South Africa

Patrick Bond pbond at
Thu Jun 21 02:15:15 MDT 2001

> Date:          Thu, 21 Jun 2001 11:14:31 +1200
> From:          Philip Ferguson <plf13 at>
> It seems to
> me that apartheid was 'necessary' from the standpoint of the early
> stages of capital caccumulation in South Africa, but that the
> accumulation process no longer needed it by the 1980s and at that point
> it did kind of become 'contingent'.  Those people who believed that
> apartheid was the *only* and *permanent* form of capitalism in South
> Africa were left totally incapable of understanding what was going on in
> the country in the late 80s and early 90s as the ruling class moved
> tentatively to reform the system.

Yes, absolutely right. I suppose semantic purists would insist that
the chronological shift means that *over time* the relationship is
contingent... but on "stage of development."

> Also, what would be your main arguments against the 'racial capitalism'
> analysis?  Is it that this also mistook apartheid as the fixed form of
> capitalism?

Still too much of a focus on race/class relationships, when these
tended to very quickly fade (by 1985 big white capital was ready for
a formalised but still superexploitative non-racial K-ism, based on
the neolib model). The main theorist, John Saul, is a great comrade
(and friend--we're mid-way through writing a textbook on SA and I'll
be with him in Toronto most of next month). I think Saul/Gelb
mishandled the argument about crisis, both the "organic crisis" that
led to formal apartheid and the nature of the 1970s downturn. The
latter point is crucial (see reference to Meth below), because it
led Gelb to disastrous reg theory notions.

> It would be great if you could post something that
> expands on your reflection above that:
> >it's time we all got back to studying and
> > applying the theory of uneven and combined development.

Well, it'll bore folk who read PEN-L where I posted this yesterday.
But the very end of the article Phil's talking about is a very faint
attempt to tell that story. I'm actually just about done with a book
where I expand this to the world stage too, but it's still extremely
preliminary. I think Robert Biel's book New Imperialism (Zed,
2000) has done the job as well as anything else out there. And Marty
Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett apply the ideas to East Asia in their
new book (next post I'll put up the reading list of the course I'm
teaching at York U. next month so if there's anything else in the
"literature" to be aware of, I hope you comrades can say!).


(draft version of article for Phil)

