Nelson Mandela has been freed and a series of reforms announced by the racist regime in South Africa. The long-oppressed black people have filled the streets from Capetown to Soweto, celebrating the concessions made by the De Klerk government. There has been joy and excitement in the air. But as well, the people know that racist oppression continues and freedom is yet to dawn. The hard fight for victory over racist oppression must proceed.
While the changes announced in South Africa open up new prospects for the development of the anti- apartheid movement and the struggle of the workers, they also open up new pitfalls.
These reforms haven't been granted by the regime to help the masses organize better. No, they've been granted to clear the way for a deal with Mandela and the other leaders of the African National Congress -- a deal which would not uproot the system of oppression of the black majority but only modify it. through this deal, many harsh and hated features of the apartheid system may well come to an end and a black elite will be given a portion of power and privilege, and even the numbers of the black middle class may grow, but the oppression of the black working people will remain.
The workers and poor may be able to breathe a little easier with the loosening of repression and the scrapping of the most blatant measures of discrimination. But the miserable economic conditions in which the masses live wn't be changed. The black workers and poor have not fought against apartheid merely for such a halfway solution. They have not sacrificed so much just to get a black elite into a share of power. No, they have fought apartheid both because it denied them democracy and brutalized them, as well as because apartheid racism meant hideous poverty and superexploitation at the hands of white capitalist exploiters.
The situation in South Africa is very much in flux today. The most influential forces within the white establishment, supported by world imperialism, have come around to the idea of making a deal. The ANC too, backed up by the Soviet Union, is ready to work towards a deal with De Klerk. But the terms of this deal will still be determined by the struggle of various political forces in the streets of South Africa. It could be affected or even thwarted, by the racist backlash that white fascists are attempting to build. And it will certainly reflect the level of struggle mounted by the black masss in the months and years to come.
It is not peace and harmony which are around the corner, but a new period of struggle, within a more complex political environment. The black people are poised to make some new gains, but how much they gain will depend on their ability to build their mass struggle.
No matter what De Klerk may have hoped for, the cracks opened up in apartheid have given rise to huge new expectations among the black masses. No matter what the ANC leaders may counsel, these expectations may not prove all that easy to contain. Conditions could develop for a mushrooming of the popular upsurge. But that will depend on the ability of activists in the thick of the masses to go beyond the advice of moderation being advocated by Mandela and the ANC leaders.
To make their own impact on the vents of today and tomorrow, the workers and poor of South Africa urgently need their independent movement. They cannot trust their fate to the deals at the top between the aspiring black elite and the white ruling class. Because in this deal, it is the toilers' interests above all which will be sacrificed.
In recent years, South African workers have shown great militant capacity. They have also shown that they will not passively sit by without expressing their own demands. Still, the workers' consciousness of having interests separate from the aspiring black elite is weak. They are not yet organized as an independent revolutionary trend. It is this weakness that must be tackled head on as the task of the day.
In February, South African President F.W. de Klerk announced a series of changes in the political life of that country. There has been a lot of hype in the U.S. media about these reforms. There has been a rush to declare that a new day has already dawned for the long-oppressed black people.
The media wants to portray things as if everything the black people have fought for is close at hand. But this is simply no so. Of course, it is undeniable that a new political situation has been created, but what does it all mean for the black people's fight for liberation?
So far, the changes that have been announced by the De Klerk regime only amount to a partial loosening of political repression over the anti-apartheid movement.
De Klerk has unbanned the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party (which is influential within the ANC), and the Pan Africanist Congress. He has also lifted restrictions on a series of other anti-apartheid organizations and on many individual political activists. Executions of activists on death row have been suspended.
But this does not mean that the people have won the right to fully express themselves without fear of suppression. At least 1,000 political prisoners are still in jail under the pretext of being "terrorists." Many opponents of apartheid in exile face the risk of arrest if they return home. Most of the restrictions of the state of emergency remain, as does much of the heavy military and police presence in the townships. And this isn't a benign presence: while some demonstrations can be organized legally, police still set up and beat and shoot other protesters.
Meanwhile, the system of racial discrimination very much remains in place. The Group Areas Act, the legal basis of segregation in the society, remains the law of the land. Political rights for the blacks remain unattained. And the superexpoitation continues to weigh down on the workers and poor. They have the worst jobs, the greatest unemployment, and worst conditions of housing, schooling, medical care, etc.
