Will the Pan-Africanists support the
South African metalworkers?

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
February 15, 2015
RE: Irvin Jim's tour of the US

Will the Pan-Africanists support the South African metalworkers?

South African workers are presently one of the main forces at the forefront of the world working class movement. The last several years have seen repeated strike waves throughout South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of miners, metal workers, and other workers have been fighting against poverty and vicious repression, such as the infamous massacre of several dozen striking miners at Marikana in August 2012. Moreover, NUMSA, the National Union of  Metalworkers of South Africa, the biggest union in South Africa with a third of a million members, is also in the forefront of the fight against the new exploitation, exploitation under the name of former liberation organizations. NUMSA is  now trying to develop a better idea of socialism than the sham goal set forward by the exploiters who now call themselves socialist.

Irvin Jim is the General Secretary of NUMSA, and he made a brief speaking tour of the US in January. This acquainted a number of people with the class struggle that is heating up in South Africa. But it’s notable that quite a few forces that claim to be socialist and anti-apartheid have been silent about NUMSA. This includes the CPUSA, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Workers World Party, etc.

For that matter,  Detroit is a city with a historic connection to both the union movement and the black people's movement. It might have been expected that there would be intensive discussions in the Detroit left about NUMSA and the workers movement in South Africa. The celebrations of Martin Luther King Day in Detroit would, for instance, have been a natural place for discussion of support for the workers' struggle in South Africa. But what happened at the main left-wing commemoration of MLK Day? This year, like the year before, at the meeting organized by the MLK Day Committee, only literature from the Detroit Workers’ Voice talked about NUMSA and the upsurge in the workers’ movement in South Africa. We distributed hundreds of leaflets which not only supported the current anti-racist struggle in the US, but called for solidarity with South African workers.

One might have thought that at least the Pan-Africanists, who are one of the trends represented at such meetings, would be excited about South African workers being in the forefront of the world workers movement.  But one finds that groups such as the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Unification Party and the Pan-African News Wire have said nothing in their literature about Irvin Jim’s tour to the US or other recent news about NUMSA. The Pan-Africanists talk a lot about the major political leaders from the old days who espoused revolutionary or Marxist views. But what about support for the militant African workers of today?

The problem faced by the Pan-Africanists is that the South African workers movement is confronting the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. The ANC and SACP were part of the old movement against apartheid; and they came to power with the historic fall of the vicious system of apartheid. Yet the ANC and SACP have become the oppressors of the workers movement today. What happened?

Many activists and leaders of the ANC and SACP were heroes of the struggle against apartheid. But when the ANC came to power, it discarded the economic promises of the famous Freedom Charter. Instead, top ANC and SACP leaders sought positions in the big bourgeoisie that had grown up under apartheid, and many former militant leaders have become very rich indeed. Market fundamentalism in South Africa, as elsewhere, means riches for a few, and continuing poverty for the many. This sell-out was, in part, a result of the ANC and SACP having applauded for decades the bankrupt orientations promoted by the Soviet Communist Party. Even though the Soviet Union collapsed a few years before the fall of apartheid, the ANC continued to follow the oppressive practices that had been championed by the Soviet CP after it degenerated into a new ruling class in Russia.

The Pan-Africanists have an idealized view of the old parties and liberation movements that fought against colonialism in Africa  and that ruled some of the newly-independent states for a time. They don’t have a realistic evaluation of the historic accomplishments and the tragic failures, nor of what was right and wrong about the supposed allies of the African movements. Instead they dream about the radical rhetoric of some of the old regimes. As a result, they don’t understand that some left-sounding organizations from the liberation struggle, such as the the ANC and SACP, could become oppressors. And if the Pan-Africanists did understand this, they would be forced to break with some of their friends of the present, such as the Workers World Party.

The Pan-Africanists are faced with a choice. They must recognize the need to fight revisionism, the political trend that shouts about socialism and anti-imperialism and Marxism, but that betrayed all these things decades ago. It is this political trend that corrupted the South African Communist Party and the ANC. Or they must fold their arms and look the other way while hundreds of thousands of militant South African workers march at the front of the world workers movement, and close their eyes tight when black workers get shot down in bloody massacres like that at Marikana. In essence, this is the same choice that faces all other activists in the American left as well.

We support the South African workers because they are our class brothers and sisters, and they are on the path of class struggle. We don’t necessarily agree with all the views they have at present, but we think that not only the boldness of their strikes, but the boldness with which they have started reconsidering inadequate views from the past, should be an inspiration to workers and activists everywhere.

The path before NUMSA and the South African workers is difficult. They are seeking a new role in the political life of South Africa, not as ally of the ANC, but as an opponent. They are also seeking the real meaning of the socialist goal at a time when  the entire world left is in theoretical and ideological crisis. There are no guarantees about how far they will go, and how long they will remain one of the forces in the van of the world movement.  But for now, their struggle casts a strong  light on the path which, sooner or later,  workers elsewhere will have to take.

Some references:

Irvin Jim’s message to Americans, 11 January 2015: white domination of the South African economy has been sustained in South Africa post-1994 and remains as vicious as ever

Irvin Jim in the US: A reply to Justice Piitso, 10 February 2015:
NUMSA says the working class shall never be fooled or defeated by the former ambassador to Cuba’s deceit and distortion

NUMSA website: www.numsa.org.za

South African workers on the march, article on the back of the DWV leaflet on the occasion of MLK Day 2015

On Martin Luther King Day...The struggle continues, 2014 (material both on struggle in US and in South Africa)

– Joseph Green, editor, Communist Voice. <>

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Posted on January 27, 2016.
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