Tuesday, April 01, 2014

South Africa: NUMSA breaks with ANC

Striking platinum miners rally for R 12 500 a month wage

Finally m0re than a year after the massacre at Marikana, a major union is in the process of breaking politically from the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, SACP and COSATU that has ruled over imperialism’s super-exploitation of South Africa since 1994. The National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) will not campaign for the ANC in the next elections and has called for an independent union- based socialist party. It seeks to force the leadership of COSATU to call a special conference to pass a resolution that all the COSATU unions break politically from the ANC. But NUMSA has not rejected the reformist “Freedom Charter” –the ANC charter that called for a peaceful, parliamentary transformation to socialism. Nor do the other political breakaways from the ANC, the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) -led Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and the Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) reject the Freedom Charter. It is necessary for  revolutionary communists to fight for independence of the unions from the ANC and for the formation of a new mass revolutionary party that breaks the ‘necklace’ of national capitalism and fights for international socialism.

Global Crisis and South Africa

The global crisis of falling profits since 2007 has been downloaded onto the semi-colonies by both the US-led and China-led imperialist blocs. In this way imperialism tries to cut the prices of raw materials and labour power so that global profits can be restored. In South Africa the ANC acts as the junior partner of the MNCs imposing deep cuts on workers living standards to restore both imperialists and the ANC share of rising super-profits.  The strategic relationship between the ANC and China does not allow South Africa to escape the fate of imperialist super-exploitation. South Africa may be a BRIC but it is definitely becoming a semi-colony of China. Traditional British and US MNCs are now joined by Chinese MNCs in intensify labour and forcing down wages. This has been felt in every sector of production from the mines to agriculture.

The response of the MNCs, and its junior partner the ANC, has been met with growing resistance in mass demonstrations and strikes. The ANC has declared itself national strike breaker by using the police and union thugs to shoot down miners and other workers in an attempt to intimidate the militant leadership. This has been met with angry resistance such as at Marikana where miners staged a wildcat strike against the corrupt NUM bureaucracy that acts as the paid agents of the mine owners. When two miners were shot by NUM officials, the wildcat spread. Attempts by NUM national leaders to quell the uprising failed and led to the planned police massacre at Marikana. As a result most of the platinum miners have left the NUM and joined AMCU, a breakaway union. More strikes have followed leading up to the current platinum workers’ strike for R 12 500. It is clear that the legitimacy of the COSATU unions is now being questioned by a widening layer of militant workers. Such was the lead up to the NUMSA vote to break with the ANC. Out of the capitalist crisis comes the opportunity for revolution.

Militancy is not enough

Working class militancy as a response to the demand for more super-profits does not automatically throw up revolutions. Militancy results from rising exploitation and austerity, but the causes of these attacks on workers are not immediately obvious. Capitalism exists as an exploitative social relation where Capital exploits Labour in the process of production. However, this appears as an exchange relation where exploitation is based on labour being paid below its value. This appearance presents the solution as labour organising and fighting for reforms to equalise exchange or ‘fair shares’ between Capital and Labour. This leads to ‘economism’ where the labour movement fights for wage increases rather than for the end of the ‘wage system’ i.e. reformism.  

Since economism blames the bosses’ for using their power to raise profits at the expense of wages, the bosses’ policy of attacking labour to raise profits is seen as the enemy, rather then the capitalist system itself. This anti-worker program may be labelled ‘neo-liberalism’, corruption, austerity etc., but for reformists it can be reversed by workers parties winning elections with a program for parliamentary socialism. Thus economism gives rise to opportunism as the bureaucratic leadership of the unions and left political parties attempt to negotiate ‘fair shares’. So despite the militancy of workers, economism prevents them from organising independently of the labour bureaucracy, building their own political organs and forging their own path to the socialist revolution.

The Freedom Charter

The ANC Freedom Charter was a reformist program drafted by the SACP, a Stalinist party, which put forward the two stage theory of a national democratic revolution preparatory to the socialist revolution. It was held that once the black majority came to power it would nationalise the means of production to develop the economy and create the basis for a second, socialist, stage. However, since 1994 reality has shown that the ANC in an alliance with the SACP and COSATU has failed to implement the Freedom Charter.  Land and industry largely remains in the hands of national and multinational capital, and that far from creating the conditions for socialism, the living standards of the masses have deteriorated.

Those who criticised the ANC did so in terms of its corrupt politics, adopting ‘neo-liberalism’, and enriching of a new black bourgeoisie at the expense of the masses. The critics alternative was and is still today to be for a new mass party to replace the ANC and implement the Freedom Charter as originally planned. For example the CWI opposition in the ANC, the Marxist Workers Tendency (MWT) was kicked out of the ANC but continued to behave like an internal opposition.  Today its successor, the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), calls for a new socialist mass party that can be elected to power to legislate for ‘socialism’ by nationalising the land, industry and banks without smashing the state! Similarly, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of the former ANC Youth leader Julius Malema expelled in 2013 for criticising the current leadership, calls for nationalisation of the mines and industry but only a 60% state share leaving 40% owned by the capitalists. Neither of these political currents, which are also discussing an alliance, wishes to break from the democratic national program of the South African revolution. 

