Coventry Socialist Party would like to extend greetings to all members and supporters and a warm thank you for your support in 2013. The last year has been another busy one for the party in the local area and 2014 promises to be no different. As the Tory cuts continue to bite and Labour offer no real alternative, the role of the Socialist Party in opposing all cuts and putting forward a socialist alternative to the capitalist system will become ever more important.
Our members have been involved in a wide range of campaigns and activities in the trade unions, local communities and amongst youth and students on a whole number of issues.
In 2014 there will be Local and European elections where as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition we will be the only party firmly opposed to capitalist cuts and austerity.
We urge all of those who support us to think about how you can help build the socialist opposition to capitalism in 2014. Could you make a regular donation to the party, or take out a subscription to our newspaper ‘The Socialist’? If you are at a school or college, would you like help in setting up a Marxist discussion group? We would also urge all those who agree with what we are doing to consider taking the step of applying to join the Socialist Party.
If you can do any of the above or want more information, please fill in the form below
And lastly, please remember to support the FBU who are on strike this evening!
Dave Nellist on the Bedroom Tax and the Labour Council
The following letter from Dave Nellist was printed in the Coventry Telegraph on 11 December.
In recent months I’ve attended meetings across Coventry where the threat of eviction from the ‘bedroom tax’ is worrying families.
I’ve explained that people can apply to the council for help through Discretionary Housing Payments, but in many cases they’ve not succeeded. Why is that?
In March the Council’s Labour Cabinet decided to spend only a third of what would be necessary to protect all the 3,000 families facing bedroom tax cuts of £700 a year or more in their Housing Benefit.
But of that limited money set aside, in the first six months of this financial year barely 20 per cent has actually been awarded. For many of the tenants who were unsuccessful it seems to be harsh decision making. And many of them may now be facing eviction. So, two things should now immediately happen:
Firstly, I think councillors should review all the unsuccessful cases, and revise the criteria to make sure no one – especially as winter develops – is evicted for this harsh Tory Coalition policy.
And secondly, every one of the 3,000 families affected by the bedroom tax – even if unsuccessful in the past – should now apply or apply again. There’s hundreds of thousands of pounds put to one side to cushion this callous cut in benefits which is not being used properly.
We’ve often heard criticisms from Labour leaders about the harshness of government policy. But if their criticism is not just to be synthetic indignation then now is the time for them to do something about it and to stop the evictions this winter.
Members of the FBU took strike today across the country from 6pm-10pm in the ongoing dispute over pensions. The strike took place during the same week it was announced that MP’s would receive a 11 per cent increase in their pay which will also increase their pension entitlement. Who do we value more? Snouts in the trough MP’s or firefighters who do a vital job for our society? Most people will say it should be firefighters!
Members of the Socialist Party and Coventry TUC visited the picket line at Radford to show support. There is a further strike tomorrow evening 6pm-10pm and we urge the maximum support and solidarity for those taking action.
Coventry Socialist Party held a special meeting on Wednesday 11th December to mark the sad passing of Nelson Mandela. Looking at the events & struggles in which he was part of, the lessons for socialists from it and the current situation developing within South African society today.
Supporters of the CWI in South Africa, 1992, photo by Mark Yate
In order to allow as greater access as possible to this important discussion we are posting here the video recording of the lead off to the discussion by Coventry Socialist Party member Jim Hensman.
Jim has been an active member of the Socialist Party (and our predecessor organisation – The Militant) and the trade union and labour movement for over 40 years. In that time, Jim was lucky enough to meet and discuss first hand with many key figures in the anti-apartheid movement and ANC itself, gaining valuable experience and insight. Crucial for Socialists and working class fighters today.
The video is in 3 parts…
The following link is a full article on Mandela and the current struggles in South Africa from ‘The Socialist’ newspaper.
Rob McArdle supports Lobby of Coventry City Council
Rob McArdle speaking at an anti Bedroom Tax protest
Socialist Party member Rob McArdle outlines why he is supporting a lobby of the Cabinet organised by Coventry TUC
“The proposal for a further £43m cuts will have a devastating effect on those who most need help. We’ve already seen the terrible effects cuts have – with growing queues at food banks and increased homelessness. Sadly all 54 councillors are likely to approve plans, resulting in job losses and reduced council services. They DO have a choice, they could fight for the money being stolen by the government. Unless we get organised and build a campaign to fight the cuts, they will keep cutting until nothing is left. I will be supporting the lobby because the people of Coventry should not be made victims of banker’s greed. In May 2014 we will have the chance to vote for Socialist candidates that will oppose the cuts. At the lobby we can make our voice heard in support of council services and urge this council to fight for us.
A Coventry Socialist Party meeting to mark the sad passing of Nelson Mandela. Looking at the events & struggles in which he was part of, and the explosive situation developing within South African society today. Below is a piece written on his death, by members of the Socialist Party’s Sister organisation in South Africa – Democratic Socialist Movement.
