Autonomous Action (Russia) interviews the ZACF

Answers by Michael Schmidt, International Secretary of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (South Africa) to questions put by “Situation”, newspaper of Autonomous Action (Russia), December 2008.

1. The history of worker and anarchist movement in South Africa began more than 100 years ago. Could you tell Russian comrades about the history of your struggles (about organisations from the beginning of the 20th century like International Socialist League etc)?

South Africa would have remained an agrarian backwater colony similar to Kenya if it were not for the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and of gold in 1886. These two events saw a massive influx of capital, infrastructure and of a mostly white industrial working class. The new white working class was overwhelmingly race-protectionist, what was called “White Labourite” and early trade unions were built on those lines. But a small radical tendency with strong anti-racist, anarchist and syndicalist leanings (starting with the Socialist Club of Port Elizabeth in 1900) eventually saw the establishment of a local section of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1910. It was operative mostly among tramway workers in the gold-mining town of Johannesburg, the old Boer capital of Pretoria and the British-dominated port of Durban but despite its anti-racism did not manage to break out of the white ghetto. But although the IWW (SA) shut down in 1913, rank-and-file syndicalist ideas spread during the general strikes of 1913-1914, within the anti-war movement during World War I, and by 1917, the Indian Workers industrial Union (IWIU), organized among Indian indentured stevedores, hotel workers and cane-cutters in Durban, was established along IWW lines. The IWIU was backed up by the formation later in 1917 of the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA), also based on the IWW’s revolutionary syndicalist, anti-racist class-struggle concept. The IWA is believed to have been the first black trade union in British-colonised Africa and by 1919 was flanked by similar syndicalist unions, the mostly “coloured” (mixed-race) Horse-Drivers Union in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley, and various unions in the port city of Cape Town. These revolutionary syndicalist unions were established by a group of white, black, coloured and Indian syndicalist militants from the Industrial Socialist League, a 1915 revolutionary splinter from the reformist socialist International Socialist League, and the IWA, IWIU and associated unions were so influential that for a period, they shifted the Transvaal section of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC, later renamed the African National Congress, ANC) in a syndicalist direction. By 1921, these unions formed the core of the new syndicalist-oriented Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU). Although the ICU’s constitution was also IWW-based, it was amore ideologically mixed union, and its radicalism was compromised by elements of black nationalism, Garveyism and communism. The first communist party in Africa, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was established by syndicalist militants in 1920, but like the first communist parties in countries such as Brazil and France was very libertarian and syndicalist. A rival Bolshevik CPSA – Communist International (CPSA-CI, the fore-runner of today’s South African Communist Party, SACP) was established the following year, adhering to Lenin’s 21 points and attracting many original CPSA militants. The revolutionary remainder of the CPSA renamed themselves the Communist League. The ICU peaked in 1927 with about 120,000 members. Importantly, it spread beyond South Africa to establish branches in South-West Africa (Namibia), and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). The Southern Rhodesian branch survived well into the 1950s, but the South African parent organization disintegrated in the late 1920s, bringing an end to South African anarchist-influenced syndicalism. Neighbouring Mozambique (like Angola, the Azores, and Portuguese Guinea) was a place of exile to which many Portuguese anarchists were deported in the 1890s and early 1900s. Some of them established an exile anarchist organization, the Revolutionary League, in the port capital of Lorenco Marques (Maputo) in the early 1900s. By the early 1920s, a significant syndicalist element had arisen among Mozambican workers under the influence of the powerful anarcho-syndicalist General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in Portugal (the Portuguese movement was proportionately larger than the Spanish movement). But the Mozambican movement apparently had no contact with the South African movement because of the language barrier, appeared not to have broken out of the white worker ghetto, and was suppressed from 1927 by the Salazar dictatorship. So ended the “glorious period” of anarchist and syndicalist organizing in South Africa. Most dissidents expelled from the Bolshevik CPSA in 1928 for their syndicalist sympathies became Trotskyists instead of returning to the anarchist and syndcalist fold. But rank-and-file syndicalism (usually called “workerism” by the communists) reappeared from time to time as a minority strain. In the 1950s, for example, a South African section of the tiny libertarian Marxist international called the Movement for a Democracy of Content (MDC) was established and played a key role in the Alexandra bus boycott. Some dissidents from the SACP who left over the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary moved in an anarchist direction (one of them, Alan Lipman, is close to the ZACF). The rise to power of the National Party in 1948 took what was an already polarized racial situation and divided people further. A whole raft of repressive legislation was introduced that outlawed the Communist Party, geographically carved up the country into ethnic enclaves (the infamous Group Areas Act), racially segregated public amenities such as parks, beaches, buses and toilets, and made mixed marriages and inter-racial relationships a crime. This was an extension of segregationist laws which had been in operation since colonial times. Between 1910 and 1960, in real terms, black wages stayed static and the black working class was mostly resigned to its fate under racial capital – except for the 1949 miner’s strike, the 1950s passive resistance campaigns aimed at the pass laws (which restricted the movement of black men, and later, black women) and other apartheid legislation which culminated in the signing of the 1955 Freedom Charter, and the 1961 turn of the ANC (desperate after its attempts at legal, peaceful reform failed) towards a limited, ineffective armed struggle (an ANC propaganda tool rather than proper armed resistance) led to the arrest of Nelson Mandela and other middle-class ANC/SACP leaders.

