The changing character of the South African state

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10/01/2022 by socialistfight

By Shaheen Khan July 2021

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 12: Burning factory in Sea Cow Lake area on July 12, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. It is reported that a considerable number of shops and businesses were looted over the weekend following a wave of violent protests after the incarceration of former South African President Jacob Zuma. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

1. The Hunger Revolt in South Africa

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”.

The modern bourgeois society…established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.”

(The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels)

The hunger revolt in South Africa is a classic example of how the class struggle finds expression in the context of the crisis of neo-liberal capitalism exacerbated by a pandemic. The ruling class and its political representatives in the ANC government argue that these ‘riots’ were nothing more than a “smokescreen to carry out economic sabotage through targeted attacks on trucks, factories, warehouses and other infrastructure necessary for the functioning of our economy and the provision of services to our people.”[1] The aim they say was “to cripple the economy, cause social instability and severely weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic state.”[2] The instability and violence constituted a “direct contravention of the Constitution and the rule of law.”[3] The hunger revolts in essence was “nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack on our democracy.”[4]

In the same vein, the bourgeois tabloids emphasised that the hunger revolts, which was triggered by ex-President Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt of court on July 7, was no more than an orchestrated campaign of criminality which created “the worst unrest and mass violence since the end of apartheid.”[5] This was no more than ‘wanton looting’ which destroyed “the supply chain of an entire province destroyed, billions of dollars’ worth of damage inflicted on two of the country’s major cities, and hundreds of businesses and key parts of the country’s infrastructure burned to the ground.”[6] This protest movement “started the darkest week of anarchy in the country’s recent history.”[7] Not only have they demonised the protesters, they have lamented the failure of the state, its intelligence, police and army, to crush the protests quickly and protect the property of small and big businesses. They pleaded with the state to unleash their repressive apparatus so as to prevent the possibility of any future eruptions.

The bourgeois media were joined by the ideologues of capital, the so-called intellectuals, academics and public opinion shapers of all types, even those who are imbedded in working class organisations.[8] Radical ‘democratic socialist’ also made it clear that the “mass looting over the past few days is not a sign of revolution in our streets and on television. Instead, this is the coming to life of South Africa’s most scary nightmare: a society turning on itself in an orgy of large-scale public violence.”[9] Their bourgeois democratic views were demonstrated as they came out in defence of the rule of law “If the rule of law is to be affirmed, the violence has to be addressed in a precedent-setting way to prevent future recurrence. There have to be serious consequences. Only 12 kingpins going to jail is certainly not enough. All those responsible must be held to account.”[10]

There is a common thread running through the position of the government, the bourgeois media and the intellectuals/academic circles. They are all on the same page in support of the rule of the capitalist class – their main concern is the defence of the bourgeois constitution and the democratic order, the maintenance of ‘law and order’ and the preservation of private property. They agree that the army was called in much too late and that the government must ensure that they be better prepared next time to deal ruthlessly and effectively with the ‘rabble’. While some amongst the intellectuals/academics like Buthelezi/Satgar are not in favour of “a state of emergency or massive spending on excessive military deployment,”[11] their answer is that in order to quell the revolt the government must stop the factional battles in the ANC immediately and institute reforms like the Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG). Bourgeois governments use the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to achieve their objectives, and of course they will least listen to the pleadings of academics who understand little about real life issues. The bourgeois state immediately resorted to repressive measures and more than 330 people have been killed, largely by the security forces and racist vigilantes. These killings are in the same state repressive mould as the murder of Andries Tatane and the workers of Marikana. This time though the number of working class people murdered is ten times that of Marikana. This human tragedy and the racism and brutality by the state and the petty bourgeois associated with the killings, confirm that bourgeois democracy is a ‘democracy for themselves’ and a dictatorship over the working class and poor![12]