Heroically leading ANC to power but struggle tragically into dead end
The Democratic Socialist Movement offers condolences to the Mandela family and all those in South Africa and internationally who are mourning the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Mandela is a symbol of the struggles and sacrifices of millions over decades to end apartheid and win democracy. The hopes and aspirations of that heroic struggle – with the mighty black working class playing the decisive role – were invested in Mandela. We recognise him for his role in the defeat of one of the most odious systems of oppression and exploitation in history.
Mandela’s death on Thursday 5th December 2013 brings to an end a period of pre-mourning that commenced six months ago when he was admitted to hospital with a recurrent lung infection. His lung condition had its origin in the tuberculosis he contracted during hard labour in lime quarries on Robben Island where he served the first part of his 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid. For many his death will be seen as a welcome relief from the suffering he endured as he lay completely incapacitated in his Houghton home in Johannesburg, not least because it was widely believed that the ANC leadership was cynically keeping him alive with the intention of pulling the plug to derive the maximum benefit from his death in the 2014 elections.
Integrity and commitment
Mandela is rightly revered worldwide as a statesman ranking along great figures of history like Mohatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is recognised for his role in the defeat of one of the most reviled regimes on the planet and one the most odious systems of oppression and exploitation in history. He has acquired the status of universal hero not least because of his demonstration in practice of his commitment to self-sacrifice for a noble cause – the national liberation of the black majority. This is captured by his declaration, during the Treason Trial, that non-racialism was a principle that he was prepared, ‘if needs be’, to die for.
His willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause is borne out by the fact that he personally undertook the task of establishing the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), secretly paying visits to countries like Algeria to seek support for the armed struggle leading him to be installed as MK’s first commander-in-chief. His steadfast refusal to accept any kind of compromise from the apartheid regime in exchange for his freedom, choosing instead to endure twenty-seven years of incarceration, reinforced his stature as a man of principle and integrity committed to the service of his people in sharp contrast to today’s unprincipled, corrupt political elite that is seen by many as trampling on the legacy he entrusted to them.
The current ANC leadership falsely portrays the defeat of apartheid as the more or less inevitable culmination of the continent’s oldest liberation movement’s hundred-year long march to victory. There can be little doubt, however, that, in terms of commitment, political and ideological outlook, strategy and tactics the ANC that endeared itself to the masses is the one of Mandela, of the second half of its centenary rather than it’s first.
Mandela transforms ANC
As part of a new generation of young leaders in the 1940s, inspired by the colonial revolution that shook imperialism at the end of the second world war, Mandela and his comrades, principally, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, shook up an ANC leadership whose character until then was determined by the road along which they had sought salvation for the oppressed – begging the Queen of England to release the black oppressed from bondage while pledging, as subjects, their undying loyalty to her and the British empire.
From an organisation whose methods consisted of pleas and petitions, Mandela and his comrades, having taken control of the ANC Youth League and adopting the 1949 Programme of Action, converted the ANC for the first time into an organisation committed to achieving its objectives by mass action – defiance campaigns, bus boycotts, anti-pass law protests and stay-aways.
From this followed the adoption of the Freedom Charter, whose radical demands reflected the extent to which the working class masses had come to influence the outlook of the ANC, in contrast to the pre-Mandela leadership’s hostile distance corresponding to their class separation. From that point onwards up to liberation in 1994, it was possible for the antagonistic class aspirations of the working masses and those of the middle class – the aspirant black capitalist class – held in common subjugation by the white minority regime, to co-exist in the same organisation under the same programme in mutual commitment to overthrow white minority rule. It would not matter… until it mattered. Until, that is, the time came to implement the Freedom Charter.
The next elections will be taking place twenty years since the end of apartheid. The historic 1994 elections symbolised the triumph of the national liberation struggle – the lifting of the yoke of racial oppression and the opening of the doors to a society in which black people, now a head taller, could stand side-by-side with their white counterparts as equals. Assured by the promises of a better life for all and the strength of their numbers, the black majority embraced the generosity Mandela championed towards the white minority. Mandela’s leadership, it was believed, had averted a racial civil war thought unavoidable.
With a leadership that demonstrated an apparently single-minded determination to lead its people to freedom, there was no reason to doubt the promise of a better life for all to come. Through Mandela’s leadership, a new democratic dispensation based on what has been described as the most progressive constitution in the world had been ushered in. On its foundations there would arise a new, ‘rainbow nation’, from which racial oppression and its companions – poverty, illiteracy, disease, homelessness – would be banished ‘never again’, in Mandela’s words, to return. In this new SA there would be equality of opportunity for all in a nation ‘united in its diversity’.
Reality looks different
As SA completes the second decade of democracy, reality looks rather different from the promise that came out of the negotiated political settlement worked out in the early 1990s. Although the racist FW De Klerk government duly vacated the seat of political power for the ANC, and the ANC has been regularly returned with large majorities, for the overwhelming majority little has changed.
