Whose State is it; and What is its Role? [Zabalaza 13 vers.]

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by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)

The StateThe South African state’s oppression of the ongoing wildcat strikes, including at Marikana, is clearly deepening. Over the last few weeks troops were deployed in the platinum belt in what was a barefaced bid by the state to stop the protests by striking workers, and essentially force them back to work. As part of this, residents at the informal settlement at Marikana, and those surrounding Amplats, have been subjected to a renewed assault by the police. Many residents in the process were shot with rubber bullets; their homes were raided; they were threatened; and tear gas, at times, lay over these settlements like a chemical fog. In practice, a curfew has also been put in place and anyone gathering in a group on the streets has been pounced upon by the men in blue. Threats have also emerged from the Cabinet that a crackdown on any ‘trouble-makers’, that are supposedly inciting workers to continue to strike, is going to happen. New arrests have also taken place at Marikana and even workers who are witnesses in the state’s Commission of Inquiry into the events at Lonmin have been arrested and harassed. A number of strikers at Amplats too have been killed or injured by the police.

Many left groups, amongst them the Democratic Left Front (DLF), have rightfully condemned this violence and the accompanying threats that have been made by the state. They have highlighted how the state is protecting investors in the platinum belt, and they have lamented how the ANC government is acting in a similar way to the apartheid government. While we should be disgusted by the actions of the state, it would, however, be a mistake to be surprised by them.

The reality is that no state is truly democratic, including the one headed by the ANC. Even in a parliamentary system, most high ranking state officials, including generals, director-generals, police commissioners, state legal advisors, judges and magistrates, are never elected by the people. Most of their decisions, policies and actions will never be known by the vast majority of people – the top down structure of the state ensures this. Linked to this, parliamentarians make and pass laws; not the mass of people. In fact, parliamentarians are in no way truly accountable to voters (except for 5 minutes every 5 years). They are not mandated nor are they recallable. They – along with permanent state bureaucrats – have power; not the people. As such, no state, including the ANC headed one, is participatory; but rather designed to ensure and carry out minority rule. Likewise, the state’s main function is not to protect workers, but to ensure rule over them. While the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin rightfully pointed out that it is better to live under a parliamentary system than a pure dictatorship, because it allows for some rights, he also pointed out that all states are inherently oppressive towards the working class (workers and the unemployed).

The outright and ongoing violence of the state in the platinum sector, on other mines and at Marikana, therefore, lays bare the true nature of the state; and the role it plays in protecting the ruling class (made up of capitalists and high ranking state officials). It is not a regrettable accident that the state has been protecting the mines of huge corporations, like Lonmin and Amplats, and that it has been willing to use such violence to do so. The state’s, including the ANC headed one, main function is to further and protect the interests of the elite and their continued class rule. For capitalism to function, and for class rule to be maintained, a state is vital. It is central to protecting and maintaining the very material basis on which the power of the elite rests and is derived. Without a state, which claims a monopoly on violence within a given territory, an elite could not rule nor could it claim or hold onto the ownership of wealth and the means of production. In fact, the state as an entity is the defender of the class system and a centralised body that necessarily concentrates power in the hands of the ruling classes; in both respects, it is the means through which a minority rules a majority. Through its executive, legislative, judiciary, military and policing arms the state always protects the minority ownership of property (whether private or state-owned property), and tries to undermine, crush or co-opt any threat posed to the continuing exploitation and oppression of the working class. As the wildcat strikes on the mines show that includes shooting rubber bullets, tear gassing people, raiding houses, arresting people, threatening people, humiliating people, torturing people, and even killing those that the state and capital deem as posing a threat.

The post-apartheid state in South Africa too has played an instrumental role in maintaining the situation whereby poorly paid black workers remain the basis of the massive profits of the mining companies, including Lonmin and Amplats. In South Africa, black workers have historically been subjected to national oppression; and this has meant that they were systematically turned into a source of extremely cheap labour and subjected to institutionalised racism. The history of very cheap black labour enabled white capitalists – traditionally centred around the mining houses – to make huge profits, and it is on this basis that they became very wealthy. The post-apartheid state has continued to protect and entrench this situation; it has maintained an entire legal and policing system that is aimed at protecting the wealth and property of companies, like Lonmin, and prevent the working class – and specifically the majority of black people who make up the bulk of the working class – from their rightful access to this wealth and property in South Africa.

State managers, who comprise a section of the ruling class, based on their control of the means of coercion, administration and sometimes production, also have their own reasons for wanting to protect the minority ownership of property: because their own privileged positions rest on exploitation and oppression. This is why the post-apartheid state in South Africa has been so willing to protect companies like Lonmin: the pay checks of high ranking state officials, mostly tied to the ANC, depend on it. The lifestyles of people like Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale, Pravin Gordhan, Trevor Manuel and rest of their cohorts in the Cabinet, therefore, is based on the continued exploitation of the working class, and the black section in particular. These state officials are consequently parasites that live off the back of workers – workers who have created all wealth in society!