While one understands the response of the right-wing trade union federations, those allied to big capital and bourgeois parties, like the Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) who came out in condemnation of the riots because ‘it endangered the jobs of workers’ , it is very revealing that left-wing federations like the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and working class orientated Civil Society organisations also condemned the riots. The Covid-19 Working Class Campaign (CWCC) correctly called out this opportunism on the part of SAFTU when it exposed them for this, the “dominant characterisation of the events coming from organisations within the working class resembles that of the ruling class. SAFTU, for instance, in its statement, was unequivocal in its condemnation of the riots as pure anarchy and destruction. Many others characterised the actions of the masses as blind criminality and anarchy.”[13] The CWCC also fingered the basis for this opportunism “the inability to unpack the dynamics of the events and to make a distinction between the forces aligned to Jacob Zuma and the masses prevented these working class organisations from differentiating themselves from the ruling class.”[14] Not only did many purportedly leftwing organisations characterise the working class revolt as criminality, anarchy and endangering the democratic dispensation, they also supported the deployment of the SANDF to enforce ‘law and order’. In this they exhibited both “the lack of confidence in the working class as a historical agent of social change” and a failure to “appreciate the different and changing forms of working class struggle.”[15] Those organisations of the left who demanded protection of property, the upholding of ‘law and order’ and defence of the constitution are no more than liberal reformists who under the guise of ‘radicalism’ or even ‘Marxism’ have become nothing more than apologists and defenders of the capitalist system and its ruling class.

The hunger revolts arose directly from the real conditions of starvation, hunger and misery of the mass of working class and poor people. While the spark to the revolt was the arrest of ex-president Zuma, there was already structural hunger for the South African black working class majority before Covid-19. Despite agricultural abundance, there is no access to food for the majority of the working class and poor of our society. These structural hunger conditions arise from extreme high unemployment rates and deep levels of inequality; the unemployment rate increased from 28.8% in 2019 to 34,4% in 2021, a further loss of 2 million jobs because of the pandemic. According to the latest Stats SA figures the number of unemployed has increased from 6 million people in 2008 to 11,9 million in 2021. The youth unemployment rate is 74,8% and for African males it is 48,7% and African females 53.2%.[16]

South Africa is also the most unequal country in the world both by income and asset ownership; the top 1% of the population earn 20% of the income and own 67% of assets. The next 9% of the population earn 45% of income and own 26% of assets. The remaining 90% of the population earn 35% of income and hold only 7% of assets.[17] In fact, since 1994, white wealth has increased and black poverty – mainly those historically categorised as African – has deepened.[18] This in spite of the cosmetic reformist work the ANC has done to keep the masses quiet. Structural hunger will continue in South African society because there is a systemic lack of “access to land for independent agricultural production” and real poverty in the society because of the “lack of incomes and insufficient incomes.”[19] This applies to all the Black oppressed in degrees, but it is most generalised in the African indigenous population who were dispossessed of their land by colonialism. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic with so many more job losses, the ANC government decided to discontinue the R350 per month Special COVID-19 Social Relief Distress Grant because they argued it was unaffordable. This contributed to the anger of the poor and hungry whose levels of desperation increased exponentially.

 In class terms – post 1994 South Africa has seen regular and continued protest of the working class against their immiseration and poor and absent social services. In fact South Africa still remains the protest capital of the world. The hunger revolts are the expression of embryonic class struggle and anger of the working class and poor “an active intervention by a working class attempting to resolve its immediate problems of generalised hunger and starvation.”[20] They are a clear response to the critical state of hunger and poverty caused by twenty five years of neo-liberalism and the government’s harsh Covid-19 policies, which included a lockdown with no real social protection and support for the masses. The protests have once more demonstrated the willingness and readiness of the impoverished working class, especially its youth, to engage in direct class struggles. This disproves the false notion peddled by various reformists that the South African working class love their “democracy” and are happy with reforms, and not ready for “revolution.”[21]

 The hunger revolts and the entry of the masses in the public arena saw the ANC government unleash its repressive machinery, not only the ineffective and ambivalent South African Police Service (SAPS) but the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The attack on the working class takes the immediate form of the SAPS brutalising the masses in its attempt to re-confiscate goods “breaking down doors, turning houses up-side-down, intimidating and harassing people.”[22] These strong arm methods ‘kragdadigheid’ is used to discipline the masses and teach them who is in charge, who the boss is, and at the same time enrich the coffers of a police force riddled with corruption! The deployment of the SANDF is a direct response to the growing working class involvement in the revolt and its intention is “not only to suppress the current wave of unrest but also to deal with future struggles of the working class.”[23] We have also witnessed “a new kind of vigilantism”, involving private security firms who brandished all sorts of weapons (legal and illegal) to violently suppress the masses and protect capitalist property. These vigilante groups included Indian and White racist elements, taxi associations and Community Police Forums who attacked and killed African people who dared enter their terrain. These para-military middle class forces are part of a growing extra-state phalanx for the protection of the ruling class. The state has decided to unleash its repressive machinery to ensure the maintenance of law and order and re-establish on a firm basis the stability of the capitalist system. The façade of a constitutional democracy and the bill of rights is thrown out of the window.  