A striking feature of the eulogising of Mandela, is the conflicting class interests converging around what appears to be a common public manifestation of a nation united in its pre-mourning.
The ‘nation’ that Mandela has bequeathed is as unreconstructed today as it was before the end of apartheid, disaggregated into its two main social forces – the working class on the one side and the capitalist class on the other. SA is reputed to be the most unequal society on Earth. As many as 8 million are unemployed, 12 million go to bed hungry, millions are excluded from decent education, health and housing.
The ruling ANC elite is exhibiting the same characteristics as the one which it replaced – corrupt, inept and with an insatiable appetite for self-enrichment and power. Even worse, whilst condemning apartheid order policies as a crime against humanity, the representatives of the new elite are displaying a growing infatuation with similar methods of rule as their predecessors, taking shelter behind repressive legislation such as the Secrecy Act, the National Key Points Act and the Traditional Courts Bill to secure their grip on power, and to keep the nation in the same sort of dark secrecy and repression as the apartheid regime.
Instead of the fulfilment of the dreams of equality and prosperity the masses had been led to believe lay in store for them under democracy, its benefits have accrued to only a tiny minority. Far from the promised ‘Rainbow Nation’ of equals, SA today resembles, as ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has himself admitted, ‘an Irish Coffee’ – black at the bottom, on top a thin layer of white cream sprinkled with chocolate.
A common theme running through the overwhelming majority of evaluations of Mandela’s life is that the conduct of his successors in the ANC leadership and his squabbling family represent not just a departure from everything that Mandela stood for, but constitute the desecration of his legacy. Does this assessment stand the test of close scrutiny?
Capitalist commentators would have us believe that SA would have been if not the country of our dreams then at least a better place had Mandela’s successors continued to walk in his footsteps. The truth, however, is that this is precisely what they did, at least in respect of all the fundamental questions of policy on which the ANC’s near twenty-year rule has been based.
Mandela and Gear
Mandela played the decisive role in the abandonment of the Freedom Charter and everything the ANC was believed to have held sacred until then. The decisive break was the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) programme in 1996. Gear was to bring the ANC government incrementally into open collision with the working class – in the workplace, townships and squatter camps and tertiary education institutions and introduced the first serious strains in the Tripartite Alliance. The difference between Mandela’s reign and that of all his successors is more in style than substance.
Somewhat unfairly, for instance, Mbeki, who proudly proclaimed himself a Thatcherite, has come to be personally associated with Gear. Yet Gear was adopted under Mandela’s presidency. In spite of the fact that Mbeki spearheaded the adoption of Gear, he did so with Mandela’s (and that of the rest of the ANC leadership including the SACP’s) full blessing.
Within the period between his release in 1990 and the ANC’s accession to power four years later, Mandela’s position swung from an unswerving commitment to the Freedom Charter and a reaffirmation of its nationalisation clauses at its heart as fundamental to ANC policy, to a declaration, well before the ANC entered parliament that privatisation – at the heart of Gear’s original strategic objectives – was now the ANC’s fundamental policy. It was Mandela that led the ANC to power with the promise of jobs for all, and the same Mandela who declared in parliament after Gear had been adopted that the ANC government was ‘not a job-creating agency’.
In performing this heart transplant, Dr Mandela did not consult the patient. Whereas the adoption of the Freedom Charter was the culmination of the most democratic process in the ANC’s history, the adoption of Gear was profoundly undemocratic. The Freedom Charter was the summation of the in-puts of thousands of workers in urban and rural areas and of people of all walks of life across the country whose proposals were written on pieces of paper and forwarded to the Congress of the People there to be incorporated.
Gear on the other hand was developed behind the backs not just of the membership, but of the majority of even the ANC cabinet itself. It was adopted and implemented in 1996, and presented to the member-ship at the ANC’s Mafikeng conference in 1997 as an accomplished fact after it had already been approved by big business.
As former MK leader, SACP Central Committee member and Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils confirms, in an admission astonishing for its honesty, under Mandela’s leadership, the ANC betrayed the ‘poorest of the poor’ to domestic capital and imperialism in the Codesa negotiations.
Business pacts with Mandela
Quoting Stellenbosch University’s Sampie Terreblanche, Kasrils writes: ‘…by late 1993 big business strategies – hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer’s Johannesburg residence – were crystallizing in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South Africa. Present were South Africa’s mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British companies with a presence in South Africa…’
What transpired out of these ‘late-night discussions’? Kasrils reveals: ‘Nationalisation of the mines and [the commanding] heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom Charter was abandoned.’ Kasrils describes how the ANC leadership prostrated itself before domestic capital and imperialism: ‘The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt… a wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Extremely tight budgetary obligations were instituted that would tie the hands of any future governments; obligations to implement a free trade policy and abolish all forms of tariff protection in keeping with neo-liberal free trade fundamentals were accepted. Big corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad.’
