Sunday, September 6, 2020

Letters: Apartheid (1970)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard


In denouncing South African apartheid in "Socialism or Anti-Apartheid" (June Socialist Standard) as "essentially a pre-capitalist form of oppression", you apparently neglect the Marxist view of the historical process as expounded in the Communist Manifesto, in which you "support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things". Any form of revolution in the Republic of South Africa, whether resulting in a bourgeois or proletarian dictatorship. would represent a stronger class consciousness than in the present repressive totalitarian regime.

A strong proletarian class consciousness in which the workers can achieve emancipation, with or without a vanguard party, can never be obtained while one race is institutionally repressed by another. The treatment of Anti-Apartheid can of course never be separated from the issues of Socialism, but support for anti-apartheid can be justified by any revolutionary socialist who cares about the quality of life within an institutionalised repressive society.

Under bourgeois democracy the exploited worker can choose his own jailor, but under apartheid the key has been thrown away. In deciding that all forms of capitalism (including apartheid) are equally repulsive you are in danger of completely alienating yourselves from the people you claim to care about.
David Melvin, 
Huddersfield. Yorks.

It is quite true that the Communist Manifesto does say "the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things”. This was an expression of the 1848 policy of the Communist League, for whom the manifesto was written. But, as Marx and Engels pointed out in their preface to the 1872 German edition, the practical application of the Manifesto's general principles depends "everywhere and at all times on the historical conditions for the time being existing.” This is the Marxist view.

In the middle of the 19th century when there was a very real danger that emerging democracy in the capitalist parts of Europe might be overrun by reactionary feudal powers like Russia, Austria and Prussia a case for Socialists helping capitalism to establish itself could be made out. Marx and Engels and the Communist League, therefore, supported bourgeois-democratic revolutions against feudalism while always bringing, as the Manifesto also says, "the property question" to the fore.

By the end of the 19th century, however, the reactionary powers were no longer a threat to capitalism and all three of them were broken up after the first world war. In these new historical conditions a different application of socialist principles was called for: a struggle everywhere, even in those places where pre-capitalist forms of oppression had yet to be overthrown, for the immediate establishment of world Socialism. In the context of South Africa this means that the struggle against apartheid should not be separated from the struggle for Socialism. We urge workers there to struggle for Socialism, not mere anti-apartheid which would leave capitalism intact.

The June Socialist Standard did point out that "the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to apartheid” and that "racist policies will be undermined to the extent that socialist ideas spread". This last point should be obvious. To the extent that socialist ideas do spread anti-racist sentiment is strengthened. It is not as if concentrating on socialist propaganda alone and refusing to join with non-socialist antiapartheid movements hinders the ending of apartheid even under capitalism. It may even help it — but we do not accept David Melvin’s view that socialist ideas cannot spread now under apartheid in South Africa.

Finally, we always wonder whether those who talk of "proletarian dictatorship" and "vanguard party" and “bourgeois democracy" really do share our (and Marx’s) conception of Socialism in the first place.
Editorial Committee

After the fine article on South African capitalism in the May Socialist Standard, I was somewhat shocked at the view expressed in the article "Socialism or Anti-Apartheid” in the June issue:
  “. . . the overthrow of the National Party government in South Africa and the end of its apartheid policy . . .” “. . . under the United Party or Progressive Party government. The biggest part of the South African working class would be freed from oppression on grounds of colour . . .”
I have quoted out of context, but the impression I get from this complete paragraph is the inference highlighted in my quotes, that such a change of government could/would lead to the end of apartheid. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

The United Party does not stand for "non-racial capitalism", but for “enlightened white leadership" or "humanised" apartheid! That’s why. ostensibly, the Progressive Party formed with the slogan "Merit not Colour", a nice vague banner which can be elaborated and "diluted” as/when (or if) the Progressives became more popular.

The U.P. laid the basis for Nationalist government apartheid legislation which is basically a more rigid and logical extension of U.P. between-wars legislation.

The white working class has no qualms about this here — they generally oppose the idea of socio-economic integration of all "races” and they wield the bulk of the votes.

In any ease, the promises, half-promises and hints of out-of-power capitalist parties must always be taken with a ton of salt! What they say they’d do, what they’d like to do and what they can and will do are three (or four!) often different things.

The Progressive Party is well sketched in the May Socialist Standard as representing the hopes of certain capitalist interests outside South Africa.
Names and address supplied.
South Africa.

We are sorry our correspondent got the wrong impression from this passage in the June Socialist Standard:
  The unpleasant fact is that the overthrow of the National Party government in South Africa and the end of its apartheid policy would mean that political power would pass into hands more friendly to capitalist magnates like Oppenheimer. This would be so under an African nationalist government (as it is in Zambia or Ghana, for instance) as much as under a United Party or Progressive Party government. The biggest part of the South African working class would be freed from oppression on grounds of colour, but they would still be propertyless and still have to work for wages on the farms, down the mines and in the factories.
The passage he quotes, on his own admission out of context, should be read "This (i.e. the passing of political power into hands more friendly to capitalist magnates) would be so under an African nationalist government . . . as much as under a United Party or Progressive Party government”. The word this does not, or was not meant to, refer to the end of apartheid or colour discrimination. We know full well that the “non-white" people of South Africa would continue to be oppressed on grounds of colour under a United Party government and that even Oppenheimer’s Progressive Party is opposed to universal suffrage.

We still say that the replacement of apartheid by "non-racial capitalism" rather than by Socialism would be in the interests of South African big business and its overseas allies. Workers in South Africa, whatever their colour, should like workers everywhere be struggling for the immediate establishment of Socialism.
Editorial Committee

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

My guess is that the letter writer from Johannesburg was Alec Hart.