!4 July: Violent looting and riots have left parts of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng looking like a war zone, first erupting over the weekend following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma for being in contempt of court.To date, over R5 billion worth of damage has been done, leaving 75 people dead and 1,200 arrested.

Were the hunger revolts an ‘Insurrection’?

“To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon theadvanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.” (Lenin, Marxism and Insurrection, A Letter to the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. (B))

On the 16 July 2021 President Ramaphosa addressed the nation and raised the bar on the character of the violence by characterising the “looting, property destruction and loss of life” as “an attempted insurrection that failed to gain popular support.”[24] This ‘deliberate, coordinated and well-planned’ insurrection failed because of the efforts of the security forces and the democratic ethos in the country which saw thousands of people rise up to “defend our hard-won democracy.”[25] This insurrection was aimed to “cripple the economy, cause social instability and weaken – or even dislodge – the democratic state.”[26] It was a direct attack on the Constitution and the rule of law.

To characterise the events of July as an ‘insurrection’ is pure exaggeration if not totally preposterous. Even the Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula was taken aback and confused by this statement of the President. The reasons for the President’s characterisation of the July revolts became clear when he announced changes in the security structure which the big bourgeoisie was crying out for. The aim was to frighten broad layers of the petty bourgeois and bourgeois, so that he could by executive decree, concentrate the entire security apparatus in the Presidency. Anyone familiar with socialist parlance is aware that insurrection is an art “Marx himself referred to insurrection specifically as an art, saying that it must be treated as an art, that you must win the first success and then proceed from success to success, never ceasing the offensive against the enemy, taking advantage of his confusion, etc.”[27] Insurrection is not a conspiracy, it is the widespread revolutionary upsurge of the people and it occurs when there is a growing revolutionary moment or period and there is confusion and vacillation in the ranks of the enemy. The July revolts was the embryonic stages of struggle, the beginning of a process that has still to grow and mature. This takes place not all at once, but develops wave after wave, until it reaches the crescendo of an ‘insurrection’. An insurrection is a revolutionary upsurge of the mass of people across the country and not the action of relatively small groups of people responding to conditions of hunger and misery. The art of insurrection has to be preceded by political processes of consciousness building and organisation of the working class. This was no insurrection, but a spark in a developing mass fight back of the working class. Furthermore, an insurrection is preceded by extreme consternation, confusion and vacillation in the ranks of the ruling classes. This did not happen as the ruling classes re-organised themselves quickly to deal with the working class.

President Ramaphosa, as the ex-General Secretary of both the NUM and the ANC, knows full well that the events of July were far from an ‘insurrection’. He also knows that the story of the twelve main conspirators is nothing more than fictional. To date, a handful of social media loudmouths have been arrested and charged. They do not constitute a core leadership of the Zuma groupings who organised and led the ‘looting spree’ – the alleged Blanquist conspiracy has no basis whatsoever! The President has used revolutionary jargon to frighten his bourgeois audience so that he could easily implement the programme of bringing the state security apparatus under his control!

From Colonialism to the crisis of the neo-Colonial, neo-Apartheid system

“Parliament did not come into being, as many believe, to provide adequate national representation for the masses, but rather primarily to regulate the affairs of the propertied classes.”… (George Novack, Democracy and Revolution).

The South African capitalist state did not emerge as a result of an internal popular anti-feudal revolution; it was imposed from above and from without as a consequence of Colonialism and Imperialist control.[28] From its colonial setting, the South African capitalist class entrenched and extended its racially exclusive system to increase its profits. The racial division of labour and the battery of racist laws under Segregation and Apartheid guaranteed the extraction of supper profits from the Black working class. The racial and racist forms of domination has been maintained under different conditions and by varying mechanisms and the neo- colonial status of the black majority has remained in place. Capitalism and Imperialism have flourished under the political rubric of neo-Colonialism and neo-Apartheid in South Africa.

