo-American, talked of nationalising ’some industries’ and establishing a ’mixed economy’. Of course, the Charter says nothing about expropriating these industries from the capitalists who have already been paid a thousand fold in profits extracted from the super-exploited black labour force. Nor is there any intention of establishing workers’ control over them.

Such nationalisations, however large, would leave the power of the monopolies over South Africa untouched. Anglo-American would be quite willing to live with this kind of nationalisation. It would be a repeat performance of the nationalisation carried out by the Zambian government in relation to Anglo-American’s copper mines, which did nothing to weaken Anglo’s hold on this vital sector of Zambia’s economy.

As Mandela explains, the demands of the Charter do not aim to break the power of the capitalists and establish a socialist state in South Africa, rather their purpose is to establish a black capitalist class alongside the white capitalists:

"The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of this country the non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right, mines and factories; trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.” (Ibid)

Thus the Freedom Charter is the programme for the popular front which aims to mobilise all classes, including the nascent black bourgeoisie, around a programme to establish a more ’democratic capitalism’. For all their talk about ’uninterrupted’ revolution, this is the programme the SACP endorses and fights for.

The South African CP seeks to divert all democratic struggles into a self-contained ’democratic stage’, a distinct bourgeois revolution. This means doing violence to the manifold objective connections between all democratic issues and the overthrow of capitalism in South Africa. It means intervention to put a brake on and interrupt the dynamic of the struggle against Apartheid.

However, a democratic programme like the Freedom Charter fought for by the peaceful Defiance Campaigns, was enough to evoke a vicious wave of repression by the Apartheid regime. The treason trials of the late 1950s were a prelude to the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC. The ANC had done nothing to prepare the masses for this repression. They had deluded the masses with hopes of reforms. The masses paid for it with their lives.

Following Sharpeville, it was no longer possible for the ANC to retain its hold over the masses by a strategy of peaceful protest. It turned to armed action against the Apartheid state. Much of the ANC’s credibility, particularly with the black youth, is due to its long, armed campaign against the racist regime.

Neither the ANC nor the SACP advocated a turn to armed struggle until 1961. The justification for this, given by the ANC in the 1969 Morogoro Conference document Strategy and Tactics of the South African Revolution, and by Joe Slovo in No Middle Road (1976), is that, until that date, the necessary factors were missing. These were and are that the masses have found for themselves that peaceful processes could not bring change and are ready to make the necessary sacrifices, that there is a tried and tested political leadership, and that other objective conditions are right:

"The act of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements, it consists of setting a pace which accords with objective conditions and the real possibilities at hand.” (Strategy and Tactics)

This avoids the question of why neither the SACP nor the ANC propagandised earlier for the necessity of armed struggle or for the organised defence of protest action. ’Setting a pace’ in effect means opportunist adaptation or alternatively, it is a cover for the fact that neither the SACP or ANC, prior to 1960, considered that violence would be necessary.

The strategy adopted by the ANC/SACP was of “a long term, multi-staged campaign of disciplined violence” starting with sabotage, to be followed by a campaign of primarily guerrilla warfare. It is striking that this did not relate to the existing, although admittedly retreating, mass movement. For instance, the failure of the protest stayaways led the ANC to write them off rather than consider how to plan for their defence, for rebuilding in the workplace, for overcoming the dissipating effect of one and two day strikes etc. The armed struggle was to be separated from the masses. It is significant that the rural guerrilla campaign was not rooted in, in fact was launched two years after, the major land war on the reserves, the Pondoland revolt of 1959/60.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s campaign, the black working class was relegated to the background by the SACP. It demonstrated a highly sectarian attitude to the emerging trade union movement in the 1970s, pronouncing that as the Apartheid state was fascist, the independent trade unions could not grow. Herein lies the key weaknesses of guerrilla warfare as a strategy. It is far removed from the struggles of the key revolutionary class, the working class. The ANC gets millions in aid to fund its armed wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Despite this, it has been the largely spontaneous township revolts, not the ANC’s armed actions, that have shaken the regime. The revolts have an immediate effect on the class relations in South Africa. The guerrilla actions, by and large, have not had this effect. Yet, as Trotsky explained with regard to China, it is precisely the relationship of class forces that is decisive in struggle:

“What is involved here is not whether or not we are sympathetic toward the military movement that has begun, and not even of organisation and material aid to it. There is no need at all to waste words on that score . . . Every bit of aid that comes from the sidelines is necessary, but it is not decisive. The relations among the Communist Party, the revolutionary troops, the workers, and the poor peasants is what is decisive. But these relations are determined to a good extent by politics as a system of slogans and actions. You can give any kind of material aid you want to a rebelling army, but if the question of power is not posed point blank, if the slogan of soviets is not raised, and if a complete programme of economic measures linked to the establishment of soviet power is not put forward, then outside material aid to the armies will not produce the desired results".

In the 1960s and 1970s the ANC substituted the armed struggle for a fight to win the masses to act against Apartheid. Their strategy failed. After the sabotage campaign, guerrilla warfare, “in our case the only form in which the armed struggle can be launched". (Strategy and Tactics), was to be launched in Operation Mayibuye. The capture of the ANC and MK High Command at Rivonia in 1963 effectively ended this. Training was renewed but many cadres were lost alongside ZAPU in the late 1960s. The ANC/SACP’s self criticism of the period concentrates on the lack of proper political preparation for illegal work and so forth, but does not question the strategy. The 1969 Morogoro Conference confirmed the strategy of guerrilla warfare, and stressed the subordination of the military to the political, in 1970, the SACP’s Augmented meeting of the Central Committee also endorsed the guerrilla struggle but referred to armed action in the towns as an “indispensable corollary front".’

The ANC’s strategy for armed struggle has thus been historically characterised by a separation of armed actions from mass struggle. But, if “war is a continuation of politics by other means”, then for working class politics, for the advance of the revolutionary programme of the working class, the tactics of the armed struggle must relate to the actions of the masses (which is not the same as being tied to them). Their object must be to aid the working class to seize power, not to enable a petit-bourgeois leadership to negotiate the fate of the nation over the heads of the masses. Such opportunities occur with the need to defend protests, strikes, boycotts and so forth, with the need to prevent forced evictions, land seizures. This is the context of the call for a workers’ militia which remains essential even if in practice repression, illegality etc. force all kinds of constraints, limit the number of cadre who can be trained and so forth. With the building of such a militia, the working class can go forward to take the offensive with factory seizures, undermining the police force (a large part of which is black), sustaining a general strike. Sabotage and guerrilla warfare may yet be necessary but they will be subordinate elements of our strategy for revolution.

The Nkomati Accords of 1984 dealt a potentially severe blow to the ANC’s ’armed-struggle’ strategy. South Africa’s agreement with Mozambique meant that the ANC had to move its operational headquarters and it lost its major supply routes. But, as the ANC regained influence with the growing mass movement inside the country, and as the pressure for action increased, it raised the call for an extension of the armed struggle and its transformation into ’Peoples War’.

This amounts to a tactical but not a strategic change in the nature of the ANC’s armed struggle perspective. The June 1985 Consultative Conference confirmed the need for both the stepping up of guerrilla warfare and the creation of ’mass combat units’ in urban areas. The ANC calls for these to be spread and strengthened in 1986, ’The Year of Umkhonto We Sizwe’, within ’mass insurrectionary zones’.

There is indeed an urgent need for effective combat units to defend townships, demonstrations and strikes. There is also a preparedness to do so as witnessed by the actions of miners at Bekkersdal township who fought off police and army attacks on a meeting. But the ANC does not call on the working class to form its own militia or defence units. Oliver Tambo’s Anniversary address in January 1986 called on the masses to continue ’protection’ of the ANC combat units and for cooperation with them. There was no reference to defence in relation to strikes, township committees, still less the fight for soviets.