I recently wrote two books about South Africa
during the 1990s, a period of which everyone
fortunate enough to experience has something
original to say. One is about the overall political
transition, the other deals with urban crisis. I
wanted to locate both in relation to the various
organic traditions of South African Marxism,
combining high theory and applied political
argumentation. I'm not sure I succeeded, but it did
give me an opportunity to survey the work of
comrades both here and writing from abroad.
Here's what I found.
     We can start by considering the last decade's
worth of major books within various Marxian
traditions and move from there to the issues. The
1990s were not good years for publishing, and
virtually all the left-wing bookshops in the
country went out of business, and the small
radical publishers either failed or were taken over
by conservative houses. Changing fashions, the
deradicalisation of petit-bourgeois academics and
NGO staff, rising poverty and greater
geographical fragmentation together mean that
even Johannesburg, home of Africa's most
concentrated, militant proletariat (with a
metropolitan population of eight million), today
cannot support an explicitly left bookshop.
     Nevertheless, a handful of books were
produced over the last decade that I have found
invaluable. One of the best background studies, by
Robert Fine and Dennis Davies, Beyond Apartheid
(London, Pluto, 1991) contemplates the problems
and possibilities faced by nationalist and
communist forces during the 1950s and early
1960s, arguing that the turn to the military
struggle was part of a general lack of confidence
in the mass social struggles of the time. The
failure of the ANC (and SA Communist Party) to
set the stage for transformation during the
subsequent long (1963-90) exile drought is treated
by Dale McKinley (The ANC and the Liberation
Struggle, London, Pluto, 1997), who also links the
conservatism in the ANC Lusaka head office to
Third Internationalist maneuvres (a view hotly
contested by the Soviet Union's main Africa hand,
Vladimir Shubin in his fascinating and maybe
excessively humble The ANC: A View from
Moscow, Cape Town, Mayibuye Books, 1999).
     As for subsequent internal political
developments, political interventions across the
progressive spectrum are worth consideration: by
Neville Alexander, one of the most accomplished
South African left intellectuals and leader of the
small, relatively mild-mannered Workers
Organisation for Socialist Action (amongst his
collections of essays, see Some are More Equal
than Others, Cape Town, Buchu, 1993); by
Canadian political scientist John Saul, the model
scholar-activist of the international solidarity
movement (Recolonization and Resistance in
Southern Africa, Trenton, Africa World Press,
1993); and by the premier Trotskyist critic Alex
Callinicos, whose International Socialist tradition
fragmented and waned (South Africa Between
Apartheid and Capitalism, London, Bookmarks,
     Each address the first stage of ANC
capitulation to elite pacting temptations. Rebuttals
and interventions on such matters from formidable
ANC and Communist Party intellectuals such as
Pallo Jordan, Joel Netshitenzhe, Blade Nzimande,
Jeremy Cronin, Langa Zita and Rob Davies are
not yet available in book form (although the
African Communist, Links and ANC publications
often carry their work). For earlier works from
this perspective, however, see Govan Mbeki's The
Struggle for Liberation in South Africa (Cape
Town, David Philip, 1992) and Ronnie Kasrils'
biography `Armed and Dangerous': My
Undercover Struggle Against Apartheid (Oxford,
Heinemann, 1993).
     One work from the left ANC tradition (which
I had the privilege to edit), Mzwanele Mayekiso's
Township Politics: Civic Struggles for a New
South Africa (New York, Monthly Review, 1996),
makes a plausible case that many more insurgent
moments and a deeper transformation were
feasible, still within the scope of the ANC/SACP
National Democratic Revolution. Books that
presaged the contemporary debates include edited
collections produced by Vincent Maphai (South
