[Marxism] SACP, ANC and South Africa

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Feb 15 15:45:29 MST 2007

Fred writes:

>Yes, I missed that bit where Philip said he read Barnes' speech when it
out.  So it turns out that he read the speech 22 years ago, and
committed it
to mismemory. Maybe he also ing Guns of World War III," where he often
incorrectly claim that Barnes said World War
III began in 1991. I always assumed that he hadn't read it but maybe I

This is another piece of Fred's long history of misrepresenting what I
have said about various writings of Barnes.  Needless to say, there are
no quotes of what I actually said.  The idea that the Gulf War was the
"opening guns" of WW3 was and is idiotic.  You might just as well say
that the formation of the Common Market in Europe after WW2 was the
opening guns of WW3 or NAFTA was the opening guns of WW3.  

>Barnes also said only that the Gulf War was the "opening gun" of a
tendency toward World War.  He may even turn out to be right, although
worldwide military conflicts taking shape today are not primarily
inter-imperialist, as he expected (and demanded that everyone else also
expect) but predominantly between the imperialists and the struggling
sometimes also rising nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

To give the devil his due, I actually happen to agree with Barnes that
intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry is crucial to understanding what
is going on in the world.  My own view of the US invasion of Iraq is
that it was more about inter-imperialist rivalry than anything else.

I gave a talk on Iraq a couple of years ago at a national peace network
conference here and it was quite funny when the local Barnesite
organiser got up in the discussion period and said she agreed with what
I had said about the role of inter-imperialist rivalry in shaping the
invasion and occupation of Iraq.  Of course, she then went on in that
hectoring school-marmish turgid way they have to deliver the 'party

>Philip then summarizes what he remembers reading 22 years ago about

>"Barnes argued that a socialist revolution was not on the agenda in
Africa in the current epoch.  It struck me at the time as a bizarre

>Barnes never said what he said Barnes said.  And I have reviewed the
document rather more recently than Philip, to put it mildly. (It is in
International no. 5, available from Pathfinder in New York.

I never claimed to remember *much* from the lengthy article.  The reason
I remembered that bit was precisely because it struck me as such a
bizarre view.  I bet that if something truly bizarre had struck Fred 22
years ago, he would recall it as well, it doesn't mean he would be
claiming perfect memory about everything that happened to him in 1985.

I don't have a copy of NI and it's not easily obtainable here, but I
will try to find a copy and quote the relevant paragraph.

>Barnes believed that the apartheid system organized Blacks not simply
as an
oppressed working and  peasant or would-be peasant class but as an
estate, whose economic standing was not determined  their relationship
the means of production but politically imposed through the apartheid
setup. Apartheid  was not a complete innovation at all but a reactionary
formation  built on the system of  "reserves."  The result was that
industrial workers were not in fact "free labor'.

This is wrong anyway.  It is arse about face.  Apartheid was not built
on "the system of 'reserves'", it was built on the specific process of
capital accumulation in the context of South Africa in the late 1800s
and early 1900s, which required large amounts of cheap-as-possible black
labour.  The reserves were created to facilitate this.  The reserve
system was developed because it enabled the mine bosses and other white
capitalists to pay black workers much less than the value of their

>These structures plus
tribal systems, partly authentic (Mandela was born into a traditional
leading tribal Xhosa family) but reshaped in the interests of apartheid
more broadly, white rule,,  and other aspects of the apartheid regime
a SOCIALIST revolution AGAINST APARTHEID an impossibility, in Barnse's
Apartheid had to be removed as an obstacle to the creation of a genuine
working-class-led movement against capitalism.

Again, nonsensical, because it doesn't understand the process of capital
accumulation in South Africa and the significance, in terms of what kind
of revolution was *possible*, given the creation of a massive black
working class, along with a black peasantry.

Barnes also left out the SACP.  That was the other bizarre element in
American SWP material.  Here was the SACP which was actually the leading
force in the ANC - at least a third of the ANC leadership were SACP,
SACP controlled MK, and was increasingly the dominant force in the black
unions, especially after the formation of COSATU.

>What was needed was a workers and peasants/ popular democratic
to abolish apartheid, which would clear the road for a fully modern
class to ally with the peasants in a socialist revolution, which he
would take place precisely in our epoch -- the epoch of imperialism and
imperialist decay -- and was not at all put off to some future one.