The demands of the struggle itself will undoubtedly ensure that defence units are established. But the ANC’s strategy will not build units that are responsive to the needs of struggle and controlled by the working class itself.


The United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed in 1983 to organise against Botha’s new tri-cameral constitution, which excluded Africans. It was important in organising the successful boycott and went on to provide leadership in the rent and consumer boycotts and to campaign against the fake township councils in 1984 5.

While having considerable working class support through some union affiliates, school students and community organisations, the UDF is nevertheless a popular front. That is, it is an openly cross-class body, including representatives of the petty bourgeois led Natal and Indian Congresses, the African Chamber of Commerce, white liberals and church organisations, which ties the workers, the rural and urban masses to the demands of the most conservative element of this alliance. The effects of its popular frontism have been evident in the last period.

Whereas the UDF is formally committed to fight for one person, one vote, a fact which gives it its enormous support from black organisations and the masses, even this sometimes appears as a negotiable, far off goal. The UDF’s first annual conference, held earlier last year, called for a series of reforms which would “mark the beginning of a process of transition to a new democratic state". An UDF statement went on to assert that “there is still time to achieve peace through consultation between the state and authentic popular leaders for a transfer of power to the people". (Anti-Apartheid News June 1985).

This perspective dominates the UDF strategy. It is one based on seeking alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie both within South Africa and amongst the imperialist powers in order to win reforms. Violence and mass action could frighten off these gentlemen and therefore must be avoided or at best used only to ’warn’ the government of the consequences of their intransigence. It is this programme and the attempts to tie the workers’ organisations to it, through calling on them to affiliate to the UDF, which is so dangerous to the current struggle. It is utopian to believe that reform can be negotiated via the progressive bourgeoisie, which means tying the hands of the proletariat, which alone has the power to smash the apartheid system.

The ANC is undoubtedly a major ideological force within the UDF. The ANC is able to exist happily alongside the clerics and the small businessmen, despite its emphasis on the armed struggle. It can do so because of an agreed perspective on the goals of the present struggle. The ANC is at pains to reassure sections of what it calls ’domestic’ or ’indigenous’ capital that its programme is not a threat to their existence. In a recent article in Sechaba (official magazine of the ANC) on the Freedom Charter, which embodies the ANC’s programme, Jack Simons emphasises that this is not a socialist document and that “Congress is not a workers’ party with a socialist programme". This is because: “At the present stage of the revolution, the liberation movement aims to release the economy from control by transnational monopolies. It is not directed against the owners of domestic capital". (June 1985) He goes on to denounce the “workerist tendencies” (within the trade unions) “and self-styled ’marxists’ (who) reject all forms of capital, emphasise the class struggle and set their targets at the achievement of socialism".

Confining the struggle of workers to the struggle for democracy means, in practice, subordinating the demands of the workers and the struggle for socialism to maintaining an alliance with the church and a hoped-for alliance with domestic capital. The willingness of the ANC/SACP to tie the trade unions to the programme and perspectives of the UDF, despite the objections from the unions that its structure gave middle class organisations far too much weight, is a reflection of this policy.

The bankruptcy of this strategy was proved decisively in the 1970’s with the massive explosion of trade unionism and working class organisation which virtually bypassed the ANC. After a short period of trying to dismiss the independent trade union movement, the ANC was jolted into recognising its enormous growth and potential. But still the working class struggle is not seen as the central means of struggle against the apartheid state.

Despite the enormous potential of general strike action demonstrated by the November 1984 ’stay away’ and the 1986 May Day general strike, the ANC/SACP have never made the fight for general strike action central to the current struggle. Despite on occasion calling for ’extended stayaways’ the ANC has posed different methods of struggle under the state of emergency.

Oliver Tambo, in a statement issued after Botha’s Durban speech, appealed to “the business community of our country, the professionals and the intellectuals, the religious community and others” to join the struggle to destroy Apartheid. He appealed not for international working class action in solidarity, but for the West and “the entire business community to cut all links” (ANC press statement, 16th August 1985).

Despite its talk about the leading role of the working class, the ANC has not changed its spots. Its leaders still see the working class as a helpful adjunct to the struggle. In the 1980s, it was seen only as a recruiting ground for the guerrillas’ underground struggle, in the 1980’s it is assigned the role of foot soldiers for the popular frontist leaders of the UDF.

Ominously, the meeting that ANC leaders held in Zambia with white South African capitalists (described as ’useful’ and ’cordial’ by Anglo-American boss Gavin Reilly) points to the ANC leaders’ appetite for a counter -revolutionary deal with sections of the bourgeoisie. The talks confirm the dangers with the ANC’s strategy of looking for progressive sections of capital at home and abroad.

If this strategy is victorious inside the black trade unions and opposition movement, it could tie the working class into a fatal alliance with their present exploiters. In this way, the ANC/SACP, for all their talk of destroying ’apartheid capitalism’, could actually abort the South African revolution.

In this task they will be helped by the churches. In recent years, the churches have played an increasingly prominent role in the opposition to Apartheid, especially within the UDF. They occupy an important position of influence amongst the black population. Where political and cultural life has been brutally restricted for decades, where poverty and oppression reign, there is fertile ground for the churches. But the preaching of resignation and promising pie in the sky could not last in such circumstances either.

Pushed by the desires and actions of the masses, influenced by the young radicals for whom the church provides one of the few outlets to a decent education, the churches have increasingly taken a stand against the Botha regime. But they also hold back and mislead the movement. They call for peaceful protest. They cannot tolerate talk of mass action to ’smash’ the regime.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg, has been a consistent advocate of non-violent opposition to Botha. This position of peaceful reform through mass pressure has been increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of the Botha regime’s intransigence.

Tutu declared himself “shattered and devastated” by Botha’s Durban speech of late 1985 which refused to consider any serious reforms. “More and more I will be seen as increasingly irrelevant” he complained to a Sunday Times reporter, “I am using terms which are increasingly irrelevant. I talk of peace and non-violence".

Dr Allan Boesak, another clerical leader, patron of the UDF, and President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, was a central organiser of the visit by Edward Kennedy to South Africa. This move reflected the hopes that the leadership of the UDF place in wooing ’progressive’ American bourgeois politicians to their cause.

This move was similar in intent and similar in import to the ANC’s meeting with white businessmen. In the absence of a significant black bourgeoisie, the church, through organisations like the World Council of Churches which provide it with a line of communication to the bourgeoisie in the imperialist heartlands, can become a lynchpin in the popular front. While many Christians will be in the front line against apartheid, their leaders, like Tutu, will be ready to sell the struggle short. Revolutionaries must strive, in a non-sectarian fashion, to drive a wedge between the ordinary black worker and youth who go to church and the Tutu’s and Boesak’s.

Tutu’s fears that the pacifist preaching of the church may go unheeded have been increasingly confirmed as the struggle has intensified in the course of 1986. As heroic self sacrifice meets Afrikaner intransigence, there is little room left for the peaceful reform that the likes of Tutu and Boesak advocate. These figures have been eclipsed by others, such as Winnie Mandela, a supporter of the armed struggle, and therefore more in tune with the demands and expectations of the masses. Tutu has been relegated to the role of international globe trotter, pleading with the international bourgeoisie to take action which will defuse the crisis in a peaceful manner.

