Democratic Confederalism and Movement Building in South Africa

The ongoing capitalist crisis, and the impacts of COVID19, have made it clear that the capitalist and state system we live under is neither efficient nor just. Inequality has hit record levels and a small elite has more wealth than ever, while the very basics – such as a decent healthcare, water, housing, sanitation, food and electricity – cannot be effectively financed, run nor delivered. Politicians in every state abuse their power too and corruption is rife, only its severity varies. Parliamentary democracy is largely hollow with a majority of people having no real political power. The oppression of women and people of colour continues unabated and imperialism deepens everyday. Due to the ever-expanding nature of capitalism the ecology is on the verge of collapse. It is clear a movement for change and an alternative to capitalism and the state system is needed.

One alternative that is proving to be viable in large parts of the Kurdish majority areas of the Middle East is Democratic Confederalism. In South Africa there is much we can learn, adopt and adapt from Democratic Confederalism for local movement building.
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What is authoritarian populism and why should it be combated?

The rise of an authoritarian populist politics, which presents itself as against the “Establishment,”” for the “common” people and “anti-globalisation,” is happening worldwide — and there are dangerous signs in South Africa. The populist upsurge sees voters reject big, established parties that embraced neo-liberalism after the economic crisis of 2007, in the context of a retreating working class and left.  The author argues that the solution is to build from below for a new society beyond the state, class rule and capitalism based on self-management and production for need.
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Modes of politics at a distance from the state: A critical assessment

Graphic: Lucien van der Walt, 2018, “What are we Fighting For? Possibilities for Decent Work, Unions and Rights in Africa“The crisis of the statist politics that dominated working-class politics — social democracy, Marxism-Leninism, and anti-imperialist nationalism — and the rise of neoliberalism, has aided the rediscovery of society-centred, anti-capitalist forms of bottom-up change “at a distance” from the state.

This article critically assess the three main modes of “at a distance” politics: “outside-but-with” the state, which combines using the state with popular movements;  “outside-and-despite” the state, aiming at disintegrating the system by building alternatives in its cracks; and “outside-and-against” the state, associated with anarchism/ syndicalism, rejects the state for building autonomous working class counter-power that can resist, then defeat, state and capital. While each mode has limits, the anarchist/ syndicalist approach is arguably the most convincing, and its implications are serious. And it directs militants to work within the mass movements of the popular classes.

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The relevance of the ICU of Africa for modern day unions and liberation movements

ICU meeting July 1929, South Africa

The history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), formed in South Africa in 1919, is replete with lessons for today’s movements. The ICU, which also spread into neighbouring colonies like Basutoland (now Lesotho), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Southwest Africa (now Namibia) was by far the largest protest movement and organisation of black African and Coloured people of its time. Influenced by a range of ideas, including revolutionary syndicalism, the ICU had both amazing strengths and spectacular failings. This piece explains.

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Education for revolution: Anarcho-syndicalist pedagogy for South Africa

The roots and principles of anarchosyndicalism are worth revisiting for the practice of worker education in movements inspired by these principles and traditions. Emphasising the democratic practice, working class rooted, organic and critical nature of the pedagogy, the practice seeks to intersect employed and unemployed women and men. Practically, the education provides a platform for post-revolutionary practice of direct democracy at the point of production and, thus, naturally included practical skills such as trades, accounting and sciences.

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Moving from crisis in South Africa’s municipalities to building counter-power

Across South Africa, municipalities are in crisis. They are under-funded, anti-working class, anti-poor and anti-township, and riddled with corruption by elites. The working class is oppressed by the state – as well as the private bosses – and we say “Enough is Enough!”

We need to build an alternative: organs of counter-power, which can demand changes and lay the foundations for a deep redistribution of wealth and power to the mass of the people: the working class and poor.

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After the election dust settles: Class struggle, the Left and power

Twenty-five years into democracy the black working class majority in South Africa has not experienced any meaningful improvements in its conditions. The apartheid legacy of unequal education, healthcare and housing and the super-exploitation of black workers continues under the ANC and is perpetuated by the neoliberal policies it has imposed.

The only force capable of changing this situation is the working class locally and internationally. Yet to do so, struggles need to come together, new forms of organisation appropriate to the context are needed; and they need both to be infused with a revolutionary progressive politics and to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Outside the ANC alliance, there have indeed been many efforts to unite struggles – but these have largely failed to resonate with the working class in struggle and form the basis of a new movement. Nowhere is this more evident than with the newly-formed Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) – which got less than 25 000 votes in the national elections, despite the fact that the union that conceived it, Numsa, claims nearly 400 000 members.

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Rebuilding the workers’ movement for counter-power, justice and self-management: A contribution to the debate

We need a serious discussion on how to reform the unions – still the largest, formal, class-based organisations – and what role they can play in a radical redistribution of wealth and power to the popular classes. These are profoundly political questions. This article argues against reliance upon the state and parties, and for re-building unions (and other workers’ movements) to maximise direct action, autonomy, and education, laying the basis for direct workers’ control over production and the economy. This requires a serious, organised, non-sectarian project of democratic reform and political discussion that spans the unions, including a rank-and-file movement, disconnecting from the state in favour of working class counter-power and patient work to construct a counter-hegemonic apparatus.

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A case for anarchist class analysis: Why it works better than the Marxist approach and what it means for struggles (Leroy Maisiri)

The purpose of this pamphlet is giving a coherent, comparative analysis on how anarchists and Marxists view the concept of “class,” and the political implications of each approach. Class is the nucleus of both Marxism and anarchism; however the conceptualisation of class is different for both. In pointing out these differences, it is my hope that I will convincingly show how and why the anarchist conceptualisation of class is more comprehensive and more useful, providing a more holistic analysis of many related aspects of class, and a more practical political guide..

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A ZACF anarchist in the Landless People’s Movement, South Africa: Interview with Lekhetho Mtetwa

Lekhetho Mtetwa, ZACF

Lekhetho Mtetwa, a member of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) discusses his role in the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), formed in South  Africa in 2001. While the LPM was affiliated to Via Campesina, and linked to the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra: MST), its activities centred on urban squatter communities, rather than farm occupations or organising alternative agrarian systems. Then-living in a squatter camp in Protea South, Soweto, Mtetwa served as the local secretary; by 2013, this was the key LPM branch. Several attempts were made by political parties to capture Protea South LPM, using patronage and promises, leading to the eventual implosion of the branch. Mtetwa provides an essential analysis of the rise and fall of the LPM, and the role that anarchists can play in such social movements.

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