After the World Ended (IV): But How Can It Be Done?

by Mar 5, 2013Africa

What has to be overthrown in the ANC is a party which nearly two-thirds of the electorate voted for, and which is led by some of the shrewdest and most unscrupulous politicians in the country. Somehow those people have to be persuaded to stop supporting it, and those politicians must be compelled to relinquish office. That can only happen if they permit a powerful opposition to arise in order to overthrow them — in which case they might be imprisoned, or conceivably even executed if the hostility to them becomes violent enough.

All this is not an easy task to accomplish. It is particularly difficult when the party is supported by the largest trade union movement in the country as well as the most prestigious left-wing organisation, because this means that the party’s pretense to popular support has powerful rhetorical backing. It is fairly clear that the problem with the ANC is most conspicuously that it has been taken over by right-wing elements, but to deploy left-wing arguments against trade unions and Communists is difficult. Meanwhile, in the background but unmistakably there are powerful corporate elements supporting the ANC and — whenever it is convenient to them — forcing the media to toe the ANC line, however much the media may wish to support someone else. Therefore, not only has the ANC got reliable mass support, but it also enjoys elite support, or can acquire this by strategic concessions and surrenders.

Does this, then, mean that the ANC’s impregnable, or at least can only be driven out by such immense force that we must all surrender to the white elite in hope that they, or Cyril, or Mamphela, or Barack, or someone out there, will save us?

Of course it can be done by the white ruling class — or so they hope. They have a party which is backed by the self-styled losers in the anti-apartheid struggle, assisted by wealthy and influential white elite, with immense foreign support and the uncritical backing of the global capitalist elite, which also dominates the press, the electronic media and their allies abroad. Even that doesn’t look like being an easy struggle. All the money in the world may make the white ruling class’s power-grab a safe proposition — in the sense that they can buy themselves out of any trouble they may cause and are not risking life or limb — but it is not safe in the sense of being a safe investment which is undoubtedly likely to succeed.

The white ruling class are clearly opposed to the ANC as a historical liberatory force, and most of the whites who are working for or under or aligned with the white ruling class are happy with this — indeed, they also oppose the ANC out of a sense of racial prejudice or general hostility to democracy. This does not mean that the white ruling class are committed to opposing the ANC; they are pragmatic enough to be willing to allow it to surrender to them and even to nominally control the country (nom nom nom, goes the ruling class to the South African cake) provided that the white ruling class is really running things. However, the white ruling class are not perceived by the current ANC leadership as their enemies. It seems that when given the least chance, the ANC leadership will not only do what the white ruling class wants, but will sell the white ruling class whatever rope they need to hang the ANC leadership with.

This means that the ANC leadership will not be distracted by the real threat of being crushed by the white ruling class; they will focus their attention on preventing the left outside the ANC, and the resentful residual democratic and leftist forces within the ANC, from posing any threat to them. Their attention will be focussed on fighting against any challenge to the SACP and to the Zuma faction.

This is important, because it means that anti-ANC activity will inevitably be fought against by almost everybody who has power. And, therefore, it is likely that everyone who places self-interest ahead of patriotism will join with either the ANC or its corporate sponsors or the hangers-on of one or the other. Therefore, the forces ranged against the ANC will consist largely of political novices lacking financial support, and professing ideals which are opposed by the press, the global capitalist elite, and the opposition party as well as the government. It seems impossible to overstate the weakness and difficulty of this position.

It is not, however, an altogether impossible position. Left-wing opinions are popular in South Africa. It is for this reason that they have to be suppressed or distorted by the right wing; because when given a hearing, a large number of people actively follow them and probably a majority would be prepared to at least give them a try. When left-wing opinions are expressed (as by Julius Malema) they are systematically ridiculed and the people expressing them are punished as severely as possible. In spite of this practice, the opinions themselves are usually endorsed and sometimes celebrated by almost everyone expressing an opinion who is not directly connected with, and financed by, the ruling elite. The twitterings and bloggery of the cybersphere display an astonishing ignorance of elementary economics, sociology and political science of a kind which would have seemed startling among Transkeian migrant labourers in the 1980s — tribute to how completely political debate has been silenced since then. But despite the fact that even the petit-bourgeoisie have no idea how to analyse their plight and that of the country, they have no doubts about the fact that the plight exists. After 2007-8, the majority of them are also well aware that the right-wing nostrums preached by the ruling class are shibboleths and charlatanry.