2. In the 70s-80s South Africa was associated by most people with the struggle against racial inequality. Please tell how the situation was developing in this period of time (about student and worker organisations and protests, 1976, revolts, strikes etc).

From the 1970s, the global economy started to shrink and South Africa was no exception. The origins of the famous 1976-1977 Uprising lay in a series of illegal, often wildcat strikes which started in Durban in 1973, but the Uprising was coloured by the ideas of the Black Consciousness movement (whose leaders were figures like Bantu Steven Biko, murdered shortly afterwards), while the ANC was lost and ineffective in the wilderness of exile, its leaders in jail or on the run. The immediate cause of the uprising was black working class resistance to rocketing rates and service charges in the black township of Soweto after the white Johannesburg City Council stopped sponsoring Soweto to the tune of R2-million annually. School students added their complaints against teaching in Afrikaans to the worker’s complaints about the cost of living. The Uprising was the work of the black working class as a whole and not of any political faction, but many of those radicalized by the experience were forced into exile where they joined political factions (ANC, Black Consciousness Movement, BCM, or the anti-communist ANC splinter Pan Africanist Congress, PAC). The 1984-1991 Uprising was provoked by the apartheid state’s attempt at basic housing reforms, combined with its attempt to create a three-chamber parliament with separate representation for white, coloured and Indian voters – but excluding blacks. Black workers and the poor correctly saw these as attempts to draw them into compromise by reforming petty apartheid (lesser segregation such as that relating to mixed marriages) while maintaining grand apartheid (geographic separation and entrenched white privilege and black exclusion). Again, the uprising was mostly the work of ordinary people, but this time, was heavily fragmented along political lines, so the ANC engaged in open warfare with competing tendencies, murdering scores of militants from the Azanian People’s Organisation (a BCM organization), PAC and engaging in protracted conflict with the Zulu-chauvinist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The apartheid state responded with a State of Emergency and sent troops into the townships: conflict between the state and the ANC is the enduring image of that time in most people’s minds but by the end of it, the ANC had established itself as the leading opposition movement. When the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) was finally, legally, established in 1985 during the nationwide State of Emergency, rank-and-file syndicalists contested the communist suggestion that Cosatu affiliate to the cross-class ANC. The syndicalists were sadly defeated, however, and that defeat is still being felt in Cosatu ranks today: despite its 1,8-million-strong membership, it is completely subservient to the much smaller ANC ruling party.

3. Nelson Mandela won the elections in 1994 and became the head of state when the system of apartheid was abolished. Has the life of workers changed for the better in these 15 years (what about poverty, unemployment, lack of housing, police repressions, Mandela as the puppet of financial and industrial capital holders)?

In part, you view this correctly: the transition to bourgeois pseudo-democracy was facilitated by Nelson Mandela – a Gandhi-like saint who can do no wrong in the eyes of the liberals – who became the poster-child for the oligarchs in Washington and London for ensuring that neo-liberal fiscal discipline would replace the ANC’s social-democratic promises. Of course the ANC has its own political traditions and is a powerful formation within South Africa in its own right, so Mandela cannot be said to be merely a puppet of the financial and industrial elites, performing only a comprador role in relations to international capitalist interests. Instead it is truer to say that the ANC was always a cross-class “national liberation” party that adhered to only a watered-down version of state socialism. Its clear intention was always to build a black bourgeoisie to work alongside the white bourgeoisie, and this it has been successful in achieving. This is not to say there were not black bourgeois under apartheid (the “homeland” leaders, the Zulu King and others cannot be said to have been among the oppressed of the country), but the extension of the benefits of the ownership of the means of production and of political power has now been extended to a narrow layer of black adventurers. What is more important is to recognise that in striking this deal with capital, Mandela in fact rescued the right-wing dictatorship’s neo-liberal project in South Africa from disaster. He entered into secret negotiations with the apartheid state, starting in July 1984 – at a time that the country was in flames, the townships ruled by armed youthful militia, local civic organizations, rank-and-file trade unionists and others. These secret negotiations followed equally secret talks between spies and business leaders, the real authors of the South African transition. An example of how corrupt Mandela was, is that in 1997, Mandela awarded our country’s highest honour to Indonesian neo-fascist dictator Mohammed Suharto, responsible for the bloody pogrom that resulted in the murder of well over 1-million communists, Chinese and other people – because Suharto had donated $60-million to the ANC. I have written an extensive paper on this crooked transition to “democracy” for the Chilean anarchist-communist journal Hombre y Sociedad (Humanity & Society) which should be available early in 2009.