The roots of the ANC leadership’s latter-day disenchantment with the constitution, and their growing exasperation with the parliamentary democracy itself, are to be found in the trampling of their own internal democracy.
Contrary to the propaganda of the old regime, the ANC leadership, despite its embrace of the SACP, was never infected by the ‘disease’ of communism. Mbeki, whose ideological outlook has falsely been portrayed as fundamentally at variance with that of Mandela’s, in stating such was merely echoing within earshot of the working class what Mandela had made crystal clear already back in 1956, within a year of the adoption of the Freedom Charter, and later at the Treason Trial in 1964.
He did not want the Freedom Charter to be confused with socialism. The Freedom Charter, he explained ‘…is by no means a blue-print for a socialist state. It calls for the redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land; it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power.
As we have pointed out before, the ANC’s support for nationalisation has never been as a step towards the abolition of capitalism, but to use the state to accelerate the development of a black capitalist class in much the same way as the Nats did for the development of an Afrikaner bourgeoisie. As Mandela explained in the Treason Trial: ‘The ANC’s [nationalisation] policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital.’
Mandela before elections
The ANC finds itself at this point in history, not because it has been derailed from the historical path it plotted for itself, but because this is where, given its history, social character and historical purpose, it has always been headed.
The ANC’s surrender of the mandate of the Congress of the People at Codesa was no deviation from this path. In fact it was the fulfilment of the ANC’s historical mission. It was signalled in Mandela’s Treason Trial speech where he made clear the leadership’s preparedness to compromise even on the fundamental principle of majority rule based on one-person-one-vote by offering to negotiate for a limited number of seats for blacks for a fixed period to be followed by a gradual increase after a fixed period. He signalled this further by engaging in secret negotiations with representatives of the apartheid regime’s intelligence services and big business as early as 1985 for which he had no mandate from his own organisation.
The ‘talks about talks’ that followed in the form of more high level engagements with the regime were preceded by talks with members of the political establishment in 1987 in Dakar Senegal. The abandonment of the armed struggle without any consultations with the MK cadres or even Chris Hani, proved that the armed struggle had always been nothing more than a propaganda of the deed tactic to force the regime to the negotiating table. Codesa was the logical sequel.
The Nobel Peace prize was conferred on Mandela and De Klerk to perpetuate the myth that the negotiated settlement was the fortuitous confluence of the conversion on the road to Damascus of an Afrikaner-led capitalist establishment and a Mandela-led ANC leadership magnanimous in its victory. But as even Mandela felt obliged to point out, the country was liberated not by him or the ANC leadership but the working masses themselves.
If imperialism and the capitalist establishment in SA exerted pressure on the apartheid regime to negotiate with the ANC it was because they understood that the struggles of the masses – from the 1973 strikes in Natal to the 1976 uprising of the youth to the insurrectionary movement of the 1980s spurred by the establishment of the UDF and in particular the socialist consciousness of the workers of Cosatu – posed a mortal threat to their system. Had white minority rule be overthrown by an insurrection of the masses, the future of capitalism itself would have been threatened. The behind-the-scenes negotiations with Mandela had convinced the more far-sighted strategists of capital that Mandela was a man they could do business with. Mandela had never contemplated the abolition of capitalism. His problem was not capitalism per se, but a capitalism that favoured one race against the other. For this the ruling class is forever grateful to Mandela.
The ANC leadership was never committed to thoroughgoing transformation of SA society. Far from desiring the over-throw of capitalism, it sought accommodation within it. With capitalism now in the throes of its worst crisis since the 1930s, the incapacity of this capitalist government to fulfil the expectations of the people has become more and acute. The crisis of capitalism is reflected now in the ANC itself.
New workers’ party
Almost as if conspiring to affect symmetry in the life cycle of the party he led so heroically and that of Mandela himself, history appears to have determined that Mandela’s passing should coincide with the implosion of the ANC.
For the ruling ANC elite Mandela’s passing is certainly a welcome distraction from the latest blows to their credibility as the Public Protector’s reports just released contained damning findings of corruption and maladministration against two of his ministers to add to the ongoing saga of the provisional report into corruption associated with the more than R200m spent on president Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
No doubt the ANC leadership will use Mandela’s death to try and revive the fortunes of a party that has alienated the working class to the point where the special congress of the National Union of Metal Workers scheduled for 13-16 December, is widely expected to pass a resolution not to support the ANC in the 2014 elections and to withhold its R8m contribution from its campaign coffers. Against the background of a survey of shop stewards political attitudes revealing that 67% of Cosatu shop stewards would support a workers’ party should Cosatu support it. The passing of such a resolution would reverberate across organised workers within and beyond Cosatu, almost certainly split the federation itself and deal a severe blow to the ANC’s electoral performance. That is why Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, leader of the pro-Zuma capitalist faction in Cosatu, has wasted no time in cynically using the occasion to appeal for unity for “Mandela’s sake”.