Since 1994 the entire working class has fallen deeper into poverty, including sections of the white working class, as inequality has grown between the ruling class and working class as a whole. It has, however, been the black working class that has been worst affected. This is because the state has implemented extreme policies, in the form of neo-liberalism, to help capitalists increase their profits even further. While it is clear that the black working class remains nationally oppressed, the situation for the small black elite, nevertheless, is very different. Some, through their high positions in the state have joined the old white capitalists in the ruling class. Others, have also joined the ruling class, but through the route of Black Economic Empowerment. This can be seen in the fact that all of the top ANC linked black families – the Mandelas, Sisulus, Thambos, Ramaposas, Zumas, Moosas etc. – have shares in or sit on the boards of the largest companies in South Africa, including mining companies. In fact, Ramaphosa not only owns shares in, and is on the board of, Lonmin; but a number of functions at Marikana and other platinum are outsourced to various companies he has interests in. Patrice Motsepe too has shares in the largest platinum mine in the world, Modikwa, through African Rainbow Minerals. The wealth and power of this black section of the ruling class in South Africa too rests on the exploitation of the working class as a whole, but mostly and specifically on the exploitation and continued national oppression of the black working class. Hence, this is the reason why the black section of the ruling class, and the state its members are part of, has been so willing to take action – whether during platinum strikes, Marikana, or other strikes in general – against the black working class.

Bakunin foresaw the possibility of such a situation arising in cases where supposed national liberation was based on capturing state power. Bakunin said that the “statist path” was “entirely ruinous for the great masses of the people” because it did not abolish class power but simply changed the make-up and faces of the ruling class. Due to the centralised nature of states, only a few can rule: a majority of people can never be involved in decision making under a state system. Consequently, he stated that if the national liberation struggle was carried out with “ambitious intent to set up a powerful state”, or if “it is carried out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a privileged class” it would become a “retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement”. He also noted that when former liberation fighters or activists enter into the state, because of its top down structure, they become rulers and get used to the privileges their new positions entail, and they come to “no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people”. History has proven his insights to be accurate, former liberation activists in South Africa rule in their own interests and that of their class: they have joined white capitalists in the ruling class; they enjoy the opulent lifestyles their positions carry; they flaunt their wealth; and they exploit and oppress the vast majority of the people in the country, including in the mining sector.

The state we must also, nevertheless, realise can’t simply rule by force alone – force is in the end the central pillar upon which its power rests – but for its own stability and that of capital, it also tries to rule through consent and co-option. To do so, it pretends to be a benefactor of all; while in reality facilitating, entrenching and perpetrating exploitation and oppression. Certainly, most states today do have laws protecting basic rights, and some provide welfare – including the South African state. Such laws and welfare, however, have been won through massive struggles by the oppressed and exploited, and that should never be forgotten; states simply did not grant these rights without a fight. But even where such laws exist, and sometimes they exist only paper, the state tries to make propaganda out of them. It is this duplicity that led the anarchist Errico Malatesta to argue that the state: “cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of the privileged people if it does not appear to demand respect for human life, it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all”. As struggles go forward, including in the mining sector, it is important that the working class is not duped by the duplicity.

Certainly we must raise demands from the parasitic state and bosses. The state and bosses have stolen from the working class, and it is high time the working class got some of this back. A fight must be taken to the state and corporations, and the working class must mobilise to have its demands met. As part of this, we must, however, have no illusions about what the state is; who it is controlled by; who it protects; and what its function is. As such, the working class must mobilise outside of and against the state and force it to give back what has been stolen, but it should not have illusions in doing so that the state protects workers or the unemployed.

It is vital for the future of working class struggles that mineworkers in South Africa win their demands. If they do, it could re-invigorate workers struggles across the country, which have been on a relative decline since the late 1980s. In fact, workers need to win better wages and safer working conditions; and they – as the DLF pointed out – need to protect the right to strike. In the long run though, and if inequality and injustice are to be ended, the working class needs to take power and run society through its own structures. This means confronting the state, which is not theirs. This too means abandoning faith in the state to nationalise companies, which would mean ownership and control by a state bureaucracy; not the working class. Indeed, calling for nationalisation builds illusions in a higher power: the state; and it does not show faith in, or build the power of, the working class itself. The state is not a lesser evil to capitalists; rather they are part and parcel of the same system. Workers need, and Marikana highlights this, to use struggles for reforms, such as winning higher wages, to build towards seizing the land, mines, factories and other workplaces themselves so that they can run them through worker self-management for the benefit of everyone in society. Only when the working class has done this, and runs society through its own structures and not a state, will the power of the ruling class, the power of its violent state, and inequality be broken, smashed and ended.

Central to this too has to be the ending of the national oppression, and accompanying racism, that the black working class is subjected to. Until this is ended, true freedom and equality for both the black and white working class will not be achieved. As has long been pointed out by anarchist-communists, however, if a just, free and equal society is to be achieved the means and the ends in struggle have to be as similar as possible. Hence, if we want a future that is genuinely equal and non-racist, our struggle to end the national oppression of the black working class, and the accompanying capitalism and racism in South Africa, must be based firmly on the ideals of non-racialism. Only once racism, injustice and inequality – along with the state and capitalist system that generate and feed into these evils – have ended will the Marikana massacres and other killings in the name of profit and cheap labour be part of history.