4. The worker organizations played a big part in fighting against the system of state racism in South African Republic. It can be said that at the time South African Republic symbolized radical worker resistance with its numerous strong trade unions. Anarchists took part in organizing the biggest and most radical trade unity – COSATU. Please tell more about it.

As I have indicated, the original rank-and-file syndicalist tendencies within Cosatu which were evident at its founding in 1985 and which were opposed to collaboration with the bourgeois-nationalist ANC and SACP were sadly defeated. An example of this opposition from the nationalists occurred at the International Libertarian Labor Conference organised by the IWW and IWA in the United States in 1986 and attended by revolutionary union delegates from Canada, Britain, France, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the USA. The Cosatu delegate to the conference refused to share a stage with a Polish Solidarity delegate on the grounds that Solidarity was opposing a “socialist” state! Although shop-floor militancy came to the fore time and again especially in the radical Cosatu-affiliated Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU) and Cosatu’s radical Transport and General Workers’ Union, there were no explicit anarchists within those unions (the former national educator of CWIU is, however, a ZACF member), and by 1998/99, Cosatu leadership deliberately undermined Chemical’s and Transport’s radicalism by merging them with moderate, poorly-run affiliates – one under SACP leadership! Today, Cosatu remains crippled by its traditional class compromise with the ANC/SACP – to the extent that the Black Consciousness and formerly white trade union federations Nactu and Fedusa have joined forces, putting them in the vanguard of organised working class unity in South Africa, way ahead of Cosatu. For a more detailed assessment of where Cosatu is currently at, read my article on the public-sector strike last year, Now is the Winter of our Discontent, online here

5. Please describe the actual life conditions of workers in South Africa. What is worker class doing now? Are there any strikes? How about old trade unions set up in the 70s and 80s – if they still exist and are hard-edged or got conciliating (COSATU, ANC, SACP)?

In the period 1999 until 2002, we used to run the Workers’ Library & Museum in downtown Johannesburg, one of the only independent working-class spaces for debate, education, organizing and interaction left in South Africa. The Museum recreates how power-station workers used to live in 1915, but one day some miners came and looked at the museum and one of them told me: “I don’t understand why this is a museum, because we still live like this, 36 men to a room on concrete beds”. In real terms, black wages remained unchanged between 1910 and 1960 – and starting with the economic recession in 1973, things have often only gotten worse. A few years ago, I interviewed women sawmill workers, working in a dangerous environment, who were earning 11 Rand a month (30 Rubles/month)! South Africa hasn’t experienced the sort of turbo-capitalism, asset-stripping and de-industrialisation as Russia has, but that is still shocking. Unemployment hovers around the 40% mark and starvation and diseases of malnutrition like kwashiorkor, rickets and marasmus are common. The total membership numbers of Cosatu have remained relatively stable – but today a higher percentage are flexible, part-time labour. This is the long-term damage that neo-liberal economics has done to the working class. And yet Cosatu, because of the benefits its leaders get from their relationship with the rich and powerful in the ANC government and in industry, have become totally conciliatory. Hardliners tend to be found outside of Cosatu in independent radical unions like the General Industrial Workers Union of SA (Giwusa), which consists of many former CWIU members, and with which we are involved trying to set up a working-class newspaper. Again, on the general situation of the unions, refer to the article I mentioned in point 4 above.

6. Why are the most former apartheid fighters now supporting or being part of political elite of South African Republic? How do you think could it happen? In the past there was a direct dictatorship of white minority but what is happening now?

For many anti-apartheid fighters, well-paid positions in government or the private sector are a reward for their hard years of exile, jail and oppression and it is difficult to deny them that, but it naturally changes their class position, and so their ethics and their politics. In our analysis, the ANC/SACP doctrine of the “national democratic revolution” which is a developmentalist cross-class project to create a black elite is what lies at the core of many former radicals supposed “defection” to capitalism. The fact of the matter is that ANC/SACP adherence to the state, which is the enforcement arm of capital (although it has its own interests as an unelected bureaucracy), could only bring about a state/capital solution that had no chance of being genuinely liberatory, or genuinely revolutionary. If anything, money and power has confirmed for many in the ANC/SACP the “rightness” of their path from “liberation movement” to neo-liberal political party. In other words, this was not a betrayal of the ANC’s principles, but the fulfillment of the ANC’s principles – and we agree with them here!

7. Tell about Zabalaza, its origins and its modern situation. Where does its name come from? You officially told about its existence only in 2007 December 1 but it has been existing for about 15 years already – why did it take so much time? What are the most important issues of yours (student or worker movement, protests against resettlements)? What are your achievements?