The foremost critics of the UDF, within the opposition to Apartheid, are the National Forum Committee (NEC) and the major organisation within it, the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation (AZAPO). The NFC criticises the UDF’s courting of capitalist politicians. For instance, it opposed the visit of Edward Kennedy which was supported by the UDF. It speaks in general terms of the need for socialism and the centrality of the working class in the struggle. The Manifesto of the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation asserts that the struggle for national liberation is directed against “the historically evolved system of racism and capitalism” and therefore that the struggle against apartheid is no more than the “point of departure for our liberatory efforts."

These features, together with the fact that the NEC contains within it established critics of the Congress Charter tradition, such as the Cape Action League and Neville Alexander, have led sections of the left internationally to consider the NEC to be the socialist alternative to the UDF/ANC. Veteran exiled South African Trotskyist C. van Gelderen, for instance, has argued that the NFC holds a fundamentally different class analysis from that of the UDF. This is not born out by an examination of the propaganda or record of the NFC.

The NFC was formed in 1983 with the object of organising opposition to the new Constitution. Its main components were organisations coming from the black consciousness tradition. The ’Africanist’ current within the liberation movement goes back to the leadership provided by Anton Lembede to the ANC Youth League in the 1940’s. But Lembede’s opposition to collaboration with whites foundered when the Youth League discovered that the CPSA (or its ex-members in the period after it was dissolved) provided their main allies in the campaign for mass action. Subsequently, the SACP led the ANC into a Popular Front Alliance with the white Congress of Democrats in the Congress Alliance.

In reaction to this, the Pan African Congress (PAC) led by Robert Sobukwe, revised the ideas of African black nationalism, rejecting collaboration with white liberals and also with communists. But its failure to build significant support in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre led it into equally dubious alliances, including with Patrick Duncan of the Liberal Party and with Peking.

In the 1970’s, black consciousness was the dominant set of ideas amongst youth organisations and also amongst some of the growing independent black trade unions. Reacting against the patronage of white liberals and criticising the Congress Alliance tradition for its collaboration with white democratic forces, the black consciousness movement insisted ’Black Man, you are on your own!’

In this, black consciousness reflected the influence of the U.S. ’Black Power’ movement as well as the Africanist tradition in South Africa. It fought to achieve independence from the political tutelage of white liberals in all spheres of the life of black people. As such, it undoubtedly helped train a new generation of leaders and activists, teaching them self respect and self reliance. But even the most clear sighted of the leaders of the mid-seventies failed to develop a coherent strategy for revolution. Thus, Steve Biko said:

"The Black Consciousness Movement does not want to accept the dilemma of capitalism versus communism. It opts for a socialist solution that is an authentic expression of black communalism."

Biko argued for collective enterprises and co-operatives but also envisaged ’black’ banks and businesses.

The black consciousness movement went through a crisis after the murderous repression aimed at its leaders after 1976. The outcome was AZAPO, founded in 1978. The re-growth of the ANC and the strengthening of the black trade unions both exerted a pressure on AZAPO; it moved leftwards. When the National Forum was formed in 1983 it appeared that a radical alternative existed to the leadership of the ANC.

The NFC/AZAPO forces make very wide ranging criticisms of the UDF. The NFC’s Manifesto of the Azanian People claims to put the struggle for national liberation in South Africa on a socialist course:

"The Black working class, inspired by revolutionary consciousness, is the driving force of our struggle for national self-determination in a unitary Azania". They denounce the UDF as a popular front in which, “worker organisations have no independence...will lose their voice and will not be able to fight for working class demands. Instead they will simply be supportlng voices for middle class demands."

The Cape Action League (CAL), another constituent body of the NEC, categorically rejects alliances with the bourgeoisie:

"an alliance between workers and bosses (popular front) can only serve the interests of the bosses The UDF is such a popular front."

This overt rejection of both the popular front of the Stalinists and the stageist ’Freedom Charter’ represents both the continued influence of ’Trotskyism’, albeit of centrist-liquidationist variety, and the pressure towards class independence emanating from the growth of the black proletariat and its independent trade unions.

Yet the ’Manifesto of the Azanian People’ does not represent a fundamental programmatic alternative to the ’Freedom Charter’. It speaks about the ’maximum programme of socialist transformation’ but this is left as an abstract and distant perspective. Its immediate programme for a ’workers’ or ’socialist government’ is the entrenchment of a series of ’rights’; to work, to free education, to adequate and decent housing, to free health, to legal, recreational and other community services. It further demands the abolition of all discriminatory laws based on ’colour, sex, religion, language or class, the re-integration of the Bantustans into a unitary Azania, the formation of trade unions that will ’heighten revolutionary worker consciousness’ and the development of a ’national culture informed by socialist values.’ It is noticeable that the manifesto, whilst it calls for “workers’ control” and for the nationalisation of the land, nowhere calls clearly, explicitly and unambiguously for the expropriation of all the large enterprises; that is, for the socialisation of the means of production.

Without a bedrock anti-capitalist programme, all talk of “socialism” and “workers’ control” is a deception and a snare for the working class. In this respect, the Azanian Peoples Manifesto fails to confront the touchstone of the Freedom Charter’s popular front strategy, namely, the defence of private property in the means of production.

Also, the black consciousness tradition does not produce a correct orientation towards the trade unions. Supporters of this tendency dominate the AZACTU and are influential in the CUSA federations. They fight against being drawn into the UDF popular front behind the slogans of non-political trade unionism. The opposition to entering the UDF is correct but the compromise with non-political unionism is seriously wrong when the unions are faced with the task of leading the mass resistance to Botha’s crackdown. Likewise, the refusal to enter, or acceptance of exclusion from, the “super federation” (COSATU) by AZACTU is a potentially disastrous error. All unions should be within COSATU, fighting to direct the working class into a decisive political struggle with Apartheid and capitalism.

Neither does the Cape Action League have an understanding of the united front which would enable it to do this. They define the united front as a stage in advance of mere ’tactical unity’, calling it a ’strategic unity’. A united front is when “two or more organisations with different principles and conceptions of struggle define their political goals during a given phase of the struggle in the same terms .... United fronts are usually fertile soil for creative and constructive debate about the ideological and theoretical questions. The members of the different parties or organisations, as they learn to act together and through struggle to trust one another, in spite of party differences, and to influence one another. The prevailing spirit in a united front is one of tolerance for other parties’ point of view within the framework of the common strategic goal. Often, the successful united front leads to a converging and even a merging of parties that were previously opposed or in competition to one another". (Cape Action League; Documents)

This approach to the united front is totally at variance to the principles of the revolutionary Comintern and it is no surprise that the document above cited gives, as an example of a successful united front, Frelimo in Mozambique. It cites as the goal of its united front “liberation from apartheid and capitalism” and its political slogan “for a non-racial, democratic and undivided Azania/South Africa.” The ’united front’ is to contain “the vast majority of black workers and the radical black middle class". This view clearly guided and influenced the setting up of the National Forum in June 1983.

Its error is that it rules out the united front to organisations which have a bourgeois standpoint but which are based on the organised workers and urban and rural poor, in particular, the ANC and components of the UDF. Since these are the dominant force in the liberation movement, to abandon united front tactics with regard to them will prove a fatal mistake for the CAL. Thus, as a united front, the CAL’s position is too narrow, in fact sectarian. However, as a political force, as the organised vanguard of the proletariat and as a programme of action, it is too broad, too amorphous, a mish mash of nationalism, populism and ’socialism’. What the black proletariat needs is a revolutionary communist party, whose doors are open to every one in the ’radical middle class’ who abandons a petit-bourgeois outlook.