But any benefit from the sympathy of the masses will be at best temporary. For all Zuma’s eulogising of Mandela as SA’s “greatest son”, for many the country is being presided over by its worst. So low is Zuma’s standing that his closest advisors are reported to hold him in barely concealed contempt cringing at the thought that the ANC’s most revered leader is to be buried by its most reviled, who with his shameless embrace of Zulu chauvinism had revived the very tribalism that the ANC was created to combat, clearing the way for the relatively progressive nationalism of the ANC to follow in the ignominious footsteps of the racist reactionary nationalism of the apartheid Nationalist Party. In burying the founder of the modern ANC, the first by the last, Zuma will be burying the modern incarnation of the party itself.
With him will be buried the last rays of its halo as a liberation organisation. The death of Mandela will most likely accelerate the process of the ANC’s decline. Around him the ANC was still able to cohere, to bask in his reflected glory. With the Workers and Socialist Party, already with the support now of the National Transport Movement – the 50 000-strong break away from Cosatu’s corruption infested SA Transport and Allied Workers Union, – acting as a beacon, the way is being cleared for the emergence of a mass working class alternative with a socialist programme.
Thus whilst the capitalist class mourns the imminent collapse of its Codesa salvation, the working class has awoken to the sounds of the guns of Marikana – the party they believed for so long to be their own is in fact the party of the bosses. What happened in reality was an exchange of political captains of capitalism; the racist white government was replaced by a ‘non-racist’ democratically elected government based on the black majority.
The establishment of the Workers and Socialist Party represents an historic step for-ward: the reclamation by the proletariat of its class and political independence, its liberation from the ideological and political prison camp of the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance in which it was incarcerated for nearly two decades. The march towards a socialist SA, from which the working class had been diverted since 1994, has now resumed.
The capitalists and their spokespersons are justified to be worried by the death of Mandela. Even if some of them are shedding crocodile tears, the point is that he gave SA capitalism a new lease on life. It is almost twenty years now since his ANC came to power. These twenty years have consistently revealed the brutality of capitalism – poverty, unemployment and inequality to which his ANC leaders refer as triple challenges. Under capitalism they cannot do away with them. Only under socialism will the workers rid society of these capitalist evils. It remains for the workers and youth of today to follow what is the best example set by Mandela – selfless and determined struggle – but also to learn that in the struggle we are fighting a compromise with a class enemy is impermissible, because they inevitably lead to betrayals of the masses as capitalism cannot meet their aspirations. More importantly, they must learn that the working class should only rely on its independent political leadership, organisations and programme to transform society in its own interests and those of the poor, for a socialist South Africa and a socialist world.
As millions of ordinary working class people across the world wake up to the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s passing we post here two articles from the archives. We will be posting a full obituary over the next day or so
The first is a piece taken from the book ‘The Rise of Militant’ by Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party. Published in 1995 it covers what the Socialist party (at the time named organised nuder the name The Militant Tendency) wrote and put forward at the time of Mandela’s release from prison.
The second is an article from our weekly paper – The Socialist, from October 2012 – charting the processes that took place from the fall of apartheid to the events of the Marikana massacre that saw the ANC complicate in the brutal murder of 34 minerworkers in August 2012.
From ‘The Rise of Militant’ Chapter Forty-One – International Challenges and an historical setback – Published 1995.
IN BRITAIN 1990 will forever be associated with the poll tax and how it determined Thatcher’s fate. But on an international scale it will also go down in history as the year of decisive changes in South Africa, further convulsions in the Stalinist world, and the Gulf War.
The revolution in South Africa, for that is what it was, entered a new phase with the announcement that Nelson Mandela was to be freed. F W de Klerk announced this to the white parliament on 2 February. The African National Congress (ANC) and other banned organisations were to be legalised, a moratorium on hangings was introduced, and talks and negotiations were about to begin. We declared that this was
a victory above all for the black working class and youth whose tireless organisation and struggle over many years have forced the retreat of the regime. (1)
His release resulted in an outpouring of joy and relief that swept from one end of South Africa to the other and reverberated around the world. The slogans of the masses were “Dissolve parliament now!”, “Let the people govern now!” This was a popular way of expressing the demand for majority rule as a means of abolishing poverty wages, inferior schooling, segregated ghettoes and all the panoply of apartheid repression.
In Cape Town, the celebrating crowds were confronted with police and dogs, whereas in Johannesburg, crowds of joyful demonstrators poured onto the streets as the news broke. The Cape Town police, as one black student put it, behaved “like a pack of wolves.”
Despite these scenes of wild euphoria, we and Congress Militant, warned:
“The ruling class in South Africa and internationally… view negotiations with the ANC leadership as a device for curbing the movement of the masses.” (2)
Some discussions took place in Militant’s ranks over the appropriate slogans to put forward in the changed situation confronting South Africa. Given the attitude of South African capitalism, backed up by imperialism, there was naturally a suspicion on the part of many workers that negotiations were a device for derailing the mass movement for majority rule.