Therefore, there is a middle-class constituency for an anti-ANC struggle separated from the ruling class campaign — and it could be a majority constituency if it could only be reached and mobilised.

What do working-class people think? Nobody is asking them questions about this — apart from loaded questions intended to elicit specific answers favourable to the questioner’s agenda. They don’t have much access to speak on their own. What they do, instead, is to go on strike and take actions in protest against being neglected, increasingly including public violence. All of this suggests a willingness to make sacrifices so as to change a situation becoming increasingly unbearable. Sometimes, no doubt, they are fooled into imagining that the ANC or the SACP or the DA or the unions or the Trotskyites are on their side. They are therefore gulled into heeding the calls of the local organiser or councillor or whatever, which invariably ends in betrayal since such people have little or no real intention of serving their interests, but this is not the point. It isn’t hard to fool people when they are living in an intellectual wilderness where every landmark is a paper-mache lie and they desperately want something solid — and usually the people who pursue such actions get at least some betterment as a by-product of serving their local master’s agenda.

It seems clear that the ruling class is worried about the attitude of the lower classes. On one hand they (along with the government) are energetically pretending that they wish to reduce the “poverty, inequality and unemployment” which the policies they promote are increasing. Also, they are energetically promoting “public-private partnerships” supposedly aimed at reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment. Such partnerships are obviously intended to squeeze money out of the taxpayer into the pockets of the rich, but they also constitute opportunities for the people promoting poverty, inequality and unemployment to pretend that they are doing something to reduce it. Meanwhile, the ruling class also works to deflect the hostility of the increasingly troubled middle class away from them and towards the government (as in the Marikana episode).

But this is a fallback position. Undoubtedly the ruling class would much prefer a docile proletariat who are unaware of how badly they are being screwed by the ruling class, and a subordinated petit-bourgeoisie who do what the ruling class tell them, energetically and willingly, because they believe that serving the ruling class is in their interest. The fact that the ruling class has to fool proletariat and petit-bourgeoisie into being distracted, strongly suggests that they believe that if they aren’t fooled and distracted, something bad might happen. After all, stirring up working class or petit-bourgeois dissatisfaction could generate problems if it led to actual demands for change which might hamper the immediate enrichment of the bourgeoisie.

So the notion of a dissatisfied, restive public probably isn’t simply an illusion fostered by the bourgeois media to immiserate the pro-ANC petit-bourgeoisie or encourage the anti-ANC petit-bourgeoisie. There is a lot of dissatisfaction out there. People do not like having no prospect of a better life. Nor do they like precarious employment, being fired, having their real salaries reduced, unemployment, and all of the other things which characterise current South African economic life for most of the population. Many of these people may be still waiting for the ANC to somehow improve the situation. Others may be willing to believe that these problems are due to the bad barons — to the Ace Magashulas and Zweli Mkhizes of this feudal society of ours — and not to the almighty anointed King, and especially not to the Holy Chain of Being which Cyril in His inscrutable wisdom saw fit to impose on us after Codesa II.

But it is likely that reality is dawning on many. Hence there are fewer people liable to be fooled all the time, at least to be fooled in this way. Therefore it should be possible to mobilise people against the ANC and on behalf of something better — if only something better can be constructed. The most important political task in the next few years is to construct something better. The public deserves to be shown actual alternatives to the present system, so that they can understand that if they work for it themselves, they may be able to accomplish not merely a slightly better pay packet at the end of a calamitous battle, but a completely different system under which they will no longer be exploited in the way that they are being at the moment.

This means that opportunistic support for worker demands is not enough. Yes, it must be done, because worker demands are often legitimate. It must also be done because opposing worker demands is likely to discredit the person opposing them without providing any political advantage to anyone of use to the workers. But it is most important to develop political education, to restore the kind of intellectual freedom which South African politicians evolved in the 1970s and were able to see across the country in the 1980s — but which then died.

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