Africa: The Challenge of Change, Harare, SAPES
Books, 1994) and Gordon Naidoo (Reform &
Revolution: South Africa in the Nineties, Dakar,
Codesria and Johannesburg, Skotaville, 1991).
     The parallel turmoil within the National Party
and Afrikaans society as a whole has again been
treated brilliantly by Dan O'Meara (Forty Lost
Years, London, James Currey, 1996), in a book
that also rigorously tackles the main theoretical
debates about the character of the state, capital
and society. For a general work that provides an
overview of the mid-1990s political transition
there is hardly as good a study as that by Martin
Murray (Revolution Deferred, London, Verso,
1994). A book on African politics which treats
South Africa with great insight is Mahmood
Mamdani's Citizen and Subject: Contemporary
Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism
(Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1996). An
important statement about the early years of ANC
rule that I consider a general empirical (and to
some extent analytical) prerequisite for much of
the argument presented here--and whose author is
the most eloquent of South African left
journalists--is Hein Marais' South Africa: Limits
to Change (London, Zed and Cape Town,
University of Cape Town, 1998). (The other two
essential journalists of the SA Left are Natal
Mercury columnist and sociologist Ashwin Desai--
see his audacious South Africa: Still Revolting,
Durban, Natal Newspapers, 1999--and Business
Report labour correspondent Terry Bell.) At the
human scale, the book Fault Lines: Journeys into
the New South Africa by David Goodman
(Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999),
offers a superb, compatible complement to
structural accounts of "liberation."
     Moving to more obscure academic terrain, one
current model for radical South African social-
historical analysis--a nuanced biography of share-
cropper Kas Maine--is Charles van Onselen's
monumental The Seed is Mine (London, James
Currey, and Cape Town, David Philip, 1997). The
strongest economics text is certainly Ben Fine and
Zav Rustomjee's The Political Economy of South
Africa (London, Hirst and Johannesburg, Wits
University Press, 1996). And I could add any
number of specialist works on sectors of the
economy, gender politics, history, the legacy of
apartheid, new social problems, crime and
security, race and ethnicity, trade unions, urban
movements, the gay/lesbian scene, the youth,
churches, culture and the like.
     It must said, however, that such important
recent books have been relatively unstimulating
and uncontroversial, if we are to judge by their
quiet reaction in political and intellectual circuits--
with the exception, perhaps, of McKinley's attack
on the exiled ANC (as well as various debates
about, for instance, the historical character of Zulu
nationalism)--because they have by and large gone
unread, unreviewed and undebated, at least in
South Africa itself. Does this reflect the quality of
those contributions mentioned above? Or instead,
is it a sign of the times, namely the terribly weak
intellectual and political conditions that exist for
robust radical argumentation--perhaps caused by
the sea-change of opinion-makers from an
opposition culture infused with curiousity, to
smug self-satisfaction?
     I think the latter, not simply because a large
group of progressive leaders went into the state in
1994 and were hence positioned as the target of
critics. In addition, as shown in the journal debate
(3, 1997: "Retreat of the Intellectuals"), hundreds
if not a few thousand university leftists and
shopfloor/grassroots organic intellectuals who
during the 1970s-80s awaited with great
anticipation for the latest issues of Work in
Progress, SA Labour Bulletin, South African
Review, Review of African Political Economy and
(later) Transformation and Agenda had every
reason for deep disillusionment, subsequently,
about the character of contributions from dozens
of erstwhile left commentators, who were by the
1990s far more engaged in consulting gigs and
policy drafting than searching analysis:

     Here we refer to an extraordinary social
     phenomenon, based on what seems to be
     ceaseless individual meanderings--nearly all
     by white males in their 40s and 50s--from
     mid-1980s grassroots to early 1990s "class
     roots" politics: the lead Marxist critic of
     the Anglo American Corporation turned to
     advertizing his consulting services (as a
     trade union insider) to Anglo and other
     firms; the two leading Marxist critics of the
     Urban Foundation (Anglo American's
     social policy think-tank) became two of its
     key strategists; numerous academic
     Marxists did top-secret consulting work for
     the Urban Foundation, such as regarding
     land invasions (contemporary and
     historical) at precisely the time the UF's
     land speculation strategy was most
     threatened by the invasion tactic; the two
     leading Marxist critics of orthodox pension
     fund management became important
     exponents and practitioners of orthodox
     financial packaging through the big
     institutional investment firms; an energetic
     Marxist-workerist educator led a high-
     profile post-apartheid labor commission
     that rejected a national minimum wage; the
     lead Marxist critic of export-led growth
     strategy debuted in the Financial Mail by
     endorsing Taiwan as a model for post-
     apartheid SA and subsequently co-authored
     the neoliberal Growth, Employment and
     Redistribution strategy; the most influential
     Marxist economist within the trade unions
     turned from advocating social democracy
     in the pages of the SACP's African
     Communist to fiscal discipline and free
     trade within the Finance and Trade/Industry
     Ministries; and last and possibly least,
     South Africa's lead Marxist peasant
     scholar, who was jailed for his SACP ties
     during the 1960s and later (at the Sussex
     Institute for Development Studies during
     the 1970s) supervised the doctoral theses of
     leading South African neo-Poulantzians,
     eventually became the strategist of
     "homegrown" African structural adjustment
     at the World Bank (and presently serves as
     the Bank's London representative).
          In the process, it has been easy to
     denigrate the scholarship and
     pronouncements of erstwhile Leftists, such
     as the Independent Group newspaper
     columnist who once led the country's
     premier Kapital reading circle but today
     probably triples his Wits professorial salary
     by showing Moneybags how to mislead
     workers into a flexible future. This issue of
     debate is unabashedly full of criticism of
     patent sell-outs. But we continue a search
     for explanation--aside from those vulgar
     Marxists amongst us content to point out
     the rise of the real interest rate on
     mortgage bonds from 1986 (-6 percent) to
     the 1990s (+10 percent) at precisely the
     time many of our elder brothers turned 35
     and bought their first house and fast car.
     Aficionados of campus fads also know that
     during the 1980s and 1990s, intellectual
     life deteriorated. Political theory turned
     away into Laclauian cul-de-sacs, cultural
     analysis became grounded--if that's
     possible--in barren post-structuralist soil,
     and political economy stagnated as
     regulation theory distracted attention from
     classical theory while generating reformist
     "post-fordist" fantasies.
          Are we as intellectuals ready to come
     home? The answer probably relies most on
     something else that during the last decade
     changed perceptibly in South Africa's
     practical political life: the gradual ebbing
     of the strategic clarity of progressive forces
     as all manner of deal-making exercises
     ensued. The demand upon intellectuals for
     accountability to the Movement was taken
     less seriously, as every passing day
     revealed another profound compromise of
     principles and "engagement" with the
     forces of reaction. Under the
     circumstances, the desire for that elusive
     ego-boosting quality, relevance, which
     always motivates political-intellectual work,
     became overwhelming.
          This is not to say that there is anything
     wrong in turning to public policy, to
     integrating issues outside the traditional
     Marxian fold such as gender and
     environment (which are after all profoundly
     class-ridden), and to a never-ending search
     for "agency," for those anti-capitalist
     challenges by social movements at and
     beyond the point of production that
     complement rather than confuse the
     struggle of the working class for socialism.
     The problem tended to be the older
     generation's diminishing rootedness in
     struggle, added to the self-flattery and
     opportunism associated with the corridors
     of power, which continually undermined
     more durable, and politically radical,
     analytical approaches to social problems.