The lessening of repression provides an important crack and could well prove advantageous for activists to spread mass struggle and organization. But in order to develop the struggle, it is necessary to keep targeting the De Klerk regime as the people's enemy. There must be no confidence in this regime.
But there is another point of view that's being expressed. This is the opinion which praises De Klerk as part of the solution, as the door opener to a "new South Africa."
That's understandably how the regime wants to portray itself. And it's also no surprise that Bush and Thatcher feel the same way. After all, the imperialist governments are old friends of the racist regime.
But such praise also came in Nelson Mandela's speech after he was released. It was echoed by Bishop Tutu and others.
Such words are also completely misplaced. Why should the South African masses be expected to thank De Klerk? He heads the same regime which kept Mandela in prison for over a quarter of a century. The same regime which imprisoned thousands of others for the "crime" of defending their rights. The same system which massacred people repeatedly in the streets. Which unleashed death squads against activists. Which ruled, and continues to rule, through a system of hideous discrimination and violence.
No, the changes announced by De Klerk are not the product of his goodwill. The leopard has not shed his spots. No, the reforms that are taking place are the outcome of the mass struggle. In the 1980's the black people mounted the most powerful challenge to racist rule in South African history. They braved whips and bullets and jails -- in strikes, demonstrations and countless confrontations. So many children, men and women gave their lives in determined battle against extreme odds.
The racst rulers thought that repression would solve the problem. And what did they not do to crush the people? But the spirit of the masses to fight for freedom remained unquenched. Even under the forced "peace" of recent years, South Africa remained a tinderbox. Waiting to explode again.
Meanwhile, the South African economy had gone into a tailspin. This crisis was aggravated by the popular upsurge. As well, worldwide solidarity with the black people had forced many capitalist governments to impose certain economic sanctions on South Africa. These were fairly mild, and in most cases, ridden with loopholes; but it appears that in the conditions of the economic malaise of the last decade, even such mild economic restrictions squeezed the South African capitalist regime further.
The threat of renewed revolutionary struggle and a problem-ridden economy are what finally forced the white ruling class to come around to the idea of seeking a reformist way out. This is wy De Klerk declared recently, "Everything we do is to avoid revolution."
The apartheid regime knew that a revolutionary upsurge not only would continue to got it down, but if it succeeded it could spell the utter end of the whole system of white privilege. The big businessmen knew that a revolution in which the workers are a strong force might end up dispossessing the white capitalist bloodsuckers.
Fear of such an outcome is what led them to search for a deal with the ANC. For most of its history, the ANC was a self-admittedly reformist organization. However, since the early 1960's, when the regime stopped allowing it an legal room to operate, the ANC leaders have made many a revolutionary- sounding declaration -- but at heart they have remained a reformist force. They have seen the mass struggle not as part of building a revolution over apartheid, but as pressure towards reaching a reformist, half-way deal.
De Klerk's reforms are designed to open the way to a deal with the ANC leadership. Mandela was released only because the regime has become convinced that the time is ripe for such a deal.
In turn, Mandela and the ANC leaders are trumpeting the view that
the reformist road will bring victory for the people real soon. Oh yes,
there is still militant-sounding rhetoric, but al that is talk. The ANC
leaders have already admitted: everything can be subject to
The exact deal that will come out of the De Klerk-ANC talks cannot be predicted. Because it will not just be the outcome of these talks, but also reflect what goes on in the streets.
There is a possibility that the ultra-racist could force De Klerk to scuttle the whole thing altogether. In any case, the ultra-racists will organize to prevent too many concessions, and De Klerk will use that as a pretext to argue for the slowest and most miserly approach.
Meanwhile, the struggle of the black masses will also influence the course of events. The ANC leaders are counseling that the masses stay "disciplined." This isn't an appeal for organized struggle but to calmly trail behind whatever the ANC leaders say. And their view is that the masses should not press too hard but merely trust the negotiations at the top.
Still, there are enough hints from the regime and the ANC to suggest the outlines of the deal that is in the making.
At the very least, the rest of the discriminatory laws, which make up what is known as "petty apartheid," will be done away with. Most of that has already been swept away. Even the Group Areas Act which dictates housing segregation may well go. But as the U.S. experience shows, the end of laws against segregation does not necessarily amount to ending segregation in fact. Affluent blacks may be allowed to live in certain white areas, but class differences between whites and blacks will maintain the bulk of segregation in the society.