What should revolutionary communists do in the upcoming elections? While the WASP Manifesto is left reformist despite its Trotskyist phrases about nationalisation under workers control, it will be a pole of attraction for militant workers who are breaking with the ANC.  For this reason revolutionary communists must give it critical support in the classic Leninist method. We raise our own program but where militant workers have illusions in parliament we offer to accompany them through the experience of voting WASP at the same time warning them that no socialist revolution can be won through parliamentary reforms.
Permanent Revolution

When Trotsky called for a Black Republic in South Africa in the 1930s he did not envisage this as a national democratic stage to prepare for a future socialist stage. Once the black majority was in power it would face a hostile intervention from British imperialism which would necessarily force it to follow the course of the 1917 revolution in Russia—to the seizure of power by the working class, and to defend itself in a revolutionary war against imperialist attacks. That is, the ‘permanent revolution’. The Leninist-Trotskyist position on the right of nations to self-determination was not a matter for isolated nations. The imperialist epoch was one in which oppressor nations oppressed the colonies directly and the semi-colonies via the national bourgeoisies. The struggle for national independence would require a struggle to defeat both the national bourgeoisie and its imperialist masters. Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in 1940 and didn’t live to see it, the period of decolonisation that followed WW2 vindicated the Leninist-Trotskyist theory and practice of Permanent Revolution.

By contrast the Stalinist conception of ‘socialism in one country’ was translated into national roads to socialism where the national bourgeoisie would take power to prepare the conditions for socialism. This was an opportunist adaptation of the Stalinists to the ‘democratic bourgeoisie’ as allies of the Soviet Union but at the expense of the world revolution. The new bourgeoisies would prevent the workers from rising up and be rewarded as the junior partners of imperialism. In every case such political ‘independence’ was a sham that ensured continued economic slavery. So in South Africa the SACP dutifully wrote the Freedom Charter as the Stalinist road to socialism.

The ANC in power since 1994 has proved beyond question the validity of the Leninist-Trotskyist conception of national liberation via permanent revolution. In the colonies and semi-colonies where the national liberation movement went on to overthrow the national bourgeoisie and defeat imperialism this proved that it was possible to win a partial national liberation and independence from imperialism. But these were not ‘pure’ workers revolutions. These were petty bourgeois revolutions that expropriated the bourgeoisie and resulted in transitional deformed workers states such as China, Vietnam and Cuba, ruled by bureaucratic elites, living off the backs of the workers and peasants. Such transitional states would be overthrown by workers political revolutions and become healthy workers states, or they would revert to become restored capitalist states. Political revolutions could only arise out of an international working class movement led by an international party and program committed to permanent revolution. What does all this mean for South Africa today?

Revolutionary leadership

We can see that when NUMSA breaks with the ANC, the national bourgeois lackey of imperialism, but does not take the road of permanent revolution, it cannot succeed in creating the conditions for socialism. That is why revolutionaries in South Africa must be clear about their program. When NUMSA breaks from the ANC and SACP, and fights for COSATU to break also, to form a new mass political party, it must be supported, but very critically by raising the transitional program for permanent revolution. 

When NUMSA argues for implementing the Freedom Charter we must say: “The reformist politics of the Freedom Charter for completing the nationalisation the South African and imperialist corporations, is nothing more than the SACP Stalinism of the ANC, now dressed up as the ‘win-win’ partnership with China on the road to  ‘market socialism’.  The road to China, Vietnam or Cuba, of merely nationalising capitalist property and calling it ‘socialist’, leads inevitably to a new capitalist tyranny over the workers.”

Moreover when the road advocated by the EFF, the WASP and other left currents, to form a mass party with a program for South Africa to join the Bolivarian bloc of nations with China against US and EU imperialism, we must say: “China is not the model for South African socialism. It is a restored capitalist state that has become a new imperialist power that super-exploits workers and peasants in all of Africa and the world. Its rivalry with the US threatens to engulf us in a new world war.”  

When the left reformists call for a national socialist program for South Africa, revolutionaries must point out that South Africa is not a single country but a vital part of all Southern Africa and the whole of Africa. The working class and landless peasants know no borders. They form a surplus army of migrant workers super-exploited and super-oppressed who move across and between continents.

We must therefore call for the unions to recruit all workers, employed, unemployed, or whatever language, ethnicity and gender and build a mass party based on the workers councils and militias to unite all working people to overthrow the South African state and defeat its imperialist backers in their attempts to destroy 
the Southern African revolution. 

A revolutionary communist action program:

  • Workers to take control of their unions as fighting democratic unions!
  • Build a mass workers party based on the reclaimed unions!
  • Form local workplace and community councils and self defence militias!
  • Mobilise for a general strike to bring down the government and replace it with a Workers and Peasants Government!
This government will then impose a plan to create a socialist economy based on the expropriation of all capitalist property, national and MNC, the mines, the banks, the farms, etc., under workers democratic control.

Such as program will unite workers of all Africa and enable a Federation of Socialist Republics to be established on the continent!

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