By the mid-1980’s the rule of the Nationalist Party and its Apartheid superstructure was in grave danger. A revolutionary crisis, with elements of dual power, had broken out in the country. The collapse of Stalinism in 1989 signalled to the Apartheid regime, now under the

leadership of De Klerk, that they should take the initiative and within a few years, a rotten deal was brokered. The basic terms were set by the white monopoly capitalist class who demanded assurances that their control of the wealth of the country, the right to private property and make profits would not be threatened. While they were prepared to accept majority rule, they also demanded that the ANC tame it radical base, especially the revolutionary minded youth and the socialist workers.[29]

The revolutionary crisis of the 1980s was brought to an end not as a result of counter-revolutionary violence but through a political deal between the white ruling class and the leadership of the liberation movement, the ANC and SACP leadership. In class terms, the ‘transition’ was not so much from apartheid to democracy, but from the impending threat of proletarian revolution to a restoration of stable bourgeois rule. Counter-revolution in South Africa, therefore, assumed a democratic and anti-Apartheid but not an anti-Capitalist form. This development was part of a global trend: from Central America to Eastern Europe and South Africa, revolutionary threats from below were turned around and supplanted by the institution of formal bourgeois democratic regimes from above.

The ‘Negotiated Settlement’ delivered the “Contract” between the aspiring Black capitalists on the one hand, through the ANC and its allied formations, and the white economic and social block, through the Nationalist Party and its government. This contract was embodied in a ‘liberal constitution’ and this became the Supreme and Sovereign determining document governing the lives of people in the country.[30] FW de Klerk pontificating on the Supremacy and Sovereignty of the Constitution captured it succinctly:

Eighteen years ago we South Africans reached agreement on the kind of country we wanted to become. After three years of difficult negotiations, we agreed that we wanted a society in which the Constitution – and not the majority of the day – would be sovereign. We agreed that that Constitution should make full provision for the protection of all our fundamental rights; that we would have free and independent courts; and that we would establish a truly democratic system of government subject to the rule of law.”[31]

What this entrenched was the protection of the vested property rights of the white ruling class in a situation where all state and government institutions – including Parliament – were now subject to the constitution. Instead of the ‘Sovereignty of the People’ derived from a Constituent Assembly, the constitutional framework deprived the people of power and preserved the White Supremacist, racist and colonial capitalist system. Imperialism, especially through the banks and mines and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) played a most pivotal role in cementing this.

Twenty seven years later the ‘negotiated settlement’ and the ‘Supremacy of the Constitution’ is unravelling. The reasons for the political unravelling is to be found in the worsening global and national capitalist crisis; resulting in the sharpening of class, racial and gender contradictions in South Africa.[32] The symptoms are the accompanying overpowering stench of corruption, weakening of capitalist state institutions and the massive social crises. The White ruling class blame the looting and corruption of the ANC as the cause of the current acute economic and social crises, while they cleverly conceal their own ‘legalised’ looting of the national resources of the country. The Corona virus pandemic has opened up for all to see all the deadly contradictions and crises of the capitalist system, both in the whole world in general and in South Africa in particular.[33] The crisis of profitability of the system has led to internecine battles in this ruling class, both in the competition between dying old industrial and manufacturing capital and financialised capital. At the same time factions in the ruling ANC are vying for control of the resources of the South African state. The revolt of the working class has exacerbated all the contradictions. The working class is everyday seeing its ranks swelling with unemployed workers and its condition of life deteriorating. Violent crime, drugs, hunger, mass poverty, extreme inequality, racism, historic levels of unemployment (which would cause any country to explode), all these and many more, especially among African and black youth and women, are the daily conditions of existence of the class. A state of undeclared civil war has long existed in working class communities across the country. Protests against these conditions are the order of the day everywhere. It is for this reason that the obviously discredited and corrupt Zuma must go to jail to affirm and give confidence to all the classes and individuals who support the “Supremacy of the Constitution” and the “rule of law” of capitalism. Cyril Ramaphosa is the point man for this class.[34]

The limitations and advances of various forms of democracy in class society, from its roots in ancient Greece through its rise and decline under capitalism. Discusses the emergence of Bonapartism, military dictatorship, and fascism, and how democracy will be advanced under a workers and farmers regime.’In this eminently readable book, the author has made a valuable contribution to the study of the evolution of democracy.’?Library Journal

From Parliamentarianism to Bonapartism

“Parliamentary government, with its constitutional guarantees…becomes a liability to big capital when …the workers take the offensive and the country appears to be slipping out of control”. (George Novack, Democracy and Revolution)

