Everything we are now is built upon all that we were and where we came from. The same can be said for countries, any analysis has to look backwards before it can begin to understand the influences and causes of the present. This makes analysis intrinsically complex and often, almost impossible. At some point we are forced to simplify, look for patterns and analyse situations with a focus on where the key locus of power lies.
An analysis of the recent events taking place primarily in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng has to be done with this in mind. It is impossible to follow every strand of the complexity that is South Africa, but at the same time the link between the spate of large scale looting that took place and two very obvious conflicting ruling class power bases that currently exist in the country is undeniable. To claim that there was an exercising of working class power is to fundamentally misunderstand the powers at play and where the locus of power at this point in history actually lies.
The ZACF is pleased to co-sign this statement along with anarchist groups around the world to commemorate May Day.
May 1st, 1886, a wide-ranging strike started in the United States demanding an eight-hour working day. The journey’s slogan was “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest”, propagandised since the mid-19th century and through which the labour movement struggled to seize power from Capital and dispute worker’s time for life, culture, and enjoyment.
The strike was prepared in advance. The American labour movement decided on it in 1884. To carry it out, hundreds of meetings and rallies were held, funds were collected, at times when union organising was illegal. Manifestos and newspapers were circulated encouraging workers to join the planned strike.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first modern social revolution in the glorious history of oppressed people’s struggle, the Paris Commune of 1871. For 72 days, the proletarians of the city of Paris re-organised the social relationships in terms of direct democracy, towards the direction of economic equality, mutual aid and political freedom.
International anarchist statement on International Working Women’s Day
Today, March 8, we commemorate International Working Women’s Day, a historic date on which we raise the struggle for the political, social, economic, and sexual rights of women, lesbians, and transgender people of the oppressed classes. Today, we aim to put an end to the systematic violence of patriarchy and support the revolutionary workers’, popular and anti-colonial struggle. First proposed by a group of socialist women at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in 1910 in Copenhagen, the day was initially intended to promote women’s civil rights. Later, it became a day of agitation, mobilization, protest, and strike for the lives and liberty of women and dissidents of the gender system across the globe. From the protest for women’s labor and political rights in the industrial states at the beginning of the 20th century to the revolt for bread and peace by working women that began, along with other strikes and demonstrations, the Russian Revolution of February 1917, March 8 as International Women’s Day was slowly consolidated through the active struggle of working-class women. Therefore, we rescue such great attainment that allows us to remember the achievements of the feminist movement against patriarchal oppression. March 8 also allows us to appropriate the debates and proposals our predecessors had and build spaces that enable us to raise our voices against the injustices and violence of this capitalist, patriarchal and colonialist, system of domination.
International anarchist statement on the centenary of the 1921 Kronstadt Uprising
On 1 March, 1921, the Kronstadt Soviet rose in revolt against the regime of the Russian “Communist” Party. The Civil War was effectively over, with the last of the White armies in European Russia defeated in November, 1920. The remaining battles in Siberia and Central Asia were over the territorial extent of what would become the USSR the following year. Economic conditions, though, remained dire. In response, strikes broke out across Petrograd in February, 1921. The sailors of Kronstadt sent a delegation to investigate the strikes.
We are living in a world that for most people is broken and that has broken most people. It is not a god given world, but one that has been constructed by those in power and that has left most people mired in deprivation. Under COVID-19, this world has sunk to new lows.
All is not lost though. There has historically been a section within the progressive movement – in different parts of the world and in South Africa – based around forms of radically democratic socialism that has not only tapped into the righteous anger of the working class, but has also sought to create a home and sense of belonging for people based on progressive values and principles such as mutual aid, solidarity and even love. If we want a better world, we need to revive the popularity of the types of politics, ethics, values, principles and practices that formed the essence – at their best – of such movements and update it for the context of the 21st century.
The question of state government elections and running a workers or socialist political party continues to be raised in the working-class movement and the Left globally. As we may know, there was excitement about the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party in Britain, about the successes of left political parties in certain parts of Europe and Latin America and, more recently, certain shifts to more centrist positions in the United States amongst a section of the Democratic Party calling themselves “Democratic Socialists.” In South Africa, many workers and some activists seem cautiously optimistic about NUMSA’s formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party that participated in the 2019 general elections, but did not manage to get a seat in Parliament.
With this in mind, we need to look at issues of social transformation within the framework of what we want to achieve and the relationship between the means and ends of struggle in pursuit of these aims. The historic and ultimate socialist end is a society characterised by collective democratic control of the political and economic systems and one without class divisions and oppression of any kind – in real terms, a society without the state and capitalism in particular.
If this is so, is this revolutionary transformation possible by means of state power and political parties that aim to capture this form of power?
In examining the possibilities for politics within and at a distance from the state, it is important to revisit the democratic traditions of the working class, which are often learned through struggles and strikes – and which were exemplified by the new unions of the 1970s and 1980s. Not much of this alternative tradition of democracy outside the state has been captured in official histories, which present the attainment of democracy in terms of the formation of a parliamentary government in 1994.
There is a larger problem here of how the working-class heritage – the intellectual and organisational and political traditions of labour and the left – has been side-lined in media, textbooks, monuments and narratives; this also involves a narrowing of our political imagination, with our view of “democracy” itself narrowed dramatically. There has been a focus on elections and political parties and electoral politics. This reflects and reinforces a view that assumes a separation of the political – basically left to the state and the parties – and the economic – issues like wage negotiations are left to unions, and union involvement in politics is increasingly reduced to lobbying political parties.
A video went viral on social media platforms on October 3, outlining how the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit of the Nigerian police force shot a young man, dumped him at the side of the road and stole his car. What followed was three weeks of protests by young people against such police brutality and the corruption that defines the state; initially via social media, #EndSARS, and later in towns and cities across Nigeria.
Needless to say, the protests continued and grew into the largest in the history of Nigeria. As the protests grew, the state changed tactics and responded to the escalation with outright violence. Part of this involved the state deploying thugs to attack protestors in order to try and intimidate people off the streets. When this failed to produce the state’s desired result, it deployed the military and implemented a curfew in a number of cities. By October 20, however, the protests had spread across Nigeria. Some of the assets of the Nigerian ruling class were also targeted during these protests and the largest and most lucrative toll road in country, Lekki, in Lagos, was blockaded. On that day the military attempted to brutally end the protests and shot dead 12 people at the Lekki tollgate.
Centred on the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and within it, key unions like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the unions developed an ideological and strategic orientation described by scholars (e.g. Eddie Webster and Glenn Adler, 2000) as “radical reform” or “structural reform.” The thinking of the main unions in South Africa remains, to this day, profoundly shaped by the “radical reform” (RR) model.
The aim of this input is to examine the RR model, which was an attempt to build on the many key progressive gains won by workers and their organisations through struggle in the 1980s, and push through to a deeper transformation in the 1990s. This input defines the key components of RR, and then examines why this innovative response to the parliamentary transition and to capitalist globalisation was not successful. This requires looking at issues of neoliberal capitalist and state domination, the impact of RR on the unions, and the effects of the institutionalisation of trade union activity and dispute processes that have taken place. It raises deeper questions about the unions’ politics as well.