Our name Zabalaza means Struggle in the two most widely-spoken languages of South Africa: Zulu and Xhosa. We describe as Anarchist Communist because that is the anarchist tradition that sees the necessity for dual organization: a “specific” anarchist organization working inside and alongside mass working class organizations. In the late 1980s, a multiracial anarchist movement resurfaced in South Africa, opposing itself to military conscription, to apartheid and fascism. By 1992, after the unbanning of political opposition organizations in 1990, there was the Anarchist Resistance Movement (ARM) in Johannesburg and the Durban Anarchist Federation (DAF, of which I was a member). In 1995 after the first democratic election which brought the ANC to power in 1994, key militants of ARM and DAF founded the anarcho-syndicalist Workers’ Solidarity Federation (WSF) which established branches in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and which had a majority black working class membership, including many trade union shop-stewards. The WSF dissolved in 1999 as the ANC/SACP/Cosatu shut down political space in the unions, but its core membership,clustered around the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) took over the running of the independent Workers’ Library & Museum, an independent working-class meeting place in Johannesburg – rescuing it from ANC/SACP mismanagement – while Zabalaza Books continued producing anarchist propaganda. After the resistance to the bourgeois 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg saw the emergence of black anarchist nuclei in townships such as Soweto (Johannesburg) and Umlazi (Durban), these nuclei plus BMC and Zabalaza Books established the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) in 2003. The ZACF established a section in Swaziland and worked closely with the emerging anarchist / libertarian socialist resistance movement in Zimbabwe, but in December 2007, due to declining membership and several internal difficulties, restructured itself as the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (also ZACF), a unitary organization instead of a federation of collectives. The Front has continued the activities of the former Federation, including co-editorship of the international multilingual anarchist-communist news & analysis site , its own mostly-English African anarchist portal its Zabalaza Books publishing project, the running of anarchist workshops called Red “& Black Forums in the townships, and direct involvement in Zimbabwean and Swazi resistance movements, gender/gay rights movements, ecological movements, prisoner-support campaigns (through the ZACF’s Anarchist Black Cross), anti-xenophobia campaigns. In addition, nine years ago, BMC embarked on an ambitious project to re-analyse and rewrite anarchist theory and history: today, the result is a two-volume work called “Counter-power,” with the theoretical first volume, “Black Flame: the Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism & Syndicalism,” scheduled to be released by AK Press in California before the end of the year. Volume 2: “Global Fire: 150 Fighting Years of Anarchism & Syndicalism” is nearing completion and should be published in 2009.

8. In 2006 – 2007 Swaziland opposition was subjected to repressions by its political regime, some members of Zabalaza suffered as well. How are they doing now?

The situation in Swaziland is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the sheer poverty of our comrades there. This year, 2008, was meant by the main Swazi opposition party, the social-democratic People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) to be the year in which King Mswati III, one of the last absolute monarchs in Africa, was to be removed and replaced with a bourgeois democracy. Despite a series of bombings, presumably committed by both Swaziland Youth Congress (Swayoco) militants and by state agents trying to blame Pudemo and Swayoco, nothing has changed. The youth are getting restless and many want to take up arms. I reported in late 2006 on the development of an armed struggle tendency within Swayoco, based on very detailed interviews with many players, but this was fervently denied by Swayoco. Still, the ZACF has maintained fairly close relations with Swayoco, and our former members within Swaziland work alongside Swayoco youth. Numerous copies of our propaganda materials have been distributed in Swaziland and we are busy finishing a pamphlet which covers 10 years of anarchist writings on the pro-democracy movement in the kingdom. The trouble in Swaziland, is that, as with Zimbabwe, the opposition is not strong enough to overthrow the government, so we don’t forsee any powerful developments soon. And yet things could change: in 1997, a massive general strike shut the country down for days and had the chance of, if not toppling the king, at least forcing him to submit to democratic rule, but political advantage was not taken of the situation and such circumstances may not rise again soon. The situation in Zimbabwe, with its government-by-thug, economic collapse, and cholera epidemic, is far more serious. We remain in constant contact with our libertarian socialist comrades there, but we fear that with the opposition so crippled, the only “solution” will be a palace coup against Robert Mugabe by his own army, a result that will hardly express the will of the Zimbabwean people.

9. ZACF is one of few modern anarchist organizations which are based on the positions of “Makhno-Arshinov’s Platform”. What is it concerned with?

The ZACF views the Platform as an inspiration and a call to more effective action, but not as some sort of Bible of the anarchist movement. When it was originally written, its title was Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists: Draft, which shows that it was intended as a discussion document and not as a blueprint. The argument that subsequently broke out in the movement between supporters of the Platform (Arshinov, Makhno etc), critics (Malatesta, Rocker etc) and opponents (Voline, Faure etc) was party driven by a failure to understand that the core ideas of the Platform – that anarchists had to be tightly organized in groups based on agreed methods in order to succeed – were simply a repeat of Bakunin’s arguments from decades before that anarchists needed to work together as “invisible pilots” in order to encourage the masses towards their own liberation (this strategy clearly was behind the huge success of what we call the “second wave” of syndicalist movements from 1895-1923). Also, opponents of the Platform failed to admit that its lessons were drawn not only from the real life-and-death struggle of some 500,000 Makhnovists, but that its ideas were derived from the Draft Declaration of the (Makhnovist) Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine, adopted in 1919 at a mass congress of the Military-Revolutionary Soviet in 1919 and were not the dreams of a few leaders like Makhno. Therefore it represents the distillation of mass libertarian socialist working class experience. From the formation of the Workers’ Solidarity Federation in 1995, we have identified with these positive aspects of the Platform and today we align ourselves with the growing numbers of anarchist organizations that take inspiration from the Platform: the global anarchist-communist movement which mostly comes together in the project which represents 17 organisations in Latin America, North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australasia. However, today most of those organisations tend to call themselves anarchist-communist, or in Latin America, “especifista” (specific organisations), by which we mean not only the Bakuninist/Makhnovist legacy, but the strategy of having a specific anarchist organization working in amongst mass organisations of the working class.