It is instructive that the CAL seems to have no clear priority of orientation towards the union movement. Rather, it orients towards the community based struggle and to the student movement. Whilst it is vital to orient to such struggles and to train Marxist cadres from them, “intellectuals” will only become “organic” if they fuse with the main body of the working class, that is, become party cadres working with the organised black proletariat of the large factories, the mines as well as the farm workers.

The experience of Frelimo and the work of Samora Machel will help them little in this. The works of Lenin and Trotsky, the experience of the Bolsheviks, in a country more backward than South Africa, and with difficult and varied national problems, can far better serve as a guide.

The militants of AZAPO and the Cape Action League are more radical in their nationalism than those of the ANC. They have been subject to physical attacks from the Stalinists. Revolutionaries should obviously orient to these militants, seeking to show that the programmatic and tactical logic of rejecting the UDF popular front is the espousal of a transitional programme for workers’ power in Azania and a united front now against the Apartheid regime’s reign of terror.

Self-isolation within small “united fronts” or semi-permanent blocs, or the maintenance of small union federations such as AZACTU, will only strengthen the ANC’s hold over the awakening but still politically inexperienced masses. Class independence, which the AZAPO and the CAL aspire to defend, can only be established by building a revolutionary workers’ party based on the programme of permanent revolution.


Two groupings which claim to stand in the revolutionary tradition of Trotsky and the Fourth International have a presence in South Africa. Inqaba, the Marxist Workers’ Tendency (MWT) of the ANC, is linked to the British Militant grouping of Ted Grant, while the Cape Action League is clearly influenced by the positions of the Mandelite wing of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USEC).


As in other revolutionary situations; Portugal 1975-76, Iran 1979-82, the USEC has split down the middle. This time it is over tactics and strategy for the South African revolution. For the first time, however, these divisions have centred on the actual class nature of the revolution being fought for. The ’Barnesite’, Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) has hurriedly drawn the practical conclusions of its rejection of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and it has declared itself opposed to any fight for a socialist revolution in South Africa in the current stage of the struggle:

"the South African revolution today is a bourgeois democratic revolution . . . It is a democratic revolution, a national revolution. The working people are striving to lead it to victory and to create for the first time a South African nation state.

“The South African revolution today is not an anticapitalist revolution, but no one can predict how long, or short, that stage will be. That will be determined by the relation of class forces in South Africa and internationally that will emerge from the revolutionary overthrow of apartheid.” (The Coming Revolution in South Africa, Jack Barnes)

Barnes pours scorn on those who dare to criticise the ANC’s strategy or its programme the Freedom Charter, as ’ultra left sectarians’. The AZAPO/NFC are attacked for “their ultra left standpoint. They criticise the Freedom Charter for not raising socialist demands".

Instead, for Barnes and the SWP(US):

"The Freedom Charter is a solid programme for the national revolution in South Africa . . . It is the minimum programme of a revolutionary workers’ party, of a communist party in South Africa today . . . ANC leader Nelson Mandela was accurate when he said the Freedom Charter is no blue print for socialism. And it shouldn’t be.” (ibid)

Barnes positively revels in the SWP’s born again Menshevism and Stalinism. Like any convert, he overdoes himself in heaping praises on the stages theory and its nationalist and Stalinist protagonists. Barnes rails against those who would raise socialist demands as being guilty of ignoring democratic demands. However, this is just setting up a “straw man”.

The fight for permanent revolution does not ’ignore’ democratic demands. It bases itself on the perspective that such demands will be fought for and won, indeed, can only be fully won, via a socialist revolution. It is the Menshevik method which counterposes the two. Barnes would exclude virtually any working class goals and tactics from the struggle in South Africa. The majority class in South Africa must boycott its own historic interests. Not for the SWP(US) the struggle for workers’ control in the factories, the fight for the general strike, the struggle for soviet type bodies linking the struggles in the factories to the communities, the expropriation of the capitalists. Along with its Stalinist allies in the ANC, the SWP(US) is in the forefront of denouncing such struggles and demands as ’ultra left’.

The SWP’s perspective amounts to a criminal disarming of the South African working class, not only with regard . to the perspective of a struggle for socialism but also in the here and now in the fight to smash Botha’s dictatorship. Barnes blithely declares:

It (the South African revolution - WP) is a bourgeois democratic revolution that will be made and led by the working people, and it will open the road to the transition to the socialist revolution. But these are not merely stages of a single revolution: they are two revolutions.” (Barnes ibid)

And what historic law is there to compel a bourgeois regime, once established in power, to ’open the road’ to a socialist revolution? All experience answers that there is none. With the self-proclaimed ’Marxist-Leninist’ Robert Mugabe at its head, in Zimbabwe, no road to socialism was “opened up”. On the contrary, the halting of the anti-imperialist struggle with the establishment of a regime defending capitalism ensures that it will, under pressure from the ’world economy’ (ie imperialism) turn on the working class and poor peasantry, cheating them of the social gains of the struggle they gave their lives for.

And if such a regime stood up to the IMF or US and European imperialism, as Nicaragua has to some extent done, then imperialism will open up with all the weapons of economic blackmail and armed counter-revolution. What role does self-limitation to a capitalist stage play in such a situation? Only the artificial protection of the internal counter-revolution and the demobilisation and demoralisation of the proletariat and the poor peasants. Imperialist intervention poses harsh historic choices. Either forward to the proletarian dictatorship to smash internal and external counterrevolution or succumb to its offensive and allow the triumph of a brutal bourgeois dictatorship.

The best, indeed in the long run the only, effective counter to the forces of reaction is the mobilisation of the working class and the rural poor. To do this effectively they must not be deprived of their own immediate and historic class goals. Only in this way can a bourgeois-democratic, nationalist counter-revolution on the one hand or a brutal imperialist restoration on the other, be avoided.

Indeed, in the event of the smashing of apartheid by the masses, it would be precisely the extent to which the working class had fought for and won its own demands and had built soviets, workers’ militias, which would determine the possibility of the growing over into a socialist revolution. But these are exactly the demands the Barnesites fight against.

In any case, South Africa’s rulers would only be forced to accept a real and total dismantling of apartheid (a democratic revolution) if they were faced with a working class movement threatening their very existence as a class. It is inconceivable that anything less would force them to dismantle their system of super-exploitation. With the struggle in the hands of the ANC, which the SWP(US) uncritically supports, such a perspective for the struggle has to be fought for tooth and nail.

The greatest danger is an aborted revolution, a Lancaster House type settlement at best; one which preserves some form of white minority veto, along with the power of the capitalists. Such a solution would deprive the South African black masses even of a thoroughgoing democratic revolution. One thing is certain when faced with this threat. With the ANC already in the field, the Barnesites perform the ridiculous task of fifth wheel on the cart of Menshevism in the South African revolution.

Despite their formal “defence of Permanent Revolution” the Mandelite wing of the USEC do not provide a revolutionary communist alternative to Menshevik stageism.

The majority resolution on South Africa was passed by the USEC in January 1983 (International Viewpoint 25, March 1983). While in itself inadequate, the major tactics and slogans put forward in this resolution to guide work on South Africa have subsequently been completely abandoned following the upsurge of the struggle around the election boycott and the formation of the UDF and NEC.

Here we see the classic method of Mandelite centrism. As with the Nicaraguan revolt, at the first explosion of the mass movement the last remnants of “Trotskyist orthodoxy” are thrown overboard in order to “relate” to those who are thought to be leading the mass movement.