In the face of the July revolt of the masses, President Cyril Ramaphosa took drastic steps to quell the revolt and prepare the capitalist state to deal with any future rebellion. He did away with the Ministry of State Security and the “ responsibility for the State Security Agency was moved into the Presidency”. The responsibility for this work was assigned to the newly appointed Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele, who was the National Assembly Chairperson of the portfolio committee on social development and Zizi Kodwa, the former deputy minister of state security.[35] This was to be bolstered by the appointment of former Cabinet member Sydney Mufamadi as national security adviser. Mafumadi had been the leader of the 2018 Report of the High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency. Thandi Modise, the former speaker of Parliament and an Umkhonto We Sizwe veteran, was appointed the new Minister of Defence. President Ramaphosa also appointed a panel to investigate the state’s security response to the “orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage.”[36] The task of this panel was to make recommendations on how to deal with any future state security incidents like South Africa’s ‘riots’, to prepare a ‘pre-emptive and preventative security’ plan.

What is clear is that the shift in concentrating executive power in the Presidency was a direct result of the July events, which in real terms was the embryonic explosion of class struggle. The ruling class called on the state to re-organise its tardy response to these types of class explosions. The big bourgeoisie and its executive was determined to establish a more carefree and unhampered power “to regulate the affairs of the propertied classes and adjudicate the claims of the diverse elements amongst the ruling order.”[37] In the early years, when the question of establishing the legitimacy of the ‘new democracy’ was the main issue, big capital had “multiple means at its disposal to tame and co-opt its opponents: flattery, bribery, lucrative posts and sinecures, absorption into the upper crust, etc.”[38] However when social tensions tighten to the breaking point, parliamentary and peaceful methods of co-option, are less and less effective to act as a buffer between the “power of property and the wrath of the masses.”[39] The failure of these methods to quell the mass uprising also lead to a shift in the actual centres of economic and political decision making where the “moneyed men are propelled in an antiparliamentary direction.”[40] As the mass struggles spread in July and the repressive forces of the state was largely absent “big business cast out for some other political instrumentality which can guard its material interests better than a broken-down parliamentary system.”[41] The ruling class begins to organise the sort of regime that can do the job!

Caesarism was the precursor of Bonapartism and was an intermediate and transitional form in the political evolution of the Greek city-states. This conquering general became the “sole master of the state in a slave society torn by seemingly interminable conflicts between patricians and plebeians.”[42] The ‘man on horseback’, Napoleon the 1st, was the classical strong man who concentrated supreme power in his hands after overthrowing the Directory through the coup d’ etat of the eighteenth of Brumaire (November 9), 1799. He arose “In those moments of history when the sharp struggles of two camps raises state power, so to speak, above the nation, and guarantees it, in appearance, a complete independence of classes – in reality, only the freedom necessary for a defence of the privileged.”[43] Bonaparte the Little, wrested political power from the bourgeoisie in a coup d’ etat in December 1851 to ‘protect them from the masses’. The role of the Bonapartist regime in the epoch of imperialism and the decline of capitalism is no different. It intervenes to head off a potential state of civil war in a divided nation by referring all disputed issues to a supreme arbiter invested with exorbitant powers “the master of destiny seeks to use his authority to reduce social tensions and stabilize class society for the benefit of the threatened property owners.”[44]

The first step from decrepit parliamentarianism is Bonapartism. This is a bureaucratic-military dictatorship “born of a deep-going but incompletely resolved confrontation of openly antagonistic class forces.”[45] Unlike parliament, which is based on an elected majority, a Bonapartist type regime is propped up by the police, army and administrative apparatus. Bonapartism allows for the head of state to concentrate power where “All important policy decisions are centralised in a single individual equipped with extraordinary emergency powers.”[46] The Bonapartist figure is a ‘man of destiny’ who has been “called upon to rescue the nation in its hour of mortal peril.”[47] This does not necessarily mean the dissolving of parliament or the use of extra parliamentary force; it could very well take place under the cover of the legal system. The essential feature is that he “exercises it (power) by decree.”[48] After the Second World War a kindred form of Bonapartism developed in the form of “the strong state” where the “strong government” elevates the executive power above parliament. Gaullism, which displaced the Fourth Republic in France in 1958, was this type of regime, where Bonapartist rule is exercised by a ‘committee’ with the President at its head, having all the powers of oversight and making the final decision. Parliamentary institutions and parties are not discarded but they are rendered powerless. The ‘strong man’ and the ‘strong state’ become intertwined as they fulfil the main task, to defend the social interests of the magnates of capital by blunting class conflict.[49]