10. The Nazis terror is still staying one of the most serious problems in the Post-Soviet area. Are there some racist or neo-fascist groups in South America Republic and how do you handle this problem?

With the roots of the apartheid regime firmly planted in pro-Nazi groups during World War II, South Africa developed from 1972 one of the most powerful neo-fascist organizations in the world, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB). The South African version of Nazism, called “Christian Nationalism,” has a strong Calvinist religious basis. The far-right was comprehensively defeated in 1994 with the “Battle of Bophuthatswana” and in the first democratic elections. They do still exist, however, and are a serious threat to progressive labour organizers and black people in general in the rural areas, such as our comrades in the Landless People’s Movement (there have been several instances of murder and torture by right-wingers of black people in rural communities). In addition, some of the right has been able to survive within the higher echelons of South African society by striking deals with the ANC. One of the strangest instances of this is the 1996 Mosagrius Agreement signed between Mandela and Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano in which white right-wing South African farmers would be allowed to expropriate black peasants in Mozambique, much in the manner the British had forced the Zulus into penury as labour tenants by enclosing their land in the 19th Century. And this brings me to the real threat we face on a daily basis at the hands of thugs, often armed: the threat against anarchists, left communists and the radical social movements in general largely comes from reactionary elements within the ANC itself, especially its right-populist Youth League. Several of our (anarchist) projects in the townships have been destroyed by armed ANC thugs (who are backed by the police). So, no, we never find ourselves fighting neo-Nazis. The real danger comes from the ANC: don’t forget that many ANC strongholds were created by the deliberate mass murder of members of competing black political parties like Azapo and the PAC.

11. In contrast to the past, modern anarchist movements and groups got less popular with worker class. How do you think is to explain it? What should be done to change it?

Our argument is that anarchism became a world-shaking movement of the working class, peasantry and poor from the 1860s to 1920s precisely because it was totally submerged in those layers of the people. However, this does not mean that anarchists have no defined identity, tactics or strategy: Bakunin’s original doctrine of having a specific anarchist organization acting as “invisible pilots” of the masses by working among them is as true today as it was more than a century ago. We ourselves have been informed by the “social insertion” practices of our Brazilian comrades – that we work directly in poor communities – but at the same time, we maintain a specific organization with its own identity that continually argues for anarchist ideas of class autonomy among the oppressed of our region. This is “dual organisationism” which says that mass organizations (including syndicalist unions) are formations uniting the larges possible number of the oppressed purely on the basis of their class and the fact that they face a common enemy. But it is obvious that the oppressed have reactionary as well as oppressive ideas and practices, and are often confused by (and lured by) the false promises of capitalism, so there is a need for a specific anarchist-communist organisation to work within the masses of the class organisations to help keep the real issues and real options clear. This is the only way, fighting daily alongside the wretched of the earth, that anarchism will reclaim its status as the primary working-class ideology and practice. Times have changed, of course: the old “working class battalions” of the large trade unions have disappeared as factories have been dismantled or been outsourced, but the class itself has not disappeared, nor has the reality of oppression and exploitation (despite what the “post-anarchists” claim). Trade unions may be shrinking, but wage-slavery is expanding, so our place is at the coalface.

12. Does your organization keep in touch with other anarchist movements in Africa: Zambian Anarchist and Workers’ Solidarity Movement (AWSM) anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in Nigeria, in Senegal Anarchist Party for Individual Freedoms in the Republic (1981), Sierra Leone Industrial Workers of the World (1996), South Africa Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (1992) Workers’ Solidarity Federation (1995) the ZACF (2003) and others, Zambia Anarchist Workers’ Solidarity Movement (1998), and Swaziland ZACF (2003)?