There was a tendency from the outset to reject the idea of negotiations. But it is not possible, particularly after a prolonged struggle with countless sacrifices by the masses, for a serious Marxist tendency to ignore calls for negotiations.
Sometimes negotiations can be seen as an “easier” and less bloody means of achieving the objects of the mass movement. In Algeria, for instance, in 1960 the FLN (Front National Liberation, the Algerian liberation movement) entered negotiations with the representative of French capitalism, de Gaulle.
The latter had originally come to power on the basis “Algerie Francais”. But it became clear to de Gaulle – a consummate and brutal representative of French capitalism – that it was impossible to hold down a whole nation in chains.
Determined to extricate French imperialism from the impasse he soon entered negotiations with the FLN. In this situation it would have been false to have opposed negotiations given that a million Algerian people had already been killed in the war. There was a craving for peace, both of the French people but particularly on the part of the Algerian masses. Drawing on this experience the leaders of Militant and Congress Militant put forward the slogan of “negotiations for majority rule”.
Explaining its position in the pages of Militant, the leadership of Congress Militant stated:
Socialists do not oppose negotiations in principle. It is a question of negotiations over what, and on which terms. But, as the military theorist Clausewitz explained, you cannot get more at the negotiating table than you have won on the battlefield.
The first demand of the black masses is for one person one vote in an undivided South Africa. How can de Klerk – or any capitalist leader – concede this? The independent, revolutionary movement of the working class and youth has forced the regime into making the present concessions. But the regime has not yet been defeated. That is why majority rule is not on offer. (3)
De Klerk’s concessions arose from a combination of factors; the partial lull in the mass movement following the state of emergency imposed in 1986, the Namibian settlement, but above all the disorientation of the ANC and “Communist” Party leadership in exile, increasingly thrown off balance by Gorbachev’s policy changes.
Gorbachev’s detente with imperialism and the emergence of pro-capitalist forces in the Soviet Union was bound to have a huge effect on an ANC leadership which had for decades in any case based themselves on the programme of “two stages” – the idea that ‘democracy’ can first of all be established within the framework of capitalism, in co-operation with the ‘democratic capitalists’.
Walter Sisulu, a top leader of the ANC, had recently stated:
“Socialism is merely an ideal, and the ANC is not promoting it at present.”
Our analysis has stood the test of time. Events between 1990 and 1994 have evolved in their broad outline in the way that was anticipated by these two journals. The South African ruling class gave concessions, the right to vote, “universal suffrage”, but because of the various blocking mechanisms agreed to by Mandela and the ANC leadership, this did not result in ‘majority rule’.
However, even in the teeth of all the evidence to the contrary Ted Grant stubbornly adhered to the idea that the apartheid regime would make no concessions which would fundamentally alter the basis of that regime. It was just one of many examples of a failure on his part to recognise the profound changes which had been wrought in the world situation. This undermined all the “certainties” of the past. Ted Grant occupied a minority position, which was not reflected in the public position put forward by Militant. (See chapter 34)
The actual release of Mandela saw a quarter of a million rally in Cape Town for his first speech after 27 years of imprisonment. In Soweto, AK47s were fired in the air and thousands flocked to Mandela’s home in Orlando West.
Workers in Durban “toyi-toyied” throughtout the night and thousands marched in Inanda, which had been the centre of fighting between Inkatha and the ANC in the previous months. Among black youth in Inanda Mandela’s release triggered massive euphoria, with many thinking that ‘liberation’ was close at hand.
There was even a feeling in the town that the release of Mandela would allow the youth to finish off Inkatha. These hopes were to be cruely dashed with the savage counter-revolution unleashed by Inkatha vigilantes, which over a few days following the release of Mandela left 50 people dead. Among industrial workers there was a more cautious response, with great mistrust of de Klerk, the bosses and even of some of the ANC leaders.
One metalworker shop steward told us that workers thought: “Nelson Mandela has been released by de Klerk to disarm us”, while a hospital worker said, “The capitalists are not interested in how we live. That is why we need socialism.” (4)
Nevertheless, Mandela’s release was celebrated worldwide with traffic around Trafalgar Square brought to a halt by a jubilant crowd. In London schools children and teachers celebrated. A million had toyi-toyied in Soweto and were emulated by others, particularly the youth, on an international scale.
The trust in Mandela in general seemed limitless as he declared to the thousands in Soweto and Cape Town that he stood by the principles that he had been imprisoned for. He supported the guerilla wing of the ANC and “armed struggle”. He also called for the nationalisation of the mines and monopolies. He called for “decisive mass action to end apartheid.”