The announcement by President Ramaphosa on the 5 August 2021 to centralise the state security apparatus in the Presidency was an extraordinary manoeuvre; an effective Bonapartist coup d’ etat carried out under the guise of legality. The failure of the state security apparatus to deal with the working class ‘hordes’, the absence of effective state intelligence and failure of the police to stop the ‘looting’ resulted in the deployment of 25 000 military personnel of the SANDF for three months. While this intervention brought about a decline within a day or two of the acts of ‘looting’ and ‘vandalism’, it became obvious to the ruling class and its state executive that the state security system was decrepit, ruined by 25 years of austerity, and that a ‘restructuring’ and ‘centralisation’ of the state was necessary to deal with and prevent any future such mass revolts. The State security has been centralised in the Presidency and various mechanisms of oversight has been introduced, all ultimately under the direct control and supervision of the President, who is now the ‘strong man’ representing the ‘strong state’. This could only be done with the tacit consent of the population in general and state institutions, especially the military, police and bureaucracy. President Ramaphosa has created the “the strong state” where the “strong government” elevates the executive power above parliament. He is the man of destiny, ready to save the nation and ensure the primacy of law and order and the sanctity of private property and the constitution.

The state has not wasted time in continuing to mobilize the population to upkeep law and order and protect private property. Social media calls for a national shutdown on the 23rd August 2021 was not dealt with by normal intelligence and policing methods of investigation, but a national roll out of police and army to protect against possible mass protests and looting. There was no real threat and this was a trial run to deal with the working class dare it arise again. The ‘strong state’ through Apartheid-style policing, is going to become a common sight and the working class and revolutionary organisations must appreciate that new methods of organisation will become necessary. Already more than 330 people have been killed in the July revolt (almost all by the police and racist vigilantes!) and the working class must expect a dramatic escalation in State repression. Public security and state intelligence is being beefed up to professionalise effective surveillance of working class organisations and activists.

The longevity of Bonapartist rule depends upon the measure of success attained in these efforts. Whether it is a brief or protracted rule, contemporary Bonapartism is a regime of crisis and “has perforce a transitional character.”[50] The Achilles heel of Bonapartism lies in its “lack of a broad mass base.”[51] The mass base of the ANC has been steadily declining (as witnessed in the election polls) and the Ramaphosa faction won at NASREC by the narrowest of margins (his victory based on loads of boxes filled with moola supplied by White Monopoly Capital who funded his campaign). His inability to decisively defeat the Revolutionary Economic Transformation (RET) faction in the ANC indicates, that unlike other ANC Presidents, he does not have mass support in the party.

The Ramaphosa regime enters the end of its first term in office as the working class is beginning to rear its head and enter a series of class battles with the July events being the first. His hold on power may be short-lived! The Bonapartist state, as a balancing act between the classes, is not be a long term solution for Capital. State Repression will not be able to stop the process of a restive working class finding crevices where its misery explodes in mass protest and struggles. The regime of Bonaparte the Little, collapsed in 1870 as a result of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This gave rise to the heroic Paris Commune of 1871 and the first Workers State in history. As a transitional regime the Ramaphosa Bonapartist configuration could very well crack either through the internecine factional battles within the ruling party or under the incessant class explosions of the working class as it battles a capitalism in the deepest crisis of its history.

What does this mean for the working class and revolutionary organisation?

“All talk to the effect that historical conditions have not yet “ripened” for socialism is the product of ignorance or conscious deception. The objective pre-requisites for the proletarian revolution has not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. It is now the turn of the proletariat, i.e., chiefly of its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”

 (Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism, 1938).

These prophetic words are a summation of the congress resolutions of the Third Communist International and were written for the transitional programme of the Fourth International in 1938. They ring so true as if they describe the crisis in society and of the working class today. The very fact that we are discussing the same issues mean that the working class and its leadership have failed to dislodge a decaying, rotting capitalist system since its growth into Imperialism in the 1870’s.