Africa is an exceptionally difficult continent on which to organise syndicalist trade unions and anarchist political organizations in part because of the tiny working classes in most countries, the dominance of militarized ethnic comprador elites, and poor communications. Few studies have been done into anarchism on the continent, so we do not know what became of Anarchist Party for Individual Freedoms in the Republic (PALIR) in Senegal, but we do know that the IWW section in Sierra Leone, led by Bright Chiredzi and supported by the IWW and IWA (USA), organized some 3,000 workers, mostly on the diamond fields, but that the movement was smashed by the civil war which started in 1997 and that Chiredzi and others fled into exile in countries like Ghana. The IWA-affiliated Awareness League in Nigeria was ironically strongest under the Sani Abacha dictatorship when its membership peaked at about 1,000 distributed in 15 different Nigerian states, among students, white-collar workers and oil workers. We used to have contact with the Awareness League’s Sam Mbah (co-author of the book African Anarchism), but have since lost contact. It is believed there may still be cells of the League in operation in the city of Enugu, but the organization has clearly declined. The AWSM of Zambia was founded after I visited the country as a WSF delegate in August 1998, but it only consisted of about 12 activists and its main militant Wilstar Choongo died after an illness the following year so the movement appears to have collapsed. I will, however, be visiting Zambia in the next two weeks to re-establish old contacts – as well as make contacts with the COCIDIRAIL syndicalist railway workers in Mali (linked to the CNT-France) and whatever activists I can find in Uganda. The South African movements mentioned – the ARM and WSF – are both fore-runners of today’s ZACF, as was the Durban Anarchist Federation (of which I used to be a member in the early 1990s and out of which came today’s Zabalaza Books, originally called Land & Freedom). The ZAC Federation, founded in 2003, had a branch in Swaziland until we restructured at the end of last year as the ZAC Front, but we maintain contacts with our Swazi comrades as well as with new anarchists fighting the Zimbabwean dictatorship. We maintain relations with Talal Cockar of the anarchist Wiyathi Collective in Kenya, and with Brahim Fillali of the former CLER in Morocco. But outside South Africa, the anarchist movement in English-speaking Africa is very weak. There is, however, a growing rank-and-file syndicalist movement in French-speaking Africa linked to the CNT-France (sometimes known as CNT-Vignoles after its headquarters in Paris). Last year, the CNT-F ran the successful i07 congress at which the following African syndicalist organizations were present: Algeria (Snapap), Morocco (UMT, CDT, ANDCN, poor peasants, FDR-UDT), Tunisia (CGTT), Guinea (CNTG, CEK, SLEG), Ivory Coast (CGT-CI), Djibouti (UDT), Congo DRC (LO), Mali (Cocidirail, Sytrail), Benin (FNEB, UNSTB, AIPR), Burkina Faso (UGEB, CGT-B, AEBF) and Madagascar (Fisemare). The CNT-F publishes Afrique sans chaines (Africa Without Chains), the sister publication to our own journal Zabalaza.

13. The history of movement developing is totally unknown in Russia, can you tell us about the history of anarchist movement in Africa? Especially about the following groups and movements:

a) Mau Mau revolution, Kikuyu people.

As I have argued in my article Nostalgic Tribalism or Revolutionary Transformation?: a critique of Anarchism & Revolution in Black Africa, while it is useful to show that there are certain libertarian and horizontalist elements in many African tribal societies, including the Kukuyu, the dominant tribe in Kenya, it is not true in the ZACF’s view – as argued by other libertarian socialists and anarchists – that these tribes were essentially “anarchic” societies. We argue this because anarchism is a modernist universalist movement that arose out of the trade unions in the First International and usually had an industrial base, so it is not to be found in primitive narrow pre-industrial settings. So we do not believe the Mau Mau, the violent indigenous resistance to British rule in Kenya between 1950 and 1962 was anarchist in any real sense. Rather it was a largely ethnic-based liberation struggle with very confused politics. This is not to say that anarchists can’t build on libertarian social tendencies within various tribal settings, but as our comrade Brahim Fillali of Morocco has argued, a tribal society, no matter how libertarian, has natural limitations because they are usually “a patriarchal society, in which mythology and religion dominate the cultural field. This is what characterises agricultural and semi-nomadic societies. This is federalism local or regional and not international. It is not an achievement of a societal project; it can not be. In its development it cannot exceed the ceiling of the tribe, its limits. It’s a tribal federalism in an agricultural and semi-nomadic society.”

b) People’s Free University and the International League of Cigarette Workers and Millers of Cairo (Egypt), and the Revolutionary League (Mozambique) in the early 1900s, the Industrial Workers of Africa and Indian Workers’ Industrial Union (South Africa) in the late 1910s/early1920s, and the Algerian section of the General Confederation of Labour – Revolutionary Syndicalist in the 1930s).

Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and to a lesser extent Tunisia had significant minority populations of French, Spanish and Italian anarchists by the end of the 19th Century. According to a study by our comrade Dr Lucien van der Walt, “The Italian-language Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicles), published in Vermont, United States from 1903 onwards by Luigi Galleani, reached ‘far beyond the confines of the United States’ including North Africa and Egypt. Italian radicals played a key role in founding the labour movement in Egypt, forming a People’s Free University in Alexandria in 1901, and activists associated with the University and Le Tribune Libre appear to have been amongst those involved in founding ‘international’ unions in early 20th Century Egypt. Most notable was the International League of Cigarette Workers and Millers of Cairo in 1908, ‘open to workers of all nationalities, Egyptians as well as foreigners,’ and apparently including ‘production workers other than the skilled rollers.’ Other examples of integrated labour solidarity existed. A meeting in 1901 in support of striking garment workers (including Egyptians) in a Cairo café included a speech by the president of the cigarette rollers’ craft union, and a reading of the workers’ demands in Arabic as well as Greek, Italian, Hebrew and Austrian. This was followed by a march of 3,000 chanting workers through Cairo.”

