South Africa: A proletarian voice against the ANC

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In May the media was full of stories about the success of 10 years of 'democracy' in South Africa. The pictures of tens of thousands of workers queuing up to vote for the first time in May 1994 were dragged out the vaults to remind us of what a benefit democracy is for humanity. The reality for the working class has been worsening living and working conditions: 76% of households in South Africa live below the poverty line, an increase of 15% since 1996; unemployment has doubled since 1994; income in black households fell by 19% between 1995 and 2000 (Insights, issue 46). All of this presided over by the 'liberators' of the African National Congress.

The sight of the 'revolutionaries' of yesteryear implementing the type of attacks on the working class and oppressed that the old regime could only dream of has led to a certain amount of reflection within the working class. Amid the media circus around the tenth anniversary there were stories about disillusionment amongst the black working class and the poor with the ANC and democracy. This was presented as being reflected in apathy about the elections. However, we have recently come across a more developed expression of this effort to reflect upon the meaning of the role of the ANC: the Zabalaza (Zulu and Xhosa for struggle) website of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation. It contains several texts which denounce the ANC as capitalist. Given the weight of illusions about the ANC and democracy, as well as the threat of repression by the 'democratic' state, such denunciations express a proletarian response.

As with many other bourgeoisies around the world, the South African ruling class has dressed up massive attacks on the working class in the clothes of privatisation. In this way they hope to confuse any class response to such attacks with ideas about state ownership being better than private. The ZACF makes clear in its leaflet against the privatisations that "Privatisation is the process of turning government services and government companies into profit-making activities. This means a few simple things:

  • Less jobs and lower wages, with less benefits
  • Outsourcing
  • Sky-rocketing prices for services
  • Evictions and cut-offs and attachments if we get behind in payments

...It makes no real difference, in practice, if these companies remain owned by the government or become owned by big business. The basic problem already exists: the drive by government, led by the ANC, to turn government companies and government services into sources of profit. ESKOM is 100% government owned. Yet it cuts off nearly 15,000 people a month in Soweto alone. Government is co-owner of Servcon, the company that enforces evictions on the East Rand. TELKOM is 70% government-owned, yet it has raised telephone charges over 30% over the last 5 years. The point is simple. When we fight privatisation, we do NOT think that government ownership of these companies and services is a solution. On the contrary, there is NO difference anymore whatsoever between government-owned companies and privately-owned companies. Both are profit-driven, anti-worker and anti-union in nature. This means our struggle is a struggle against BOTH big business AND the government". ('Evict the bosses and politicians. Stop privatisation now'.)

The denunciation of the ANC in this text and others is based on a very serious theoretical effort to understand the real meaning of 'national liberation'. In their text 'Anti-imperialism and national liberation' this group tries to place the role of the ANC within the national and historical context of imperialism. This text rejects the leftist idea of national liberation and shows that all of the so-called socialist national liberation governments have been capitalist and, depending on their economic strength, try to impose their domination on their region. On the basis of this they reject support for any of the third world ruling elites against intervention by the imperialist powers. Very importantly the ZACF also firmly denounces the idea of the workers in the first world benefiting from imperialism, an idea very popular amongst the leftists.

These are very important points which allow them to see the role of the ANC. However, this clarity on such important question is in spite, not because of, the group's commitment to anarchism. This is not the place to go into the marxist critique of anarchism. Nevertheless, it is essential to see the contradictions and problems that anarchist ideology causes for the very real process of reflection that is taking place. The ZACF reject marxism and base their analysis on metaphysical 'principles' about autonomy, rejection of authority, etc. Thus, along with clear rejections of nationalism, national liberation and third worldism, we find a defence of the "freedom" and "right" of the "people" of Tibet, Burma and elsewhere to independence. Whilst showing how the national elites are part of the imperialist system they talk about how the struggles against colonialism could be defended when they give rise to "progressive" measures.

The text on imperialism was written by one of the groups that helped to form the ZACF in May 2003 and since then there has been an increasingly more evident loss of clarity in the ZACF's ability to confront the real nature of the ANC. For example, in the second issue of the journal Zabalaza (2002) the ANC is called counter-revolutionary. But in Zabalaza no. 5, which has a front page headline, "Ten years of ' freedom and democracy' - where?', there is no analysis of 10 years of rule by the ANC. Instead there is a serious regression on the potential clarity of the previous analysis of national liberation. In an article on the New Partnership for African Development there is a sad lament for a time when the African bourgeoisie had some backbone "Gone are the days when the African ruling classes at least struggled - under the thick haze of revolutionary cant - to develop their own capitalisms". "The radical nationalists of the 1950's and 1960's, men of the ilk of Nkrumah and Kaunda, men who hated colonialism (and loved capitalism), are gone from the stage. The old nationalists played, at least, a small role in challenging colonialism, and shaking the old Empire" (Zabalaza no. 5 pages 2 and 3). Now they are described as spineless and as carrying out neo-liberal policies.

This growing loss of clarity is also seen in the two communiques they made in response to 9/11 and the Madrid bombings. In response to the Twin Towers, the communique 'No war but the class war: Against capitalism -against the US government -against state and fundamentalist terror', issued by a "South African anarchist" and endorsed by the Bilisha Media Collective and Zabalaza Action Group, makes a powerful rejection of the attack, the US response and the role of fundamentalism. There are confusions in this text about democracy, Palestine and so on, but fundamentally it expressed a proletarian response to this massacre. By contrast the statement on Madrid is more like a liberal lament.

These expressions of regression in ZACF's initially strongest aspects demonstrate the pernicious weight of anarchism and its tendency to slide off into straightforward liberalism. Their rejection of marxism means that their efforts to develop a class analysis of the situation facing the working class in South Africa is struggling to stay afloat in a sea of anarchist confusion. The comrades of the ZACF above all need to discuss the fundamental marxist concept of the decadence of capitalism if they are to gain a real understanding of why the ANC and all other national liberation movements are anti-working class. It is only on the basis of this historical materialist approach that their healthy rejection of the ANC, nationalism and national liberation can be placed on a solid foundation.

Phil, 4/9/04.