The hunger revolt of the working class and the absence of a revolutionary leadership to provide a compass to the class in these struggles is a reflection of the crisis of leadership which has to be addressed by a serious revolutionary tendency. It is important to recognize that the period we are in has changed from a non-revolutionary one to a pre-revolutionary one; a period for the preparation of serious class battles has opened. How revolutionaries understand the period and conduct their work will ultimately determine whether the pre-revolutionary period gets transformed into a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary one. To fully understand the current conjuncture revolutionaries have to grasp the fact that the ‘rioting’ and ‘looting’ were no more than hunger revolts, that this “was a confrontation between the right to food and life versus the right to private property and ownership” and that “foods riots have emerged as part of the arsenal of working class resistance.”[52] For anyone following the trajectory of working class struggles internationally ‘food riots’ are common expressions of hunger revolts by the masses “in countries like Argentina (24th May and 1st June 1989) the masses not only took food and other primary necessities but also cash registers, computers and electronic equipment.”[53] Food riots/revolts has become “in the era of neo-liberalism … forms of protest by the masses. It is no longer a relic of the pre-industrial period.”[54]

While the masses have taken a leap forward and shaken off their “passive acquiescence and acceptance of their state of deprivation”[55] this is but the beginning of an unfolding revolutionary process. Experience teaches that the masses enter a revolution without a fully worked out programme or developed forms of organisation. The critical factor is the activity of the revolutionary party which will have to intervene in the class struggle with a programme; political education, party and cadre building, propaganda and agitation work and active involvement in the daily struggles of the working class. This will not only build the capacity and confidence of the class to fight but it will also facilitate the forging of unity between the different sections of the working class, particularly the employed and unemployed.

It is through such activity in the class struggle that the next round of working class uprisings will take on a more conscious and organised political character. This work will have to be addressed under conditions of a Bonapartist state apparatus that has demonstrated its strong arm approach in the fake riot scare of the 23rd of August. The working class and its organisations have to deal both with increased public state security presence as well as the surveillance regime which is going to be as brutal, thorough and efficient as the Apartheid regime was.

The failure to carry out these tasks will see waves upon waves of working class revolts dissipating into thin air and a real sense of defeat and hopelessness set in the class. If we are serious about fighting for socialism, the hunger revolts have demonstrated that the working class is ready to fight and what it requires is an intrepid revolutionary leadership ready to lead the struggle for a socialist society! The real test for the revolutionary party has begun!


[1] President Cyril Ramaphosa: Update on security situation in the country, 16th July 2021

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] Benjamin Fogel, The insurrection in South Africa is more than about freeing Zuma,

[6] ibid

[7] Ferial Haffejee, Under investigation: Twelve masterminds planned and executed insurrection on social media, then lost control after looting spree.

[8] Azwell Banda, The SRWP and the current phase of class struggles in South Africa.

[9] Awande Buthelezi and Vishwas Satgar, South Africa is turning on itself, Daily Maverick, 16th July 2021

[10] ibid

[11] ibid

[12] ibid

[13] CWCC statement on the rioting

[14] ibid

[15] CWCC statement on the rioting

[16] Stats SA. Quarterly Survey quoted by Z. Vavi whatsapp exchange

[17] Azanian red interview with the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency

[18] ibid

[19] Azanian red interview with the RCIT

[20] CWCC statement on the riots

[21] Azwell Banda, The SRWP and the current phase of class struggles in South Africa

[22] CWCC statement on the riots

[23] CWCC statement on the riots

[24] President Ramaphosa: Attempted insurrection failed to gain popular support, 16th July 2021

[25] ibid

[26] President Ramaphosa: Attempted insurrection failed to gain popular support, 16 July 2021

[27] VI Lenin, Marxism and Insurrection

[28] Azwell Banda, Draft SRWP Strategy, Tactics and Programme document, July 2021

[29] Azwell Banda, Draft SRWP Strategy, Tactics and Programme document, July 2021

[30] Azwell Banda, Draft SRWP Strategy, Tactics and Programme document, July 2021

[31] ibid

[32] ibid

[33] Azwell Banda, The SRWP and the current phase of class struggles in South Africa

[34] ibid

[35] Cabinet reshuffle: Read President Ramaphosa’s full speech, IOL, 5th August 2021.

[36] ibid

[37] George Novack, Democracy and Revolution

[38] ibid

[39] ibid

[40] ibid

[41]George Novack, Democracy and Revolutio

[42] ibid

[43] ibid

[44] ibid

[45] ibid

[46] ibid

[47] ibid

[48] George Novack, Democracy and Revolution

[49] ibid

[50] George Novack, Democracy and Revolution

[51] ibid

[52] CWCC statement on the riots

[53] ibid

[54] ibid

[55] ibid

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WRP Explosion

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