“Algeria, under French rule from 1830, was also a site of anarchist activity. A range of anarchist journals were published in Algiers at the end of the 19th Century, including L’Action Revolutionnaire (Revolutionary Action) (1887), Le Tocsin (The Alarm) (1890), Le Libertaire (The Libertarian) (1892) and La Marmite Sociale (1893).” According to Anderson, by 1894, Jean Grave’s influential anarchist-communist La Révolte had subscribers as far afield as Algeria and Egypt, while Emile Pouget’s anarcho-insurrectionist Le Pére Peinard (The Toiling Father) had subscribers in Algeria and Tunisia, the latter a former Ottoman province that became a French protectorate in 1881. Van der Walt goes on to note: “Fernand Pelloutier’s 1895 Anarchism and the Workers Unions … mentions that anarchists had become increasingly active in “many trade unions”, including those in Algiers. The anarchist Victor Barroucand published a daily called Les Nouvelles (The New) in Algiers in the first decade of the 20th Century. The syndicalist successor of the French CGT, the… CGT-SR… apparently operated a section in Algeria. Like the other French anarchist organisations, the CGT-SR opposed French colonialism. Thus, a joint statement by the Anarchist Union, the CGT-SR, and the Association of Anarchist Federations denounced the centenary of the French occupation of Algeria in 1930, arguing ‘Civilisation? Progress? We say: murder!’ A prominent militant in the CGT-SR’s Algerian section, as well as in the Anarchist Union was Saïl Mohamed (1894-1953), an Algerian anarchist active in the anarchist movement from the 1910s until his death in 1953. Although resident in Paris and Aulnay-sous-bois for much of his life, Mohamed was a founder of organisations such as the Association for the Rights of the Indigenous Algerians and the Anarchist Group of the Indigenous Algerians with Sliman Kiouane in 1923, organised meetings on the colonial exploitation of North Africans in both French and Arabic, and was the secretary of the anarchist ‘Algerian Defence Committee Against the Provocations of the Centenary’ in 1929. Saïl Mohamed was also editor of the North African edition of the anarchist periodical Terre Libre, all copies of which have, sadly, been lost. Jailed on numerous occasions, Saïl Mohamed was also a contributor to anarchist journals such as L’Eveil Social, and La Voix Libertaire (The Libertarian Voice), often on the Algerian question, and fought as a volunteer in the international section of the Durruti Column … in the Spanish Revolution. The international group of the Durruti column included “400 Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Britishers, Moroccans and Americans.”

“Portuguese anarchists also played a role in disseminating libertarian ideas in Africa. Some idea of the scope of activities may be gleaned from a report in early 1936, prepared by the FAI-affiliated Anarchist Federation of Portugal. The report noted that, ‘The Portuguese Federation entered a new phase in March 1935.’ It ‘established relations with nuclei of comrades in Spain, France, Brazil, Argentina, the United States, French Africa, Portuguese Africa, and Morocco,’ and was publishing ‘our journal, Rebellion, although not regularly, because we do not have sufficient funds.’ This was ‘distributed inside Portugal, as well as in the Azores, Africa and Oceania.’”

“Although the Spanish state used territories in North Africa for penal purposes, North Africa was also a haven for anarchist militants and refugees. Julio Sánchez Ortiz draws attention to the role played by Tangiers in Morocco, which was an international protectorate in the early 20th Century. While the history of anarchism in this city is not well documnted, Ortiz cites the example of his grandfather, José Sánchez Santos. Born to a poor family in Cadiz, Spain, and orphaned at an early age, Santos was sponsored by a wealthy aunt and received a good education. At the age of 18, he abandoned his studies, and went to work as a typographer in Seville. To avoid military conscription against the Riff forces in Morocco, he went to Tangiers around 1922. In 1926, he joined the CNT, which seems to have had an organised presence in Tangiers at the time. In the 1930s, Santos married and opened a print shop, and worked as a typographer on El Porvenir (The Future), a republican paper. He contributed several articles from 1936 to 1937. These attacked the fascist Franco forces – which used Morocco as launching point – and opposed their appeals for support. He appears to have lost his job with El Porvenir in mid-1936 – because of his CNT links. Santos later worked on another republican paper, Democracia (Democracy), to which he did not contribute.