In any case, this too is nonsensical, since it suggests there is no way
the demands of the massive, militant black working class could have been
developed towards socialism during the struggle against apartheid.  In
fact, precisely because of the connections between apartheid and
capitalism, it was *possible* that the struggle against apartheid could
also be a struggle against capitalism.  The SACP deliberately shifted
away from that perspective and separated the two, thereby performing an
invaluable role for South African capital.

>I actually think that developments have supported Barnes' estimate that
conditions of apartheid were an obstacle to the working class struggle
had to be removed in order for the working class and its allies to move
toward a socialist revolution.  No, I don't think the struggle against
apartheid was a socialist revolution betrayed 

This is one of your usual sleight of hands.  No-one said it was "a
socialist revolution betrayed".  What has been argued is that the
*potential* existed for the struggle to go much, much further in
challenging capitalist social relations and opening up the possibility
of a socialist revolution.  I realise these nuances are usually lost on
you and Walter, but they are quite important.  By ruling out the
possibility of a transition to socialism, which was objectively and
subjectively present, the SACP, which called the shots in the ANC more
than anyone else, aborted most of the national-democratic tasks of the

>I thought as I notice Walter also does, that Black majority
rule remained and remains a legitimate concept, although I thought the
concepts of nonracialism and "South Africa belongs to all who live in
were legitimate democratic concepts that helped deepen divisions among
whites, reach out to the "colored" racial category, and overcome tribal
divisions among the Black masses/

This is more like liberalism than Marxism.

The reality is that the concept "South Africa belongs to all who live in
it" was an empty phrase in the concrete conditions and was used to try
to suppress class contradictions and class conflict.  Phrases and
concepts mean little in and of themselves, you have to evaluate them in
the *concrete conditions* in which they are being used.

"South Africa belongs to all. . ." is about as meaningful in the
concrete context of the post-apartheid state as the old Labour Party
membership cards saying the LP believed in the public ownership of the
means of production, distribution and exchange.


>Secondly I thought socialist revolution in South Africa was more
in the relatively short term, than he did, or at least that I was more
of the depth of the possible obstacles. Barnes thought the ANC  was
of not only leading the struggle against apartheid but that, as a
party in composition (and, at the height of the struggle this was
unchallengeable), the ANC had  the potential to lead a process toward
socialist revolution  in the aftermath of the removal of the apartheid
obstacle.  And this was suggested in the resolution, though not as
as in later speeches.

Well I agree with you that in that speech reprinted in NI he seemed to
be suggesting that the ANC could, eventually, lead the process to
socialism.  This was bizarre.  The idea that because it was a workers
party in terms of social composition it could do this is a vulgar
sociological approach, not a Marxist one.  Labour parties used to be
comprised overwhelmingly of workers too.  In NZ the pioneers of the LP
were industrial militants.  But the LP was never going to lead any fight
for socialism, no matter what its social composition or the role of much
of its leadership as industrial militants.

>The attachment to the socialist idea  in the ANC and elsewhere in the
population was primarily a form of hatred for the apartheid regime, and
expression of the belief that white capitalism in South 
Africa would fight to the end for their highly profitable - in its
days - apartheid structure.  It was bound to be a whole new ball game
the capitalist ruling class, savagely battered and crippled by the
anti-apartheid struggle, became willing to dump the apartheid system of
government and compulsory social organization in order to save their

This is actually a one-sided analysis.  I agree with you than the white
ruling class was battered and crippled by the anti-apartheid struggle.
But there was another important aspect which you don't seem to grasp at
all.  This is that apartheid had become obsolete as a mode of
accumulation in South Africa, just as the Jim Crow system had become an
anachronism in the USA by the 1960s.  That didn't mean there didn't have
to be massive struggles to sweep these things away, but it did mean that
the ruling class no longer had a direct material interest - or so much
of a direct material interest - in maintaining them.

In none of your, or Walter's, posts has there been any mention of the
accumulation process in South Africa.  You only ever discuss what's
going on at the surface of society.

Apartheid had actually become an obstacle to capital accumulation in the
specific circumstances of South Africa.  An entire new set of economic
policies was necessary and the ANC was the vehicle for them, because the
old Nationalist Party could not or would not implement them.  Louis
alluded to precisely this when he mentioned the old National Party's
commitment to import substitution and tarrifs and the ANC's

If you don't place capital accumulation at the centre of an analysis of
South Africa you can actually neither understand apartheid nor the
post-apartheid society and you end up with a left version of a liberal
"race relations" analysis.