The 1983 resolution is riddled with ’processism’. While formally defending the theory of permanent revolution, the USEC turns the struggle for a socialist revolution into a inevitable process which flows from the nature of the South African state:

"The South African revolution will conform with class reality, that is with the social, economic and political structures of the country. It will take the form of a process of permanent revolution . . . . The South African revolution will begin on the terrain of the national question. The struggle in the factories expresses above all the will of blacks to organise as black workers to win their emancipation. Their mobilisations combine diverse immediate demands (salaries, work conditions, residence rights, solidarity against repression) with the struggle for national democratic demands for national liberation (equal rights, freedom of expression and organisation). The development of the revolutionary process from a struggle for national democratic demands into a fight for anti-capitalist objectives will thus be uninterrupted.” (emphasis in original)

Such inevitablism and verbal hymns to the objective process have nothing in common with the method of Lenin and Trotsky. It has far more in common with the pre-1914 Karl Kautsky. The leaders of Bolshevism posed objectives and slogans of struggle; tasks to be fulfilled by the proletariat and its leadership. These tasks, if unfulfilled, would lead to different and opposite results, not revolution but counter-revolution. Making the South African revolution permanent is a task of the proletarian vanguard in South Africa. It can be fulfilled by revolutionaries fighting not only for immediate democratic demands with the methods of class struggle but also by winning the proletariat to transitional demands. Unless revolutionaries are fighting for the forms and methods of struggle which guide the working class to victory, for the general strike, factory committees, councils of action or soviets, then the perspective of permanent revolution remains a dead letter. But none of these demands appear in the USEC’s resolution which relies on the “revolutionary process” to automatically give the movement its “anti-capitalist objectives”.

Having “noted” that the ANC in the past was ’dominated by the Communist Party’ and that its:

"greatest weakness remained the absence of a class perspective and its strategy of revolution by stages",

the USEC goes on to speculate that the mass struggle might open up ’serious divergences within it’. AZAPO on the other hand has failed to understand the “necessity to unify all the mass movements (and not only the ’African’)” despite its recognition of the “importance of the working class". The perceived “weaknesses” of these forces, together with the growth of the black trade unions, leads the USEC to call for a:

"Workers’ Party devoted to the interests of the whole working class and oppressed people."

This might appear to be one step forward but the USEC immediately jumps two steps back. The programme of such a party turns out to be a purely democratic one; abolition of apartheid laws and repressive legislation, for a constituent assembly. Again there is no connection between these, in themselves absolutely correct, democratic demands and the struggle for socialism, the fight for permanent revolution. And this in a programme put forward for the formation of a Workers’ party. Little wonder that the USEC declares:

"this process may lead to the constitution of a Workers’ and Peasants’ government". (our emphasis)

Courtesy of the ’revolutionary process’ no doubt. Certainly not through any fight for it on the part of the USEC

But even these centrist genuflections in the direction of Trotskyism were unceremoniously broken off once the mass upsurge against Botha reappeared. With the formation of the UDF and the NFC as opposing forces with mass influence, these opportunists were faced with a terrible dilemma. All the instincts of the USEC were to fall in behind the most popular force, the UDF. The Barnesite’s did precisely that. But the NFC, AZAPO and CAL were attacking the UDF for its class collaboration and many unions made similar criticisms. The USEC decided that abstention was the best policy. While the UDF was of a ’hybrid social nature’ (it included employers’ associations) they were worried about the NFC’s ’sectarianism’. Thus the USEC declaration of September 1984 stated:

"Recent struggles have also shown the need for political centralisation; in their own way the UDF and the NFC are seeking to fill this vacuum.” Q.V. 60.)

One searches in vain for any warnings about the policies of the UDF or the ANC/SACP. On the dangers of the popular front, the subordination of the workers demands to the maintenance of an alliance with the black middle class, the USEC is silent. In International Viewpoint 83, a major article comments on the UDF:

"some currents see this form of organisation as involving a danger for the long term interests of the masses."

And the USEC? What is their opinion? This revolutionary leadership will no doubt tell us after the revolutionary crisis has passed. The Workers’ Party? The Workers’ and Peasants’ government? Vanished without trace, such slogans, even when gutted of the slightest trace of an anti-capitalist programme, are obviously still too much for the USEC when it comes to the actual struggle. The USEC shows what Lenin called the ’servility of theoreticians’.

In practice there is not a ha’penny worth of difference between the two wings of the USEC. The pragmatist Barnes wants to bring the organisation’s “theory” into line with its actual practice in every revolutionary situation since the late 1940s and formerly abandon permanent revolution in favour of the Stalinist stageist theory. The Mandelites want to retain permanent revolution as a “theory” of the “objective process” leading to a maximum goal. Yet this perspective is immediately boycotted as soon as the forces of Stalinism and petit-bourgeois nationalism achieve leadership in the struggle. The Mandelite worshippers of the accomplished fact roll up their unnecessary theories and fall in behind the ANC.


If the Mandelites put forward a bankrupt strategy for the South African revolution, then their “theoreticians” do no better when it comes to providing a Marxist analysis of the South African state itself.

We explain in this pamphlet how South Africa passed from colonial settler-state, through semi-colony, to imperialist nation. We believe that our analysis remains true to the Marxist theory of imperialism initiated by Hllferding and Bukharin and developed by Lenin. A break from their method, however, is to be found in the characterisation of South Africa by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI).

In the USFI’s 1983 Theses on South Africa the Republic is designated: “a semi-industrialised country, still dependent, despite important industrial development, on investments and technological assistance from imperialism".

More recently, in New International (Vol. 2 No. 2) Mandel has written; “it suffices to characterise the state of South Africa as a semi-industrialised settlers colony and as such a military arm of imperialism.” (original emphases) (p.174)

Mandel’s definition of South Africa is but one part of a general reclassification of a range of countries traditionally recognised by Trotskyists as “semi-colonies”.

At root, the USEC’s method of analysis owes more to the modern “dependency theorists” than it does to the Marxist method of Lenin’s Imperialism. Our dispute with Mandel is not over the possibility of “intermediate” or “transitional” regimes. But by this Lenin did not mean the development of a group of countries existing over long periods which were neither imperialist not imperialised. He was talking on the one hand of countries such as China, Persia, Turkey, which still retained to one degree or another a form of political independence, but which were being increasingly subordinated to finance capital, and whose “independence” Lenin thought could well be short lived. On the other hand, he was talking of countries like Argentina, which while a semi-colony of Britain and USA was developing quickly in the early 19th century. Lenin did not rule out the development of new imperialist powers. As we now know, Argentina was not to be one of them, and remains in semi-colonial servitude. While South Africa, Canada, Australia made the transition to minor imperialist powers; part of the new world system of imperialism after World War II.

Our differences with the USFI over the characterisation of South Africa are at three levels: certain economic facts; the significance attached to them; and finally, the method of approach to the problem of categorising South Africa. Let us begin with the last, the most important point. It is well known that Lenin’s seminal work of 1916 was:

“a composite picture of the world capitalist system in its international relationships. . . “ (p189).

Extremely important was his insistence that in the study of imperialism one must not take:

"examples of isolated data (in view of the extreme complexity of the phenomena of social life it is always possible to select any number of examples or separate data to prove any proposition), but all the data on the basis of economic life in . . . the whole world.” (p189)

This approach implies, as a crucial aspect, a historical approach to the development of imperialism. Lenin was aware that new imperialist powers were developing at the turn of the century:

"Capitalism is growing with the greatest rapidity in the colonies and overseas countries. Among the latter, new imperialist powers are emerging (eg Japan).” (p274 emphasis in original, ibid).