Thus whereas social historians would have had,
during the 1980s, ongoing and powerful debates
with neoPoulantzians and whereas Saul/Gelb
"racial capitalism" advocates would have bumped
into Two-Stage Theory adherents or Permanent
Revolutionaries at the campus pub and perhaps
even a union hall, the 1990s witnessed only low-
key, uninspired attempts to compare notes (for a
good example of disappointing "post-Marxist"
caricatures of radical positions, see David
Howarth and Aletta Norwal, Eds, South Africa in
Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives, London,
Macmillan, 1998). The 1987-91 rise and collapse
of the seminal (if profoundly flawed) poli-econ
perspective, "Regulation Theory," is indicative of
the dog days of South African radical analysis.
     What was going on here? At one level, the
confusion stemmed from the unsettled "race-class
debate." The well-known South African equivalent
of modernisation theory was the traditional 1960s
liberal thesis that racially-inscribed
underdevelopment would succumb to the market's
incessant drive to growth and progress. Radical
social scientists contested this vigorously during
the 1970s, arguing that the evolutionary paths of
apartheid and capitalism were interwoven, and to
break from one required breaking from the other.
In retrospect it appears neither was correct.
     From the late 1970s leading elements of the
ruling bloc made clear their desire to jettison
apartheid. But, as this was occurring in a slow and
extremely painful way, it also became evident that
the condition for reform was not capitalist growth,
but rather stagnation (and hence the need for
capitalists to explore a new export-oriented route
to accumulation unhindered by political unrest and
their global pariah status). Hence it is ironic that
while the strategic orientation of the ANC--
weakening the economy through international
sanctions (especially financial) as one pillar of the
national democratic struggle--appears to have been
correct, for many radical intellectuals the
combination of state reforms and repression in the
1980s represented a debilitating paradox.
     The strengths and weaknesses of the legacy of
historical materialism in South Africa may explain
the present ambivalence many feel towards an
older, more explicitly Marxist discourse. South
African Communist Party (SACP) cadres had,
since the early 1960s, based their call for a "two-
stage revolution" (bourgeois democracy followed
by socialism) on the idea that the South African
social formation represented "colonialism of a
special type" (CST) (see, e.g., SACP, 1989, The
Path to Power, London: South African
Communist Party). But the CST framework,
which was essentially an internal form of
dependency theory, came under repeated
questioning from Left intellectuals over a period
of two decades, through several intellectual stages
(one of the strongest is to be found in Callinicos,
1988, South Africa: Between Reform and
Revolution, London, Bookmarks).
     A version of CST was rescued by SACP
sociologist/lawyer Harold Wolpe's application of
"articulations of mode of production" theory in the
early 1970s, with the conclusion that South
African capitalism required the superexploitation
that was available by harnessing colonial-style
dominance of pre-capitalist modes of production
(Wolpe, Ed, 1980, Articulations of Modes of
Production, London, Routledge; Wolpe
subsequently backtracked substantially from the
earlier position that apartheid was necessary to
capitalist development, arguing that aspects of
their mutual evolution were contingent in his
Race, Class and the Apartheid State, 1988, New
York, UNESCO). Subsequent research and
theoretical argumentation suggested there was
ample room for contesting Wolpe's chronology
and understanding of the dynamics of capitalism.
     Meanwhile, international trends in historical
materialism--especially the success of Althusserian
and Poulantzian structuralism--were by the mid
1970s making a decisive impact on South African
development debates. From articulations of modes
of production emerged a fascination with which
"fractions of capital" controlled the state at
particular moments of political change. Although
the various fractions had become increasingly
blurred as South Africa's big mining finance
houses diversified into manufacturing, several
leading neo-Marxist researchers identified earlier
distinctions between capitals in terms of their
sector of production (mining, manufacturing or
agricultural), their location within the circulation
of capital (industrial, financial, commercial,
landed), or their "nationality" (Afrikaner, English-
speaking, British, other European, or US) (a good
summary can be found in Davies, R., D. O'Meara
and S. Dlamini, 1986, The Struggle for South
Africa, Volume I, London, Zed Press).
     The Poulantzian analysis itself came under
sharp attack. Whereas focusing on fractions of
capital highlighted questions of power, the costs
of this single-minded focus were excessive: the
capital accumulation process was downplayed,
capital-labour conflicts dismissed, and thus any
sense of necessity and contingency in the
development of the social and economic formation
lost. (Criticism emerged from a variety of angles--
the most important Marxist contribution on South
Africa was Simon Clarke, 1978, "Capital,
Fractions of Capital and the State," Capital and
Class, #5.) In any event, very little further work
was done in this tradition during the 1980s. Part
of the reason was a frontal attack on the fractions
perspective from a new school of South African
social history which prided itself for looking at
society and economy not from the top (state and
capital), but from the very lowest levels of the
voiceless majority. As rich and interesting as the
particularities of the social history case studies
proved, however, they added up to very little that
was generalisable as development theory. The
broader theoretical discourse about race and class
in South Africa seemed to peak in the 1970s, and
with rigorous detailed probing underway in the
1980s in the context of the search for specificity,
tailed off markedly. (Notable exceptions were a
long-running debate over the origins of capitalism
in the agricultural sector, an approach to
understanding the social formation known as
"racial capitalism" in Saul and Steven Gelb, 1986,
The Crisis in South Africa, New York, Monthly
Review; and Duncan Innes' 1984 study of Anglo
American Corporation and the Rise of Modern
South Africa, copublished by Monthly Review and
Heinemann, London.)
     In the late 1980s the larger questions were
again placed on the agenda. It was a time when
South Africa's capitalist class demanded, more
sincerely and energetically than ever before, an
