Today in Johannesburg the biggest ever gathering of leaders of global capitalism is taking place to honour Nelson Mandela. They have already flooded the media with a chorus of adulation for the man and his achievements. Current and former political leaders have all rushed to heap praise on him and hold him up as a role model for future generations. The stench of hypocrisy is of course everywhere but none more pungent than that provided by the British Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron. In 1985 he was a leading member of the Federation of Conservative Students which produced the “Hang Mandela” posters and tee-shirts in support of apartheid. In 1989 he celebrated Mandela’s 26 years in prison by journeying to South Africa at the invitation of the Botha Government to discuss how to bust sanctions against apartheid. Interviewed this morning in Johannesburg on Radio 4 he did not call him a terrorist but “Madiba”. Vomit bags all round.
Mandela was an exceptional man and in many ways an admirable one, not least for his bravery, his steadfastness to his cause through 27 years in prison and his sharp political insight. However, what today’s world leaders are really praising him for is the role he played in rescuing South African capitalism from the cul-de-sac of Apartheid, thereby preventing the country descending into a bloodbath of civil war and, consequently, for the service he rendered to western imperialism.
Capitalism is a system of class exploitation and oppression which reveals its brutality in naked violence when its wage-slaves stage any fight-back. The leaders it produces, such as those now praising Mandela, are generally unheroic hypocrites. Yet the system has need of heroes. It needs leaders who can camouflage the primary oppression of its wage-slaves by removing non-essential second order areas of oppression, such as racial or sexual oppression. It needs leaders who can disguise the system’s primary oppression of the working class, an oppression based on wage labour, with fine sounding phrases such as democracy, freedom and human rights for all. Leaders who can do this, such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela become its heroes. In reality capitalism has no interest in democracy, freedom or human rights. These are baubles with which it dresses itself up from time to time. We need only to remember how US, UK and European leaders were quite happy to support the Apartheid regime for forty years while democracy, freedom and human rights were trampled underfoot in the most open and flagrant manner, to understand this. Western regimes provided military equipment and intelligence to the regime to help it repress its external and internal enemies, such as the ANC and Mandela himself, and were quite happy to let African Nationalist leaders, who risked their lives for such things, rot in prison. Today Mandela is being elevated to secular sainthood and praised for forgiving his enemies amongst whom, of course, are the predecessors of those global leaders who today sing his praises. He is being held up as an example of how struggles for reforms within capitalism can lead to a better world.
It is now 19 years since the ANC came to power in South Africa and much of the myth of the “Rainbow Nation”, the better life for all, the justice and equality has been exploded. However, the aura of Mandela and the heroic freedom struggle has provided cover to the ANC regime as it enforced continued exploitation and oppression of the South African working class. With Mandela’s death this aura will fade. His death marks the end of a phase of South African history.
Mandela’s life was remarkable by any standard. He was born in 1919 into the family of a minor Xhosa chief, a chief, however, who was not independent but beholden and ratified in his position by the SA state. He was educated at a Methodist mission school and remained a Christian all his life. He studied law, first at Fort Hare University, the school for many future leaders of the national struggles throughout Southern Africa, then at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. From its outset the ANC was dominated by western educated lawyers and journalists who had turned their backs on tribal society and demanded equal rights in capitalist society. It is little wonder, therefore, that Mandela gravitated to the ANC which he joined in 1943. Mandela’s ability and fighting spirit were soon recognised and he rose rapidly in the organisation. He was, however, generally dissatisfied with the passive leadership of the ANC and in 1944 he was co-founder of the youth section through which he tried to pursue a more radical resistance. In 1947 he was elected to the executive committee of the Transvaal ANC. The coming to power of the Afrikaner Nationalists in 1948 saw the start of legal entrenchment of Apartheid making the situation for the African majority even worse. In the early 50s, by which time he had become a practising lawyer, he and other ANC leaders tried to oppose the apartheid system with passive, Gandhi type, protests. However, peaceful protests of the early 1950s achieved nothing but repression.