Their further development (or the cutting off of that development) depended on the antagonistic re-division of the world through war. Lenin, in other words, far from excluded the development of imperialist powers. This would have gone against his whole dialectical conception of the uneven and combined development of capitalism:

"The uneven and spasmodic development of individual enterprises, individual branches of industry and individual countries is inevitable under the capitalist system.” (p241 ibid)

The social-liberal economist J A Hobson, whom Lenin praised for his objective approach to the question of imperialism, in fact came nearer to Lenin’s approach than the USFI. He made some remarkably far-sighted observations on the question of South Africa. As early as 1903, Hobson predicted the possibility of a South African Imperialism. His starting point was the contradiction developing between Great Britain and the “self-governing colonies” of Canada, Australia and South Africa. Incapable of subordinating them militarily, Hobson believed that Britain would be forced to sponsor South Africa’s independent transition to imperialism in order to make sure it carried out a political role for the more powerful imperialism in an “imperial federation”:

“Independently of the centralised imperialism which issues from Great Britain, these colonies have within themselves in greater or less force, all the ingredients out of which an imperialism of their own may be formed . . . These men at the Cape, in the Transvaal and in Rhodesia, British or Dutch, have fostered a South African Imperialism, not opposed to British Imperialism, willing when necessary to utilise it, but independent of it in ultimate aims and purposes . . . their absorbing aim hereafter will be to relegate British imperialism to what they conceive to be its proper place, that of an ultima ratio to stand in the far background while colonial imperialism manages the business and takes the profits . . . Such a federal state (SA) will not only develop an internal policy regarding the native territories different from, perhaps antagonistic to, that of British imperialism, but its position as the ’predominant’ state of South Africa will develop an ambition and a destiny of expansion which may bring it into politics on its own account.” (Imperialism, A Study. p345-6)

Of course, the political pre-conditions and possibilities that Hobson observed were not a guarantee of the imperialist development of South Africa. Yet as our pamphlet shows, this development occurred due to a range of factors after WW2; the transference of capital ownership (especially in mining) contingent upon the weakening of British imperialism in two World Wars; the redivision of the world as a result of the 1939-45 war and the boom period in the two decades after; the escape from dependence based upon steady native capital accumulation arising from fixed gold prices.

Lenin did not deal with South Africa in his pamphlet of seventy years ago. Yet his approach to Portugal of that time has significance for our treatment of South Africa. Lenin states:

"Great Britain has protected Portugal and her colonies in order to fortify her own position in the fight against her rivals, Spain and France. In return Great Britain has received commercial privileges, preferential conditions for importing goods and especially capital into Portugal and the Portuguese colonies . . . “ (p264)

We think that this relation between Portuguese imperialism and British imperialism was to find a striking echo later in South Africa itself.

In place of this approach to the question, Mandel and the USFI substitute a method that Lenin specifically inveighed against; namely, the arbitrary isolation of certain facts and investing them with decisive importance. South Africa, it is claimed, is a semi-industrialised dependant nation because it shares the three main characteristics of this supposed category. Firstly, because its exports are mainly composed of raw materials. Secondly, because it is dependent on foreign technology. Thirdly, because economic growth is dependent on foreign capital.

The first two characteristics can be dealt with quite simply. When we define whether a country is imperialist or not, we do not ask what is produced but how it is produced. The fact that South Africa exports raw materials and imports high technology does not determine whether it is imperialist or not.

This speaks more for the international division of labour and the restricted nature of the South African market than it does about the level of the development of capitalism in South Africa. If we had to apply this criterion, what would we say about the USA, whose single biggest export is food, or Hong Kong where manufactured goods account for over 90% of exports? Would this mean that the USA is a dependent nation and Hong Kong an imperialist nation? We think not. It is the export of capital, not commodities as such, that is decisive.

South Africa’s import of high technology is to be expected from such a small economy. Most of the imperialist economies to a greater or lesser degree, including the USA and Japan, are dependent on the international division of labour. What we could expect in a minor imperialist nation like South Africa is its lack of dependency on any particular major imperialist nation, its ability so to speak, of being able to play off the major imperialist nations against each other. And indeed this is so. South Africa is not dominated by US, or British or Japanese or German multi-nationals, even though they are all present in South Africa.

Finally, the dependence on foreign capital. The Marxist method is to always examine things in motion, to examine trends. As we have shown elsewhere, exports of South African capital are rising much faster than imports of capital. In fact the inflow of capital has slowed markedly. South Africa is today far less dependent on capital imports than before. What better proof than its ability to weather the recent flight of capital and its ability to declare a moratorium on debt repayments?

Nor does the weight of foreign-sourced, investment in itself prove that South Africa is not imperialist. We only need to remember in this regard the example of Russia itself at the time of the First World War. Lenin regarded Tsarist Russia as an imperialist nation, one of the oppressor countries. The chief determining characteristic of this imperialism was undoubtedly its possession of colonies in size second only to those of Great Britain. Its export of capital was relatively slight compared to Germany, GB and France. Moreover, Russian capital formation was overwhelmingly dominated by French loan capital exported to Russia. What does the USFI make of this fact?

It is vital to recognise that Lenin (and Bukharin) painted a ’composite picture’ of world imperialism. Lenin argued that:

"If It were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism.” (p266)

Elaborating on his brief definition, Lenin argues that under imperialism monopolies play a decisive role; that finance capital rules supreme; that the export of surplus capital becomes decisive as against the export of commodities; that international monopolies have divided the world up and that territorially the division of the world is complete, that is, it can only be forcibly re-divided.

At the time of Lenin’s work, certain imperialist powers exhibited certain of these features and others hardly at all. Finance capital (the fusion of banking and industrial capital) was highly developed in the country that had least colonial possessions, Germany. Precisely the opposite polarity existed in Great Britain. The forms of capital export were radically different in the cases of France and Germany. Apply this method to South Africa today and we can say that, above all else, it exhibits the dominance of monopolies and finance capital which is mainly domestically controlled, together with considerable colonial/semi-colonial territorial ’possession’ in Southern Africa. We have no doubt that Lenin’s method applied to South Africa can lead to only one conclusion: that the apartheid state is definitely in the camp of oppressor nations as a junior partner in the coalition of world imperialist powers.


Inqaba, the journal of the ’Marxist Tendency of the ANC’, like the British ’Militant’ group with which it is in political solidarity, is equally reliant on the ’objective process’ to deliver a socialist revolution in South Africa. While the SWP(US) positively revels in the idea of a democratic stage in the South African revolution, Inqaba seeks to prove that such a stage is ’impossible’.

The two documents South Africa’s Impending Socialist Revolution and South African Perspectives: Workers Revolution or Racial Civil War, far from presenting perspectives to arm the black working class to overthrow capitalism, present a thoroughly opportunist ’schema’ into which the class struggle is distorted to fit. This schema holds that there is currently no revolutionary situation in South Africa. Workers are told with monotonous regularity throughout lnqaba publications that it is wrong to think that the revolution or the overthrow of the regime is imminent. “It will require years of drawn out tenacious struggles". It will take “five, ten or even more years” we are told to “prepare the ground” for such an eventuality. (Inqaba issue 16/17). Having declared in advance that the mighty struggles rocking the Apartheid regime have little hope in the near future of destroying the apartheid system, Inqaba goes on to explain why its schema proves this to be the case.