After the defeat of the Spanish Revolution, and with the outbreak of the Second World War, Tangiers came under the control of the dictator Franco, and there was a massive crackdown on the left and labour in that city. Many fled to Oran in Algeria, but Santos stayed, was arrested in March 1941, and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He refused an offer of clemency in return for renouncing his beliefs, and was in prison until 1948. He returned to Tangiers to work on the Diario de España (Newspaper of Spain) and later on Despeche Marroquine (Moroccan Despatches), but was fired for organising a strike in the workshops. He died in 1952 at the age of 50 of a brain tumour. Exiled Italian anarchists, like Celso Persici, were involved in the anti-Nazi resistance in Morocco during the Second World War, as Vertice Persici notes. According to José Peirats, Roque Santamaria Cortiguera represented exile organisations from North Africa at a 1947 intercontinental congress of the exile Spanish anarchist movement in Toulouse, France. This was the same year that the newly-founded Anarchist International Relations Commission (CRIA) was in correspondence with a North African Libertarian Movement with sections in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. This organisation was composed of Spanish exiles, French and French anarchists resident in North Africa. However the Algerian War (1954-1962) seems to have put paid to this organization.

c) Zambian Anarchist and Workers’ Solidarity Movement (AWSM), anarcho-syndicalist Awareness League in Nigeria, in Senegal Anarchist Party for Individual Freedoms in the Republic (1981), Sierra Leone Industrial Workers of the World (1996), South Africa Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (1992), Workers’ Solidarity Federation (1995), the ZACF (2003), and others, Zambia Anarchist Workers’ Solidarity Movement (1998), and Swaziland (ZACF, 2003).

I have already addressed these questions in point 12.

14. What do you think are special features of anarchist and revolutionary movements in Africa? Which social groups were the libertarian ideas popular with (Mau Mau revolution, Kikuyu people)? The history of partisan war of Kikuyu people against British colonialists is practically unknown in Russia, could you tell about this? How were rebels organized and how did the act? What about their old traditions of living without building up a state?

Again, I have answered this question relating to the Mau Mau earlier. We can’t, like the primitivists, confuse pre-capitalist tribal societies (which have many unfree elements such as chauvinism) with the anarchist movement which arose in a modern industrial setting in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia in particular. Anarchism has always been a universalist practice, but there has been a range of positions on the national liberation question in the colonial and ex-colonial world. These are explored in depth by a new book Anarchism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World: the praxis of national liberation, class struggle and social revolution, 1880-1940, edited by Lucien van der Walt (one of our close comrades) and Steve Hirsch. The book comprises chapters by scholars, all structured (to some extent) around issues of a) the role of transnational connections in the movement b) internationalist ideas and aspirations c) class politics d) responses to racial and national divisions in the popular classes and e) responses to imperialism. The following areas/ regions/ countries are covered: Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, China, Egypt, Ireland, Korea, Peru, Ukraine, and South Africa. The book shows that while there were different responses to the “national” question (including questions of race and culture), anarchism had an overarching universal ethic. If there are any “special features” of anarchist movements in Africa such as our own, they relate to the ways in which we stress our line-of-descent from the early syndicalist movement and the rank-and-file popular struggles of the 1970s/80s), our location within the grassroots communist tradition (which still carries weight in South Africa whereas “anarchism” is not well known), our emphasis on radical racial equality, and our focus on organizing within communities of the poor. However, anarchists in the United States, anarchists would do much the same, emphasizing where local history intersects with anarchist ideas, and organizing in local poor communities, so it would be wrong to suggest there is some ethnic or geographical element that makes us different. The only difference may be that we work within a tiny anarchist movement, unlike other countries with large movements such as yourselves. This tends to see us working alongside Maoists, Bolsheviks, autonomists and Trotskyists in a non-sectarian manner – yet not diluting our anarchist politics.

15. Let’s speak about today. There is a financial crisis of the capitalist economy. How did it influence the worker life in South African Republic (what about unemployment, dismissal, wage cuts)? What do you think is the reason for modern economical problems and crisis?

South Africa’s economy is not as sheltered from the global crisis as our monopolistic banking sector pretends. There have been significant lob layoffs in mining and in manufacturing already, although it looks like interest rates are starting to come down – but that is probably too late for those who face losing their jobs and houses. One of the things we fear is that the new emergent black middle class will be forced back into the working class – and this will drive them politically to the extreme right as occurred in Germany in the global economic crisis of the 1930s. On the global level, we have made our perspectives on this clear with a statement, initiated by the ZACF, on the current crisis. It reads as follows:

See here

16. There will be world championship for football in South African Republic in 2010. What do you think about it? Are many sports centers going to be built? Does it influence the financing of social issues (education, medical care etc.). What do the people of South African Republic think about the championship, are there some protests?

This is our recent analysis of 2010:

See here

17. What are the latest news and events (actions, strikes)?

We have been exceptionally active this year, being involved in the Anti-Privatisation Forum (defending the position of some social movements not to vote in the 2009 Election), with the Committee Against Xenophobia (to shut down the notorious Lindela deportation centre, and resist the spread of anti-foreigner chauvinism in the townships which reared its ugly head this year), and with a range of other struggles around gay rights, ecology, the interest rate hikes and general economic crisis, etc. However we are now entering the holiday season, so many activities will be slowing down or put on hold until the new year. This weekend (December 13 & 14), we hold the ZACF’s annual Congress at which all our major strategic decisions are made and I will submit a report on this interview for discussion of our relations with AD.

Thanks for answering our questions!

It is a pleasure, and we hope to have many more interactions with AD in future – and we invite you to get involved in the international project!