In 1955 the principal programmatic document of the ANC, the “Freedom Charter” was produced and adopted by the organisation the following year. 1956 saw Mandela, together with 155 others, charged with high treason for attempting to overthrow the state by violence. The trial was to last 6 years and end with acquittal of all the defendants, much to the embarrassment of the regime. In 1960 the notorious Sharpville massacre took place. The police shot dead 69 unarmed people protesting against the internal passport system, which obliged all black people to carry a pass, which was used to restrict the areas in which they could live and work. The massacre was followed by the declaration of a state of emergency and the banning of the ANC. These events convinced Mandela that peaceful resistance to the regime was hopeless. He then travelled abroad to organise an armed resistance wing to the ANC. On returning to SA he was arrested, apparently after the CIA tipped off the SA police, and convicted of relatively minor charges, such as leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike. While in prison however he was charged with treason again. This led to the famous Rivonia trial of 1963/64. During this trial he defended himself admitting the charges and turning the trial into an indictment of the injustices of apartheid and the crimes of the regime. His famous final speech stated how he cherished the ideals of a democratic and free society where all were equal and declared that this was an ideal for which he was prepared to die. Instead of the expected death sentence Mandela and the other defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, with the result that he spent much of the next 27 years in the notorious Robben Island prison off Cape Town.
In the 70s and 80s the social situation in South Africa suffered a sharp deterioration. Protests intensified but massive repression and killing of protesters, on a scale dwarfing the Sharpville massacre, proved insufficient to stabilise the situation. Within the economy it had become clear to the main factions of the South African capitalist class that the migrant labour system in particular, and Apartheid in general were leading the country to catastrophe. The increased capital intensity of South African capitalism meant that a skilled stable working class was required. The strategy of the capitalists was to create an African middle class which they could use as an ally against the working class. They aimed to do this via an organisation they set up called the “Urban Foundation”, and at the same time set up African trade unions which they hoped could be used to control the class struggle. Of course, this strategy meant providing political rights to Africans as well as other rights granted to workers in the metropolitan countries. There was only one political force which could implement such a programme and that was the ANC. One of the problems with bringing the ANC into government was its endorsement of the “Freedom Charter” which called for a raft of state capitalist measures such as the nationalisation of the land, banks and mines. SA capital considered these measures suicidal in the period of globalisation. Therefore, before the ANC was un-banned the key sectors of South African capital, particularly the mining corporations, held discussions with the ANC leadership during which they were assured that the measures of nationalization enshrined in the charter would not be implemented. The ground was now prepared for the un-banning of the ANC and the release of its leaders which occurred in 1990. Mandela walked out of prison in February 1990 and so began a process of negotiations which led to the famous election of 1994 and a democratic constitution. In recognition of his role in avoiding a civil war and a bloodbath Mandela was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1993. The 1994 election led to victory for the ANC and Mandela’s installation as the country’s first democratic president. He remained as president until 1999 when he retired.
ANC and the South African Working Class
The ANC has always presented itself as an African national movement, that is, a movement which represents the interests of the entire African population. In fact the population of any country consists of classes, the main classes being the capitalist class and the working class, the former living off the exploitation of the latter. These classes have diametrically opposed interests. It is therefore simply deception to pretend that a political movement can represent the interests of the nation as a whole. In reality the ANC has always been a party representing the rising African bourgeois class and its period in power has proved this. The ANC’s flirtation with the African working class has been a cynical manoeuvre to recruit workers as its foot soldiers with which to batter down the Apartheid regime and the resistance of Afrikaner nationalism. In its period in power from 1994 the ANC has taken over the management of South African capitalism and carried out this task like any other capitalist government in this period. The famous nationalisations promised in the Freedom Charter have remained firmly on paper and not been carried out. Privatisations, however, and opening of the country to global capital have been carried out. Workers’ living standards have been cut, while unemployment has increased. Where workers have tried to fight back they have been met with the full force of state repression. The most infamous example of this was the Marikana massacre of striking miners on the 16th of August 2012, where the ANC’s police shot and killed 34 striking miners in a display of naked and calculated class violence. At the same time the power of the state has been used to promote the ANC party elite into the top ranks of the bourgeoisie through the famous Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme. This programme has created a handful of black millionaires in positions of power in the mining and industrial corporations, a process which the regime tries to present as compensation for the sins of the past century, and as a demonstration that the position of Africans is improving. However, at the same time as they promote themselves to the ranks of the capitalist class they are creating an ever growing urban underclass dependent on state welfare payments and the gap between rich and poor is getting ever wider. Creating a black bourgeois class was, of course, always the ANC’s programme, but the lie, which it has maintained, is that this would somehow benefit the African working class. This lie has been cruelly exposed. On the one hand the ANC has produced a situation where, according to its own calculations, 9% of the capital of mining corporations is in the hands of black capitalists while on the other hand it has created a situation where:
- 40% of the working age population are unemployed. This represents 6 million workers 2.8 million of whom are between 18 and 24.