end to formal apartheid. The reasons for this are
relatively clear (again, related directly to capitalist
stagnation and financial crisis) but what was
disconcerting was how dramatically this shook
many Marxist theorists who, earlier, so profoundly
rejected the liberal thesis that apartheid and
capitalism were incompatible. As Gelb put it,
radicals would have to "develop a substantial and
consistent analysis of capital accumulation which
preserves their view of the earlier relationship
between apartheid and capitalism, explains the
transformation from long run apartheid boom to
economic crisis and then analyses the crisis itself"
("Making Sense of the Crisis," Transformation #5,
1987). To support such an intellectual project,
Gelb introduced French "regulation theory" to
dissect the relative stability of South African
capitalism from 1948 through the early 1970s.
South African "racial Fordism," as Gelb termed it,
captures the post-war combination of formal
apartheid with import-substitution industrialisation:
"As with Fordism in the advanced countries,
accumulation in South Africa during this period
involved the linking of the extension of mass
production with the extension of mass
consumption, but in a manner that was restricted
on both sides of the equation, as is very familiar."
     With the crisis in racial Fordism understood as
a breakdown in the institutional apparatus that
regulated capitalism and limited structural
instability--a breakdown witnessed by 1970s
strikes and social unrest, the import of
international inflation, and the oscillating gold
price--the key practical task for regulationists now
becomes how to stitch together a new set of "post-
Fordist" norms, practices and institutions within a
social democratic political framework. Wage
restraint, productivity quid pro quos, and even
Taiwan-style export-orientation have, since the
late 1980s, been advocated by a grouping in the
Congress of South African Trade Union who gain
inspiration from this particular discourse.
Enormous controversies over trade union policy--
particularly social contracts and shopfloor
flexibility--have begun to emerge (see, for
documentation, issues of the South African Labour
Bulletin and the Toronto-based Southern Africa
Report). But, reminiscent of some earlier neo-
Marxist analyses which were ultimately
discredited, regulation theory has subsequently
come under attack by historical materialists
aiming to debunk heuristic concepts which lead to
false hopes of capitalist competitiveness, and to
recover more durable aspects of capitalist
development which elude the easy French
typologies (for Marxist critiques of South African
regulation theory, see Charles Meth, 1991,
"Productivity and the Economic Crisis in South
Africa: A Marxist View," Occasional Paper,
University of Natal Economics Department,
Durban and my own 1991 booklet, Commanding
Heights and Community Control: New Economics
for a New South Africa, Johannesburg, Ravan
Press, as well as Callinicos' Between Apartheid
and Capitalism). Meanwhile, as lamented above,
the earlier critical mass of Marxist scholars all but
gave up on class analysis by the early 1990s,
favouring instead policy analysis, a dash of post-
Marxist (especially Laclauian) theory, and the
politics of (generally mythical) social contracts.
     What, then, is a more appropriate framework
for capturing the development processes which
have deradicalised so many erstwhile South
African Leftists? One important effort was Fine
and Rustomjee's return to structure and agency
debates by considering the evolution of the
economy from its basis as a "Minerals-Energy
Complex," with all that this entails. This
represents a good foundational starting point, with
the merit of highlighting unique characteristics
and potential policy and institutional attacks upon
the primary sites of capitalist power. It is not,
however, sufficiently strong, from a political-
economic perspective, on explaining the
contemporary capitalist crisis. For that I've found
more merit in returning to themes of uneven and
combined development.
     Briefly, if we seek to understand why the
condition for political reform was not capitalist
growth, but rather stagnation (and hence the need
for capitalists to explore a new export-oriented
route to accumulation), a classical Marxist
approach to cycles of capital accumulation may be
more helpful. Cycles of accumulation are the
waves of investment and growth which are
invariably followed by periods of excess capacity
and stagnation, often referred to as
"overaccumulation crisis." (South Africa
experienced such cycles throughout its modern
history, and has suffered persistent, worsening
symptoms of overaccumulation since the late
     Under such conditions, crisis displacement
occurs to a large degree through intensified
uneven development. This is because
overaccumulated capital in its most liquid form,
finance, flows easily across space in search of
more profitable outlets. The advent of
overaccumulation crisis across the world in the
early 1970s was, not uncoincidentally, the same
point at which the Bretton Woods institutions (the
World Bank and IMF) assumed added global
economic management power. Conditions of
uneven development already underway between
different regions of the world economy rapidly
sharpened under the dominance of neo-liberal
policy, in a process not restricted to any particular
national balance of forces. Instead, there is a
deeper underlying meaning. In his authoritative
study of the topic, Neil Smith concludes that
while uneven development dates to the time of
"primitive accumulation and the opposition of
capital against pre-capitalist societies," modern-
day global capitalism retains a "dichotomous
form. But today it is less an issue of the
`articulation of different modes of production,'
more an issue of development at one pole and
development of underdevelopment at the other"
(Smith, 1990, Uneven Development, Oxford, Basil
     While we keep our eyes on the perpetually
evolving form of crisis-ridden capitalism in South
Africa, particularly the very slight modification to
its racial configurations, the lesson I learn from
these prefacatory surveys of Marxist political-
economic studies is that neo-Marxian fads come
and go, but that it is from more durable and
universal critiques of the accumulation process,
especially uneven development, that we must
continue to learn from, and contribute to.

(Patrick Bond's Elite Transition: From Apartheid
to Neoliberalism in South Africa, was published
in March by Pluto, London; and Cities of Gold,
Townships of Coal: Essays on South Africa's
New Crisis, was published in April by Africa
World Press, Trenton, New Jersey.)

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