He called for sanctions to continue. But on the basis of the next three years of negotiations, and the backdrop of savage civil war against the best of the youth and the working class, Mandela was to moderate his demands. Nevertheless, his release and the unbanning of the ANC ushered in a completely changed situation which would inevitably result in a complete dismantling of apartheid and a new era for South Africa.”
From apartheid to Marikana
The struggle for social justice continues
April Ashley, Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales) and black members’ rep on Unison national executive (personal capacity)
First published in the Socialist (paper of the Socialist Party England & Wales)
The victorious strike of the Marikana mineworkers has transformed the situation in South Africa and heralded an upturn in workers’ struggle.
The strike has spread like wildfire to other mines and enormously boosted the confidence of workers in South Africa. It has ignited a new stage in the South African revolutionary movement.
The massacre of over 40 mineworkers in “scenes reminiscent of the worst of the apartheid era massacres” (Business Day 17/08/2012) shocked to the core South African society, catapulted South Africa to the forefront of international workers’ struggles and enlisted the solidarity and support of workers worldwide.
The struggle has brought back memories of the fight against apartheid for older workers and an interest in the struggle for young people.
It was in 1994 that the black majority population finally secured one person, one vote and ended apartheid with the election of the first black African National Congress (ANC) government, under a negotiated settlement.
The whole world held its breath on 11 February 1990 – that historic day when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years.
The hopes and dreams of the majority for a new South Africa rested on his shoulders: a new South Africa freed from ferocious and pitiless oppression and exploitation by white minority rule.
His release was secured after decades of bitter struggles when the apartheid regime attempted to drown the revolution in blood.
The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the heroic Soweto uprising of the youth in 1976, when up to 100 young people were shot dead by police, (see box below) showed the determination of the masses to overthrow apartheid.
The adoption of the Freedom Charter by the ANC in 1955 was an expression of workers’ demand for a revolutionary change in society.
The charter called for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy: “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people, the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”
Between 1961 and 1974 the number of black workers employed in South Africa’s manufacturing industry doubled.
It was the explosion of the organised working class onto the scene, carrying on the banner of the dockworkers’ strikes in 1973, that rocked the whole of South Africa and brought a qualitative change to the struggle.
These mass strikes fired the imagination of workers internationally who gave solidarity to the struggles through marches, lobbies and boycotts and lead to many workers becoming politically active as they supported their brothers and sisters in South Africa.
The 1980s workers’ movements lead to the birth of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in 1985.
Cosatu adopted the Freedom Charter in 1987 under the banner ’Socialism means Freedom’. Its largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), led by the then militant Cyril Ramaphosa, was at the forefront of mass strikes, and Cosatu began a series of general strikes which made the country ungovernable and ushered in the end of apartheid.
But 20 years after the end of apartheid what has happened to the hopes and dreams of the workers encapsulated in the Freedom Charter?
The Socialist Party and the CWI have explained that following the collapse of Stalinism the white regime of FW de Klerk recognised the potential for a power-sharing agreement with the ANC.
The fundamental economic interests of capitalism would not be threatened because of the ANC leadership’s shift to the right, betraying the revolutionary struggle.
Failure of ANC
South Africa is now the most unequal country in the world with the wealthiest 10% of the population taking 60% of its total income while the bottom half of the population earns less than 8%.
Almost one quarter of South African households experience hunger on a daily basis. An average worker lives on R18 (£1.30) a day but 44% of workers – six million workers – live on less than R10 a day. Unemployment is 25% with 50% youth unemployment.
This means workers continue to live in crushing poverty. “A mineworker outlined his working and living conditions: ’We spend eight hours underground.
“It’s very hot and you can’t see daylight. There is no air sometimes and you have to get air from the pipes down there.’ His shack has no electricity, no running water, and the outside toilet is shared with two other families” (the Guardian 7/9/12).
Apart from the short-lived reconstruction and development programme in their early years in government, which saw limited improvements for the black working class, the ANC has pursued an aggressive neoliberal economic programme with mass privatisations of public utilities like electricity and water which has led to the increased pauperisation of the working class.
This has fuelled a myriad of community struggles for housing and delivery of services for many years.
For example, the ending of subsidised water supply in Kwa Zulu Natal in 2000 lead to the biggest cholera epidemic in the country’s history as workers went to the dams and rivers to drink as they couldn’t afford to be reconnected to the new more expensive supply.
Mass public sector strikes against privatisation in 2007 and 2010 shook the ANC government which has been ruling in a tripartite alliance together with Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Divisions have widened in the alliance as the ANC effectively abandoned the working class and became conscious agents of the big bosses and capitalism.
Some Cosatu leaders have also been assimilated into the ranks of the elite and have abandoned the struggle.
Cyril Ramaphosa was paid £61,000 as a Lonmin non-executive director last year and has come to symbolise the gap between a new black elite and the poverty-stricken majority.
Following the Marikana massacre the credibility of the ANC has now been shattered. It has demonstrated that it shares with the capitalist class the same fear and loathing for the working class.