>The new situation in which signicant sections of the Black population
itself with the end of apartheid reminds me of the demand of the "third
estate" in the French revolution - "careers open to talents,"


Where is your analysis of capital accumulation in South Africa?

>We can all seethe and bubble with indignation against the Blacks who
advantage of this situation, including almost all the old leaders of the
ANC, but the process seems inevitable and organic to me, 

Yikes again, the "human nature" analysis.

This is the rubbish people descend into when they haven't got an
analysis rooted in capital accumulation.

You need to go and read 'Capital' or at least Patrick Bond's work.  One
of the things that most impressed me abut Patrick, and why we asked him
to do a feature article for 'revolution' magazine some years back, was
because he has an analysis solidly rooted in examining capital
accumulation in South Africa rather than the kind of left-liberal "race
relations" stuff that too often passes for a Marxist analysis of South

>The fact is that for most  South African Blacks, getting rid of
was not experienced as a national-democratic "task" of a proletarian
revolution.  It was the goal of their struggles and their lives, and a
post-apartheid society was their "dream" and aspiration.  

A post-apartheid society in which they were not only free of apartheid
laws but economically better off as well - in other words, actually
liberated.  You, however, have a pretty low estimation of what South
African blacks wanted or would settle for.

If you go and look at the programme of COSATU at the time, and COSATU
organised several million black workers, you will find much more than
the vague concept of a "post-apartheid society".  Blacks were actually
capable of having rather higher horizons than just wanting a
"post-apartheid society".

>Now they have it,
and of course, it still leaves a lot to be desired for the oppressed and
expoited, including a lot of unfinished "democratic" tasks.  But  I
think it is a crime to try to view this process objectively rather than
raging against it.  In fact, I think a little objectivity helps prepare
next wave of struggle..

But you don't view it objectively.  An objective view would at least
contain *some* analysis of capital accumulation.  In fact, you appear to
view the process entirely subjectively.  You react extraordinarily
emotionally-subjectively to any attempt to critique what happened, any
suggestion that there was a possibility for the struggle to result in
something substantially more radical, any attempt to view the role of
the SACP-ANC objectively by situating it within the context of South
African's capital's own need to move beyond apartheid. 

>And I  am confident that Blacks in South Africa will never share their
view of the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle, and in particular they
never, ever buy the image of Nelson Mandela as a sell-out.  

Again some quotes to say anyone here has attacked Mandela as a sell-out
would be nice. 

Mandela, in my view, did not sell out.  He had long said that his ideal
was the Westminster parliament and that if he had lived in Britain he
would be a Liberal.  He was a very brave and principled fighter against
apartheid.  He was never a socialist and never pretended to be.  So it
would be daft to attack him for selling out a socialist revolution.  So
this is a typical example of your straw man method of arguing.

Mandela, of course, was not the key player in the transition anyway.  If
you knew anything about the role of the SACP in the ANC, rather than
buying into the bourgeois media's creation of superstars, you would know
that the SACP was a much more important player than Mandela.  

>Blacks know they
have gained from the struggle against apartheid.  That is why they will
stick with the ANC until new openings for class struggle make it
for them to forge something that more reflects their interests today.

But we already have seen that this is not the case.  The ANC vote, for
instance, has massively dropped.  In 1994 they got about 60 percent of
the eligible vote and in 2004 they got about 39 percent of the eligible
vote.  A chunk of their vote now is white, Asian and 'coloured', so they
have the votes of less than half of the black population.  Forty-four
percent of the electorate abstained in 2004, overwhelmingly poor and
black.  Far from black South Africans as a bloc sticking with the ANC, a
huge number have dropped out of voting and voter participation in South
Africa is looking more like American voter participation than it is
resembling voter participation of 1994 in South Africa.   

But, like Walter, you just ignore actual facts and live in a subjective
world where all black South Africans love the ANC.  (You didn't even say
"most" or "many" or "a significant minority", you just said "Black South
Africans" as if it was all of them.)

Since no-one here is a defender of apartheid, and since no-one thinks
that people being able to reclaim their humanity is insignificant, the
moral lecture at the end of your post isn't worth dignifying with a


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