For Inqaba, “apartheid and capitalism are inseparably bound together". This means the only revolution in South Africa which is possible is a socialist one. The fact that the ANC, one of the major forces in the struggle, and now quite influential in the Trade Unions, is arguing for a democratic revolution which involves a popular front with progressive capitalists, will have no effect on the likelihood of this outcome because such an eventuality is an ’impossibility’. A negotiated settlement, as well, is absolutely ruled out. We are told that if there were negotiations about a transfer of power to the black majority:

"it would be impossible for talks to succeed . . . even if the ANC leadership, on the one hand, and the S.A. regime on the other, wished to achieve a negotiated settlement with each other . . . because the constituencies, the respective class bases on which the two sides rest, are irreconcilable, even temporarily.” (Inqaba 16/17 emphasis in original) Quickly looking over their shoulder at the obvious embarrassing parallel of Zimbabwe and the ’Lancaster House’ deal, lnqaba is forced to bluster about the ’objective conditions’ being completely different in South Africa. It declares that the crucial difference with South Africa is that in Zimbabwe the proletariat “remained passive during the decisive stages of the struggle up to independence", a fact which laid the basis for the sell-out.

Here we see the fatal reliance of the Militant/Inqaba on ’objective conditions’ and the ’revolutionary process’ to sweep away false leaderships, petit bourgeois and reformist, and a complete underestimation of the grip these ideas have on the working class. Inqaba might like to console itself that it is ’impossible’ for a Lancaster House type deal to be achieved, but precisely where a massive rising of the black struggle threatened the very basis of South African capitalism such schemes could be resorted to by a desperate ruling class. And the ANC with its enormous influence would play a major role in leading the working class into such a debacle.

And since when has the arousal and militancy of the working class been a guarantee against a reformist (social democratic) or Stalinist leadership compromising and betraying such a struggle? Do the wiseacres of the Militant not remember the lessons of Germany 1919, Spain 1936, Chile 1973 just to mention three instances? But perhaps these proletariats also were ’too passive’?

But to admit this possibility would be a severe embarrassment to lnqaba, for they have been consistently trying to direct the mass organisation of these workers into the popular front of the ANC and the UDF. The basis of this ’tactic’ is that is necessary “to go where the masses go” As lnqaba puts it:

"The history of revolutionary movements in all industrialised countries shows that the main body of the proletariat returns to its traditional organisations, despite even the worst defeats and betrayals by its leaders in the past.” (No 16/li p40) This flaccid prostration before reformism has nothing in common with Marxism, Leninism, or Trotskyism. If the working class has been obliged to return to social democracy or Stalinism despite the ’worst defeats’ it is not due to some kind of congenital fixation but to a failure to find an alternative revolutionary leadership. But in South Africa the Militant recipe blithely ignores the fact that this ’traditional organisation’ is not even a workers’ organisation (in the sense that Lenin defined the British Labour party as a bourgeois workers party) but a popular front of different classes. Its leadership is predominantly peti- bourgeois, while its programme, a commitment to preserve capitalism, is openly bourgeois. If Militant were consistent, such a position would lead them to work to build the Democratic party in the USA, the ’traditional organisation’ of the US working class and certainly the Peronist party in Argentina

This is not to say that revolutionaries should ignore the workers in the ANC/UDF or refuse to enter its base organisations whenever those assume a mass character. We would fight to win those workers away from their popular frontist leaders via the United Front. This was always Trotsky’s position towards the popular front in France. Intransigent opposition to it, combined with intervention via united front action with its base organs, where they were involving the workers’ organisations, in order to win them away from it. Inqaba, on the other hand, wants to build the ANC on ’a socialist basis’.

Of course revolutionaries have developed tactics for precisely these situations where a mass upsurge and unionisation of workers finds only bourgeois or petit-bourgeois led parties in existence, this was the Labor Party (or Workers Party) tactic developed by Lenin and Trotsky in relation to the USA. But it is precisely this revolutionary tactic that the Militant/Inqaba reject. In fighting against the formation of a workers’ party based on the trade unions, Inqaba declares:

"The mass of the workers already look to the ANC. They obviously do not have need of a reformist party.” (Inqaba No 16/17 p38) We have already dealt with, elsewhere, how Trotskyists fight for a revolutionary workers’ party, a tactic Militant/lnqaba clearly do not understand if they think it’s a fight for a reformist party. But to justify its position Inqaba finds it necessary to consistently exaggerate the influence of the ANC in the working class.

Inqaba has argued for ’building the ANC’ since 1979. It was necessary for them to totally downplay the weakness of the ANC as a mass formation in the succeeding five years and to hush-up its hostility toward the fast emerging Black trade unions.

Inqaba is quite willing to join in the denunciation of the Trade Unions’ refusal to join the UDF/ANC as evidence of ’syndicalism’, but quite unwilling to direct the justified suspicions of many workers’ leaders of committing their trade unions to popular front organisations into the fight for a workers’ party. Again, as if to absolve itself from directing the working class into the jaws of the popular front, it declares:

“There could never in South Africa be a coalition government between the ANC and the bourgeoisie although many ANC leaders might earnestly desire it. We cannot conceive of conditions which would permit an ANC government on a bourgeois basis.” (ibid p30) These are people who have learnt nothing from history.

Another argument used by Inqaba is to stress the difficulties of forming a workers’ party. They point to the lessons for South Africa of the emergence of Social Democratic and Labour Parties in the west to argue it was ’a very complicated’ and long drawn out process, while pointing out that in South Africa today “revolution is knocking at the door". (Inqaba No 1) Firstly this contrasts rather strangely with their “it is 5, 10 or even more years to revolution in South Africa” refrain. (But obviously any argument against a workers party and for the ANC is worth using for Inqaba.) Secondly, the situation in South Africa is far more favourable to the speedy construction of a mass workers’ party, a massive growth of trade unions, a revolutionary crisis, mass strikes, than in, say, Brazil where, nevertheless, a workers’ party, albeit still with a minority of the working class, came into existence over a short period of time. But how much more difficult it is to transform the ANC? An organisation which, as lnqaba points out, is dominated by the SACP, whose leading organs are in exile and who expel bureaucratically at the first hint of opposition e.g. the Marxist Workers Tendency itself.

And neither would a mass influx of the workers’ movement magically transform the ANC, as Inqaba seems to think. It is more likely to come about as a result of the dominance of the ideas of the leadership of the popular frontist ANC within the workers’ movement. Inqaba virtually admits this to be the case when having argued consistently for workers to join the Popular Front UDF since its formation, it now reverses its position, it admits:

“In the main, the unions have not entered the UDF, and those which have entered have not at all transformed it although this could easily have been done.” (lnqaba 18/19) What a confession of bankruptcy for a major tactical line!

Certainly there is no guarantee that the fight for a workers’ party within the trade unions would result in a revolutionary, rather than a reformist or centrist, one. But that fight would be carried on within a workers’ organisation, not a cross-class one, where the mass working class base could be mobilised against any attempts to produce a bureaucratically dominated party. There is no question that in conditions of illegality or semi-illegality this would he difficult (but so it is in the totally illegal ANC) but the traditions of rank and file control and democratic stewards systems built up in the black trade unions, precisely because of their origins in these conditions, would undoubtedly weigh in our favour.

There is a further element behind Inqaba’s schema which leads it on many questions to take positions far to the right of the current policies of the SACP/ANC. For Inqaba, the winning over of the white working class and, in particular, the rank and file of the white army and police, is virtually an essential precondition for a successful revolution. Workers Revolution or Racial Civil War, as its title implies, holds out the scenario of mass destruction of both contending sides. It talks of “a long war of mutual destruction” the unlikely outcome of victory being gained only “at the cost literally millions of (mainly black) lives”, of ’laying waste the productive forces the basis of civilised existence’ etc etc. For lnqaba, the, “more real prospect (is) a victory of the revolution under the class conscious leadership of the black working class, which proves able to split the whites decisively on class lines.” Indeed, they make the winning over of the bulk of the white army a precondition for a successful outcome of the struggle In arguing that: “the winning over of the white troops is absolutely indispensable".