- The urban underclass, surviving on welfare payments, has increased from 2.5 million in 1999 to 12.5 million in 2012!
- 50% of the population live below the poverty line
The famous equality for which the ANC stood had produced a society which according to Oxfam is, with Brazil, now the most unequal in terms of wealth, in the world.
Mandela was, of course, aware of the capitalist nature of the ANC’s political programme and stated this at his trial in 1964, where he described the Freedom Charter in these words:
“The charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold mining monopolies that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude. The breaking up and democratization 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, mills and factories and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.”
What precisely this entailed has now been shown at Marikana.
Workers and the National Struggle
Today it is a Marxist axiom that the working class should not subordinate its political forces to those of the bourgeoisie, which, of course, includes the bourgeois nationalist forces such as the ANC. As far as South Africa is concerned we have written and spoken many times about the danger of subordinating the class struggle to the demands of the national struggle, pointing out that as soon as the national struggle is successful the national bourgeoisie will turn their fire on the working class. This has happened in South Africa with a vengeance, and not only at Marikana. Empirical evidence of the dreadful situation South African workers now find themselves in is there for all to see. We quote from a recent text by “Abahlali Basemjondolo” the shack dwellers association. In a text called “The housing list versus the death list” they wrote:
“We are supposed to be living in a democratic country, a country of justice, a country where everyone should be treated as one. Yet there is a huge inequality. That inequality is economic, it is spatial and it is political. We remain divided into rich and poor. We continue to be allocated to different kinds of places that are meant for different kinds of people with different kinds of opportunities, different kinds of lives and different kinds of rights. We continue to be divided into those that have the freedom to express themselves and those that face all kinds of intimidation and repression if we commit the crime of telling the truths about our lives.
For the poor this country is a democratic prison. We are allowed to vote for our prison warders and managers but we must always remain in the prison. We must remain in silence when our shack settlements are illegally destroyed leaving us homeless. We must remain in silence when we are forcibly removed to transit camps that are only fit for animals but not for people. We must remain in silence when we are told to return to Lusikisiki** or taken to human dumping grounds far outside the cities. We must remain in silence when we are threatened, beaten, shot and killed. The politicians think that when we refuse to be silent, and when we resist repression, they can silence us by throwing some meat at us. After all these years they think that we are dogs. We are not dogs. We are people. We will continue to rebel until we are treated as human beings.” (30/10/13)
Another statement, this time from a mechanic, Ntshimane Nolala, reported by the BBC, expresses the view that black workers have been deceived into support of the ANC and the sacrifices of the national struggle have all been in vain. The words are more or less exactly what our previous texts have warned would happen. He told the BBC that:
“The only thing blacks got was the vote after every four years and the spattering of a few black elite [politicians] whose aspiration is to be next to Mandela and those of his ilk.
Today I work as a mechanic, I have no formal qualification; everything I know about fixing taxis I taught myself — this government of black people does not care about me, it has no time for me.
Yes we are free to go where we want to without fear but we are still not free, not in economic terms.
What you have in South Africa now is a handful of black people looting the scraps off the table left by those who control the economy; our leaders are enriching themselves now while the majority still have nothing — that is what has become the legacy of our freedom.