As well, the rest of the emergency restrictions may also go. But there are plenty of non-emergency laws which can be used to restrict and suppress activism among the oppressed. Just as they do here in the U.S. and other lands of bourgeois democracy.
The doing away with the segregation laws of apartheid, or the lifting of emergency repressive measures, would by themselves only mean a return to the situation in South Africa before the days of apartheid proper. It may be recalled that the system of apartheid as it has existed until now was only put in place in the late 1940's and early 50's. But the South Africa of those earlier times was no paradise for the masses either. White supremacy was still the order of the day.
At the same time, it is also clear that the deal being contemplated today would not simply mean a return to the pre-apartheid era. Too much has happened economically and politically among the black masses for the ANC to simply agree to return to those earlier times. There will be arrangements worked out to provide some type of voting rights to the black people. There will be some structure set up to allow blacks access to the political system.
The demand of the anti-apartheid movement has been for one person one vote, but the regime is not yet willing to grant this. It is willing to grant political rights to blacks only in a way that they say would prevent domination by the black majority. Mandela says that he is committed to one person, one vote, but he too says that a way muyst be found to prevent the white minority from feeling dominated.
What this in fact amounts to is that the black elite, especially the ANC leaders and kindred politicians, will be brought into the power structure, and eventually could even be given the reins of government, provided that arrangements are worked out so that whites retain their economic and social privileges. In other words, the black elite will be allowed entry into a share of power, so long as the exploitation of black labor by the wealthy white capitalists continues. And privileges for other whites will be used to keep them cemented to the side of the white bourgeoisie.
It is this issue on which the racist regime will haggle to the utmost and drag out any changes over a lengthy period of time. A lengthy period of transition is contemplated because, while the white rulers are willing to make a deal with an aspiring black elite, they want to test it in practice -- to make sure that it really does defend the privileges of the white capitalists, to make certain that it can indeed control the black masses form erupting. If all goes well, the white rulers are willing to consider that eventually the black elite cold even be handed over governmental power.
This would be a variant of th "Zimbabwe solution." There the black leaders who led the movement against racist rule were eventually allowed to control the government, but the deal which allowed this was based on keeping the key sectors of the economy -- the corporations and the wealthy farms -- in the hands of their white owners. And for ten years now, the Zimbabwe leaders have practiced this policy. They have kept the workers and peasants down, but in the meantime they have enriched themselves and thrown some crumbs to the black middle class. The biggest advance ordinary blacks have made is that larger numbers than before have become educated -- but there are too fe jobs for them after they graduate.
The Zimbabwe solution is also similar to the conditions in many U.S. cities where the capitalists have conceded to black mayorships, like Detroit, Atlanta, etc. The big corporations owned by white capitalists continue to run the economy (or destroy it) while the Coleman Youngs and Andrew Youngs and their hangers-on have become rich. The black workers and unemployed remain crushed and impoverished, but now they are kept from rebelling by black leaders at thehead of City Hall and the Police Department.
Mind you, while the Zimbabwe solution is being considered as a possible eventuality by the South African ruling class, even this is seen as something which would come some years down the road. And the South African rulers do not want an exact replica of the Zimbabwe model but a modified version of it. Unlike Zimbabwe, where the blacks did get full voting rights and the reins of the government, in south Africa the white rulers want some type of structure which allows the white minority a constitutional means to block a black-run government on key issues.
The struggle in the coming months and years will determine exactly what kind of changes end up being implemented. It cannot altogether be ruled out that the mass movement could rise to the point of bypassing a half-way deal altogether and build up to a more revolutionary solution against racist rule. That wold of course be the most favorable outcome for the masses of working people, because that could wrench the most gains favorable to the toilers.
But even if a reformist solution ends up being implemented, it will
still mean a new situation for the class struggle. The level of
democratic rights won by the masses will help in organizing the working
class battle against the exploiters. And the passing over of the
aspiring black elite from leader of the opposition to powersharing with
the white establishment will intensify class awakening of the black
workers, it will hasten the consciousness of interests as a class
distinct from the black bourgeoisie. And that is an essential condition
for the workers to be able to organize their movement for socialist
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