Movements for ecological awareness and protection, such as those against climate change, are making important contributions to social understanding regarding the effects of industrial production and consumption. However, many arguments and analyses against ecological destruction and for environmental protection are seemingly not based on a class analysis and not informed by the lives of working class people. Thus many of these analyses do not question the systems of domination that lie at the root of social inequality and ecological devastation: capitalism and the nation state.
The son of a Wesleyan minister, Thibedi William Thibedi was one of the most important black African revolutionary syndicalists in South African history. Thibedi was a leading figure in the International Socialist League (ISL) and in the Industrial Workers of Africa syndicalist union. Later he played an important role in the early Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), particularly its union work. He was active in all of the key black unions from the 1910s to the 1940s.
Published in 2011 by Pambazuka Press, My Dream is to be Bold: Our Work to End Patriarchy is the welcome result of the work of Feminist Alternatives (FemAL), “a group of feminist activists in South Africa working against sexism and oppression”. The book provides insight into the lives, struggles and ideas of nineteen feminist activists based in South Africa, who organised “to come together over two days and reflect on women’s organising in the context of a patriarchal, neoliberal social and world order”. The book itself is a collection of writings by the nineteen activists, developed during a publication workshop held in Cape Town in June of 2009. The workshop, organised by FemAL, sought “to build collective analysis through speaking to other women, comparing experience, collectively trying to understand that experience and theorise it”.
Beginning in December 2010, a series of uprisings in Arab countries brought hope to workers and the poor – not only in the Middle East but throughout the world. Dictators have been toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and struggles continue throughout the region.
For anarchists the question has always been: will the struggles stop with overthrowing dictators, an important victory but one that cannot end oppression? Or will it go further? Can a mass movement continue the struggle until imperialism, exploitation, capitalism and the state itself are finally destroyed?
This could to some extent tell my situation when I was inside the “liberated territories” of Syria, that is the territories controlled by the free army, the armed forces of the Syrian opposition. But still it is not the whole truth. It is true that not all the free army militants are devoted jihadists, although most of them are thinking, or telling, that what they are practicing is “Jihad”. The truth is there are a lot of ordinary people, even thieves, etc. among them, as in any armed struggle. My first and lasting impression about the current situation in Syria is that there is no longer a popular revolution going on there – what is taking place there is an armed revolution that could degenerate simply into a civil conflict. The Syrian people, which showed unprecedented courage and determination in the first few months of the revolution to defy Assad’s regime despite all its brutality, is really exhausted now. 19 long months of fierce repression, and lately, of hunger, scarce resources of all types, and continuous bombardment of the regime’s army, weaken its spirit.
South Africa is an extremely unequal society. The post-apartheid dispensation has seen the situation of the majority poor black working class worsening (characterised by increasing unemployment, a lack of adequate and affordable service delivery and exacerbated by rampant inflation). On the other side of the coin, a few elites have ‘made it’ in capitalism and through the state, often through the elitist forms of ‘Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE)’ and corruption. Inequality in South Africa is easily illustrated when one observes the massive disparities in development, service delivery and wealth between townships and rural areas on the one hand, and suburban areas on the other.
Nationally, South Africa faces a massive backlog in service delivery. Some 203 out of 284 South African municipalities are unable to provide sanitation to 40% of their residents. This means that in 71% of municipal areas, most people do not have flush toilets. A staggering 887 329 people still use the bucket system and 5 million people, or 10.5% of the population, have no access to sanitation at all. It is perfectly understandable, then, why working class and poor people take to the streets in protest against poor and costly service delivery; it is these same people that are impacted most by insufficient and costly service delivery, corruption and municipal mismanagement.
This article aims to explain, from an anarchist / syndicalist perspective, the rapid rise and fall of Julius Malema, the controversial and corrupt multi-millionaire leader of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) “youth league” (ANCYL). It is demonstrated that Malema’s posturing as radical champion of the black poor was simply a means to an end: rising higher in the ranks of the ANC, in order to access bigger state tenders and higher paying political office.
The larger political implications of the Malema affair are also considered, especially the role of the ANC – as a vehicle for the accumulation of wealth and power by the rising black elite, which is centred on the state. It is not a party that serves, or can serve, the working class; on the contrary, it is the site of bitter struggles for state contracts and office between rival elite factions. It is a bureaucratic-bourgeois-black nationalist party, lodged in the state.
It has become common knowledge that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. Only 41% of people of working age are employed, while half of the people employed earn less than R 2 500 a month . Worse still, inequality is growing with wages as a share of the national income dropping from 50% in 1994 to 45% in 2009; while profit as a share of national income has soared from 40% to 45% . In real terms this means that while a minority live well – and have luxurious houses, swimming pools, businesses, investments, and cushy positions in the state – the majority of people live in shacks or tiny breezeblock dwellings, are surrounded by squalor, and struggle on a daily basis to acquire the basics of life like food and water. Likewise, while bosses, state managers, and politicians – both black and white – get to strut around in fancy suits barking orders; the majority of people are expected to bow down, do as told, and swallow their pride.
The 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.
“To assure the labourers that they will be able to establish socialism … [through] government machinery, changing only the persons who manage it… is… a colossal historical blunder which borders upon crime…”
“Modern Science and Anarchism”
Privatisation – the transfer of functions and industry to the private sector – is widely and correctly rejected on the left and in the working class. Privatisation leads only to higher prices, less and worse jobs, and worse services. Given this, some view nationalisation – the transfer of economic resources (e.g. mines, banks, and factories) to state ownership and control – as a rallying cry for a socialist alternative. As the supposedly pro-working class alternative, this cry has resounded in sections of the SA Communist Party (SACP), in the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), in the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) membership, and on the independent Trotskyite and social democratic left.
This article argues that nationalisation has never removed capitalism, nor led to socialism, and it certainly does not have a demonstrable record of consistently improving wages, jobs, rights and safety. Nationalisation, rather than promote “workers’ control” or companies’ accountability to the public, has routinely meant top-down management, union-bashing, bad services and bad conditions.