Those who died for this freedom sadly died for nothing in my view.” (6/12/13)
Much of the argument for supporting the national struggle, made by the Stalinists and Trotskyists, started from the view that Apartheid was essential to South African capitalism and hence ending it would bring South African capitalism crashing down. This would weaken western capitalism and produce a crisis in the developed capitalist countries etc. This has been shown to be complete nonsense. If anything South African capitalism is stronger as a result of the abolition of Apartheid, western imperialism has been strengthened and the class issues more confused than before.
The political arguments, these groupings defend for a two stage revolution or a permanent revolution the first stage of which amounts to state capitalism, are equally false. Any political organisation which takes on the tasks of administering capitalism, supposedly in the interests of the working class, can do no more than divide the surplus produced by the system in a more equitable way. The system remains capitalist, workers remain exploited, separated from the means of production and alienated. Meanwhile the demands for capitalist accumulation remain. The infrastructure of this system inevitably imposes itself on the political superstructure and the administrators of the system form a new exploiting class as occurred in Russia in the 1920s.
The ICT has consistently advocated that workers should pursue their own class interests for wages and conditions independently of the bourgeois nationalists. In South Africa this would have allowed the class issues involved to be clearly seen. Instead these issues have been obscured by a smokescreen of liberalism and moral outrage at racism and now, cries of betrayal by the ANC. The result is a great confusion. Projects to change the ANC leadership or to return to the state capitalism advocated in the “Freedom Charter” as, for example, the ex-ANC youth leader Malema and his “Economic Freedom Fighters” organisation advocate, are a great waste of time.
In the longer term the only struggle which can benefit the working class is that to overthrow the capitalist system and the construction of higher social form of social production, namely communism, and this has nothing to do with the system of state capitalism which was constructed in Russia. Attempts to reform the existing system, so it benefits the working class, only sow illusions in a struggle for what is now impossible. The struggle of the world’s workers needs to take a revolutionary direction. This struggle is an international one and the global working class needs to provide itself with the political organisation to carry this through.
As we wrote at the time of the Marikana massacre:
“The tragedy is that the murderous violence of capital has no borders. The same things are happening in China, Brazil and many other countries on the so-called periphery of capitalism whilst in the “democratic” West nothing like this is taking place for the simple reason that there is no visible revival of the class. However at the first significant sign of a working class response even in our political latitudes the axe of repression will not be long in striking. In Italy, for example, the juridical weapons are already in place and comprehensive experiments have already been carried out on the ground (Genoa in 2001) even though this was not realised at the time.
It is no longer a time “just” to denounce the scandal of Marikana, to weep for the dead of the international working class, it is also time to make a real effort and organise a class party, a revolutionary programme, so that the future revival of the class struggle will not have as its target just the repression of the international capitalist class but also the political objective of overthrowing this class-divided society, of breaking the iniquitous relationship between labour and capital and of destroying the mechanism of capitalist productivity. The tragic episode of Lonmin** and the 34 slaughtered workers is not the local story of a brutal event in far-off South Africa but is one act in a tragedy which is destined to be played out wherever the working class tries to raises its head”.
10 December 2013
 Not to be outdone, Blair also lied (surprising that) when he told Radio 4 that Mandela was always magnanimous to “Mrs Thatcher” (who condemned Mandela as a “terrorist” but supported the butcher Pinochet) when in fact he had refused to meet her. Perhaps, though, the hypocrisy of those who are going is matched only by the hypocrisy of those who are not. Benjamin Netanyahu is not going, citing the cost. This from the man who had a $180 000 bed installed in the Israeli state jet he used for his trip to London for Thatcher’s funeral. No mention, though, of the fact that Israel was one of the most resolute and materially supportive of the apartheid regime (and runs a good one of its own).
 See leftcom.org
 See leftcom.org Both the above articles can be found in pamphlet form in “The New Turmoil in South Africa” (£2 including postage from BM CWO, London WC1N 3XX)
 A small town in eastern Cape Province.
 Lonmin is the UK mining comp