“The ANC was in the black mind, the black soul, it took on an almost mystical quality. But now they’ve lost faith in it. The bond is shattered and it happened on television” (the Guardian 7/9/12).
As the global economic recession deepens the bosses, backed by the ANC government, will continue their attempt to load the burden onto workers’ shoulders.
So the scene is set for not only continued explosive struggles but a split in the tripartite alliance and the ANC itself.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (the CWI section in South Africa) are proposing a Rustenburg general strike, to be followed by a national strike and demonstration.
International pressure by workers and activists must also be maximised. The enthusiastic response to the ideas of the DSM among workers indicates the great potential for the development of a new mass workers’ party with a socialist programme, to defend and further the interests of working class people in South Africa.
Soweto uprising 1976 – What we wrote at the time
In 1976 South Africa’s vicious apartheid regime was shaken by a heroic uprising started by thousands of school students in the black ’township’ of Soweto near Johannesburg.
The police killed at least 140 people on 16-17 June 1976, mostly in Soweto, and 600 more as they tried to put down the year-long revolt.
South Africa was then still under the apartheid regime which used ’separate development’ to disenfranchise, racially segregate and keep down the country’s black majority and to ensure plentiful cheap labour.
The ruling Nationalist government insisted that school lessons in certain subjects must be taken in Afrikaans – associated with white minority rule and particularly with the oppression of apartheid.
Students had begun boycotting Afrikaans classes and elected an action committee that later became the Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC). The campaign started with a demonstration on 16 June.
The police fired tear gas into the crowd, estimated at 12,000 strong. The students replied with a volley of stones.
The police then fired directly into the crowd. 13-year-old Hector Petersen was one of the first victims, being shot down in front of his sister and friends.
The education system was the spark but there were many such grievances throughout apartheid South Africa, especially in the townships.
Militant (the Socialist’s predecessor) described Soweto as a “powder keg waiting for a match to set it alight” with “virtual concentration camps”.
“A million Africans are packed into Soweto. Half the population is unemployed and therefore without permits to stay, at the mercy of any police raid.”
The article contrasted the dreadful conditions of the townships with the privileged life of many middle class whites.
The Soweto uprising changed the political consciousness of South Africa’s black working class.
Youth in Alexandria township, north of Johannesburg, had seen that they couldn’t beat the apartheid state forces by themselves and appealed to their parents at work to back them.
By 22 June 1976, over 1,000 workers at the Chrysler car factory had stopped work in the first strike action consciously held in support of the students.
In Soweto, the SSRC took on the responsibility of organising for a student march into Johannesburg on 4 August and, for three days, the first political general strike since 1961 took place. The government conceded on the Afrikaans issue but the revolt had gone too far and was now clearly aimed at the regime itself.
“If the ANC Government does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime.” Nelson Mandela (1993)
The Socialist Party’s sister organisation Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) along with he mineworkers’ unofficial National Strike Committee, and other working class groups, recent initiative to launch the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) in order to challenge the ANC in next year’s general election is a huge step forward.
A socialist alternative to a corrupt government that’s defending a brutal capitalist regime which presided over the Marikana massacre is the only solution to what New Labour stooge Peter Hain recently described as ‘deeply, deeply depressing’!
Appeal from Workers and Socialist Party, South Africa
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) – born out of the South African mineworkers’ struggles – is appealing for support for its election campaign in the South African general election which will be held in April or May next year.
Socialist Party members were out on Tuesday 3rd of December, alongside Socialist Student group members from both Coventry and Warwick University, supporting University workers in UCU, UNISON and UNITE on their second coordinated strike over pay.
Below is a sample from the leaflets we distributed on the day and a number of pictures from the picket lines across the two Universities.
Coventry’s Labour Council prepare to inflict more Tory misery
Coventry City Council
Coventry City Council have announced their intention to pass on another £43 million of cuts to the people of Coventry with the publication of the Pre-Budget Report for 2014/15.
The report is now available on the Council website and has been covered by the Coventry Telegraph website.
We will comment in more detail in the coming weeks, however what is crystal clear is that the Labour controlled Council are planning to dutifully inflict more misery on our city.
Dave Nellist, former Labour MP and ex St Michael’s councillor stated
‘It seems when George Osborne says ‘Cut!’ Coventry’s Labour Council just responds ‘Certainly sir, how much?’ The answer (whoever wins in 2015) seems to be ‘£43m please’ according to today’s new report.
The Socialist Party and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition starts from a different place. We would work out what the city needs and then mobilise people to fight to win it from the Tory government, just like Liverpool did in the 1980s.’
We believe that the 3 main council trade unions – Unite, Unison and GMB need to vocally and forcefully oppose every single cut that this council is putting forward and with the people of this city, demand that the Councillors refuse to do the dirty work of the Tories and build a city wide campaign against the cuts.
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