South Africa, the Barnesites and the 'national democratic revolution'

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Jun 16 22:45:11 MDT 2001


    I must admit to total ignorance on what the SWP said/did on S Africa
from the mid-80s on.

    Your general description of it, however, does not immediately suggest
just what it is you think should have been a different line.

    Your idea that the national democratic revolution should be viewed as
the path to the socialist revolution I agree with. But what does this mean,
for you, in practice? Should we be denouncing Chávez, for example, or at
least keeping a good distance of healthy "we'll see" distrust?

    At least from the situation of the past immediate period, what's going
on in Venezuela, is a national democratic movement. How far it can go, and
how quickly, are impossible to predict. But I don't believe revolutionary
Marxists in Venezuela would help matters a great deal by advancing
"socialist" slogans/demands. Quite the contrary.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Philip Ferguson" <plf13 at>
To: <marxism-digest at>
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2001 10:58 PM
Subject: South Africa, the Barnesites and the 'national democratic

Jose's comments prompted me to take a look at the latest 'Militant' on
line, dated July 2.

There is a big article by their follower in South Africa, J.T. Figueroa.
In it, he discusses the way in which leading ANCers have gone into business
and how the AN C favours the creation of a black capitlaist class.  For

>Ramaphosa rose to prominence in working-class
>mobilizations against white-minority rule and became the
>general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. He
>was part of the African National Congress delegation in
>negotiations to form a post-apartheid constitution, and was
>subsequently elected ANC secretary-general.
>But in 1996 he abandoned day-to-day responsibilities in the
>organization to become the standard-bearer for what is
>referred to by the capitalist media and government and
>business officials as "black empowerment." He first headed
>New Africa Investments Limited, which was a spectacular
>failure. Today he is chairman of Johnnic, a media and
>publishing group whose three companies make up 78
>percent of the "empowerment" shares on the exchange.
>Ramaphosa remains a member of the ANC National
>Executive Committee.
>After the first democratic, nonracial elections in 1994, which
>marked the end of apartheid, companies such as Anglo
>American Corp., recognizing a need to politically distance
>themselves from their central role in organizing and
>maintaining white-minority rule, sold hunks of their
>businesses to aspirant black capitalists. However, these deals
>were funded by massive debts that must still be repaid. As a
>result, many of the post-1994 "empowerment" businesses
>are in trouble.
>Mbeki supports 'black capitalist class'
>The perspective of enrichment of a layer of blacks has the
>support of South African and ANC president Thabo Mbeki.
>"As part of the realization of the aim to eradicate racism in
>our country, we must strive to create and strengthen a black
>capitalist class," he told a 1999 conference of the Black
>Management Forum, which initiated the Ramaphosa
>commission. "This is and must be an important part of the
>process of the deracialization of the ownership of productive
>property in our country."
>A large proportion of those in the front ranks of
>"empowerment" are members and former leaders of the
>ANC. For example, the former commander of the ANC's
>armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Joe Modise, who
>subsequently served as defense minister, is now the director
>of companies that have won or are seeking government
>military contracts. A report in the Financial Mail magazine
>estimates that former MK leaders have won about four
>billion rands (about $500 million) worth of military
>Former posts and telecommunications minister Jay Naidoo,
>who was also previously a top official of the Congress of
>South African Trade Unions (COSATU), quit his post to
>form an information technology company. Mac Maharaj, a
>prominent leader of the ANC, departed his post as transport
>minister to become a director of FirstRand bank.

Of course, nowhere is there any indication that many on the left have
pointed out this phenomenon all along.  Nor is their any acknowledgment
that Barnes and Co. were *totally wrong* in the 1980s when they postulated
that a 'national democratic revolution' was the only revolution possible
and needed in South Africa and that a socialist revolution was not a
possibility and belonged to a subsequent period of historical development.
Barnes' stagist theory of revolution in South Africa - which separated a
national democratic revolution and a socialist revolution into two
different historical periods, with, of course, the socialist revolution
some indefinite time in the future - is in tatters.

As a number of us have argued all along, only an anti-capitalist/socialist
revolution, or a revolution which passes over very quickly to this, can
achieve the democratic tasks.  The ANC, far from abandoning its politics,
has actually carried them out - what we see is the logical result of the
ANC's two-stage revolution.

The Barnesites deal with this by ignoring the position they held on South
Africa and the ANC for the best part of two decades.  I don't think any of
us will hold our breath waiting for them to admit they were totally wrong.

Philip Ferguson

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