This, of course, is only possible where, “the revolutionary working class movement fights on a clear programme for the socialist transformation of society, and with a conscious Marxist leadership". Beneath its lengthy verbiage, Inqaba is in fact arguing that it is only possible or, indeed, desirable, to smash apartheid in South Africa when the workers’ movement is under a Marxist leadership. That is why they have to deny there is a revolutionary situation in South Africa at the moment, why they argue it will take “5, 10 or more years” to achieve it. Militant and Inqaba prefer to wait for a pure revolution before they enter the fray. And as Lenin said:

"Whoever expects a ’pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.’ (The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up) Is it “indispensable to win over” the white army? In South African conditions to argue such a position is a recipe for passivity. The army must certainly be smashed by the mighty crisis and explosion of working class insurrection that would be necessary to smash the apartheid state. The army would certainly not be unaffected by the inevitable vacillations and divisions which will be produced in the ruling class itself. Whether major sections of the white working class and petit-bourgeoisie faced with a bloody civil war of destruction will be forced to acquiesce to majority rule or resort to a mass emigration, only the class struggle, will determine. To build ones perspective on the ’indispensability’ of winning them over is in fact to accommodate, indeed to surrender, to the privileged white labour aristocracy.

This perspective lies at the root of Inqaba’s attacks on the ANC and SACP’s “insurrectionary” turn. Far from attacking the SACP and ANC for failing to fight and organise for the only tactic which can achieve this, a massive general strike which brings the working class to the leadership of a mighty upsurge which could paralyse the country, they criticise it from the right. They denounce the very idea of an “Iran type insurrection” as an “adventure”. They pour scorn on the idea of “popular organs of power within the townships along the lines of soviets” emerging until there is a “direct fight for power”, i.e. “5, 10 or more years” in the future. They castigate calls for the organising of an all out indefinite strike for the same reasons. Here we see the real bankruptcy of Inqaba. On every key tactic which would strengthen the working class and its organisation in the struggle for power, the fight for soviet-type organisations, for an all out general strike and for the insurrectionary movement necessary to smash the armed might of the regime, they argue against.

Inqaba and the Militant tendency offer the black working class no revolutionary alternative to Stalinism, despite their abstract criticisms of that tendency’s stageism. Far from applying the communist perspective of “permanent revolution” to South Africa/Azania, they offer only warmed over Kautskyism, much verbiage about the unstoppable “revolutionary process” to lead the working class to victory in the future. But this is combined with a rejection of every tactic which can lead to it in the here and now.

If this is Trotskyism then the sooner the South Africa workers learn that Trotsky was no such ’Trotskyist’ the better.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) declares it is for a socialist revolution in South Africa and, like the Militant!Inqaba tendency, is critical of the ANC/SACP perspective of the need for a bourgeois ’democratic stage’ of the revolution.

However, when it comes down to putting forward a strategy to achieve a workers’ revolution, to build a party that can lead it in the midst of the revolutionary crisis that grips South Africa, the SWP is completely at a loss. While Alex Callinicos thinks that the Militant-aligned Marxist Workers Tendency’s perspective of transforming the ANC into a revolutionary party “has some merits", he has no time for the formation of a revolutionary workers’ party based on the black trade unions. “Any such quasi-syndicalist strategy fails to confront the fact that the mass of black trade unionists are likely to look towards either the ANC or the Black consciousness movement for political leadership.” (Socialist Review September 1985)

And why are they likely to look towards the ANC or the National Forum? Clearly because there is no alternative political party representing the interests of the workers, fighting for socialism and leading the democratic struggle against the Apartheid regime. This struggle is now left precisely under the leadership of the UDF and ANC. Callinicos rejects any struggle to involve the mass of black workers in political leadership through their trade unions and a workers’ party. This is in fact a recipe for not challenging the hold of the ANC and UDF.

Besides, Callinicos, like the Marxist Workers Tendency, exaggerates the degree to which black workers, especially trade unionists, look to the ANC for leadership. In the past few years, South African workers have been engaged in a historic task, that of constituting themselves as a conscious class, building a mass organised labour movement. From trade union tasks they are beginning to raise the question of a workers’ political party.

The October 1985 Socialist Review carries an interview with a leader of MAWU, the Metal Workers’ affiliate of FOSATU, Moses Mayekiso. Mayekiso represented an important current within the old FOSATU unions, one which sees the need to build a workers’ party. “The general feeling is that the workers must have their own party and their own freedom charter” declares Mayekiso. “The (ANC’s Freedom) Charter is a capitalist document. We need a workers’ charter that will say clearly who will control the farms, presently owned by the capitalists, who will control the factories, the mines and so on. There must be a change of the whole society.” (SR October 1985)

Mayekiso clearly represented a trend within FOSATU which saw the need to counterpose a working class political programme to that offered by the UDF/ANC. At the time of the interview, Mayekiso tentatively suggested that such a party could be launched by the new Trade Union federation which was about to be formed. Since the formation of COSATU, which obviously saw a compromise with the UDF/ANC supporting unions, the comrade has retreated from this position, arguing that forming such a party would be “divisive”, while sticking to the need to develop a programme for the working class which would be socialist (See Socialist Worker 5 April 1986). Clearly, a programme without a party to fight for it is impossible, unless Mayekiso is proposing a syndicalist strategy for the unions.

But how did the SWP respond to this positive desire to urge the trade unions to build a mass Workers’ Party on a revolutionary working class programme? Predictably Nigel Lambert in the same issue of Socialist Review takes up Callinicos’ theme that it is not possible to build a mass revolutionary party in South Africa at the moment. “Any mass workers’ party formed under existing circumstances would end up with ’fudged’ politics. It would be a centrist and not a revolutionary party.” (Emphasis in original)

So what does the SWP tell workers who want to struggle for a mass workers’ party, one which can really influence events, and break the hold of the multi-class and non-socialist organisations like the UDF and ANC have on the struggle? It is of course the identical recipe these bankrupts peddle in Britain, “recruit the ones and twos".

Such a proposal is laughable when transferred to a country convulsed by revolutionary upheaval, involving hundreds of thousands of the toiling masses. The “Leninist Party” is grotesquely misrepresented in Lambert’s article as coming about by “the conscious decision of a handful of likeminded individuals".

Why a handful? It is described as a “grouplet” and of course, “it is unlikely that such an organisation would be able to lead the masses in struggle". Indeed. So this is the wretched perspective that the SWP offers the South African working class. This is the politics of a pathetic sect, not a revolutionary group claiming to be a “party”.

A revolutionary party would grasp at the desire of significant numbers of workers to form their own party, not discourage it. It would intervene in the struggle for such a party.

Rather than standing on the sidelines declaring “it will all end in tears”, it would fight to win such a party to a revolutionary perspective, a revolutionary programme. It would have on its side the enormous energy of a new proletariat, with only an embryonic trade union bureaucracy to hold it back.

In such circumstances, even if such a party came into being as a mass centrist party, the revolutionaries would have gained a serious influence with the best elements, providing they had fought alongside them for revolutionary not centrist politics. But this approach is quite beyond the ken of the SWP. At the decisive moment of the mass upsurge they offer a “grouplet” unable to “lead the masses in struggle".

The unspoken logic of their position is that the trade unions and their mass membership should not mess with politics. If they did it would only end in a centrist mess. So what should they do? Leave politics to the Stalinist popular frontists of the ANC/UDF and get on with the good old “economic struggle”. That is the inescapable logic of their position.

“Leninist Party”, “workers’ revolution” - for the SWP this is the music of the future, and a very distant one at that! What is this political method? Economism and tailism, just as Lenin characterised it in ’What is to be Done?’