A quasi-Marxist survey of SA history from Thabo Mbeki (1978)

Thabo Mbeki 1978

The Historical Injustice

Transcribed: for marxists.org by Pallo Jordan;

This speech was delivered by Thabo Mbeki, member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, at a seminar held in Ottawa, Canada, from February 19 to 22, 1978. It was published in Sechaba, March 1979 issue, with a view to generating a discussion on the important issues raised in the article.

Modern political science recognises the fact that social systems are founded on definite historical origins.

If the saying ‘out of nothing nothing comes’ is true, then it must follow that the future is formed and derives its first impulse in the womb of the present.

All societies therefore necessarily bear the imprint, the birth-marks of their own past. Whether to a greater or lesser extent must depend on a whole concatenation of factors, both internal and external to each particular society.

The latter consideration has often led many observers of the process of social development to over-emphasise the particularity of each society, to deny that this social development is in any way reducible to a science founded on observable facts, a science which has general laws, definitions and categories.

In this way, the relative is credited with the features of the absolute. Each society is thus presented as unique, its birth and development products of accidental collisions and inter-connections and therefore incapable of scientific prediction and cognition.

We consider that this position constitutes a dereliction of intellectual duty. Those of us who claim to be revolutionaries obviously cannot proceed in this manner. Indeed we must resist all attempts to persuade us that our future lies in the hands of an ungovernable fate. For the imperative of our epoch has charged us with the task of transforming ourselves from the status of objects of history to that of masters of history.

We must, by liberating ourselves, make our own history. Such a process by its nature imposes on the activist the necessity to plan and therefore requires the ability to measure cause and effect; the necessity to strike in correct directions and hence the requirement to distinguish between essence and phenomenon; the necessity to move millions of people as one man to actual’ victory and consequently the development of the skill of combining the necessary and the possible.

All this becomes attainable if we have succeeded to discover the regularities of social development, if we have studied our own society critically and in depth to discover the interconnections, the dynamic links that knit together and give direction to what might at first appear to be a chaos of facts, incidents and personalities thrown up by this particular society. For, to repeat, out of nothing, nothing comes.

Therefore to eliminate the speculative element as much as possible when talking about the policies of a new South Africa, it is necessary to examine the principal’ feature of the predecessor of that future reality, namely, present-day South Africa.

But again, a penetrating understanding of our country today requires also that we look at its past. We hasten to assure you that we shall not drown you in a plethora of historical detail.

Rise of Capitalism and Colonial Expansion

The first category of social science that we want to use tonight is that of class. To understand South Africa we must appreciate the fact and fix it firmly in our minds that here we are dealing with a class society.

In South Africa the capitalists, the bourgeoisie are the dominant class. Therefore the state, other forms of social organisation and the “official” ideas are conditioned by this one fact of the supremacy of the bourgeoisie. It would be therefore true to say that in its essential features South Africa conforms to other societies where this class feature is dominant.

Yet a cursory comparative glance around the world would seem to suggest that such a statement is hardly of any use in helping us to understand the seemingly unique reality of apartheid South Africa. More and perhaps better explanation is called for. We return therefore to the category, a class society, as well as step back into history.

The landing of the employees of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope 326 years ago, in 1652, represented in embryo the emergence of class society in our country. And that class society was bourgeois society in its infancy.

The settlers of 1652 were brought to South Africa by the dictates of that brutal period of the birth of the capitalist class which has been characterised as the stage of the primitive accumulation of capital`.

Of this stage Marx wrote: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in the mines of the aboriginal’ population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.” [1]

“The transformation of the individualised and scattered means of production into socially concentrated ones, of the pigmy property of the many into the huge property of the few, the expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence and from the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital. It comprises a series — of forcible methods… The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious,” so wrote Marx. [2]

Such indeed was the slave trade; (such also incidentally the eviction of the Scottish Highland peasants many of whom came to settle here in Canada — vandalism of the most merciless kind.) Such indeed was the expropriation of the African peasantry.

It should therefore come as no surprise that six years after the arrival of the Dutch settlers, in 1658, the first group of slaves arrived in the Cape Colony.

In 1806, when England seized the Cape Colony from Holland by force of arms, there were 30,000 slaves in the Colony as against 26,000 settlers. There were also another 20,000 “free Coloured, Nama and in white employ…” [3]

Equally, it should come as no surprise that these 20,000 African wage-earners had been compelled into this position by the process, described by Marx and other historians of the period, of the “expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence and from the means of labour…”

Described as “free” in relation to the 30,000 slaves in the Colony, they were also “free” in so far as they had been liberated by force of arms, disease and starvation from their status as independent producers with their own hunting, grazing and arable land, their livestock and their working implements.

Calvin’s Doctrine distorted

Nowhere is this clearer than in the fate that befell Calvinist theology. Tawney has said that: “Calvinism was an active and radical force…(Its adherents were) disposed neither to idealise the patriarchal virtues of the peasant community, nor to regard with suspicion the mere fact of capitalist enterprise in commerce and finance… Calvinism was largely an urban movement… (Its teachings were directed primarily) to the classes engaged in trade and industry, who formed the most modern and progressive elements in the life of the age…” [6]

Writing of a British Governor-General in India, Marx says: “His favourites received contracts under conditions whereby they, cleverer than the alchemists, made gold out of nothing. Great fortunes sprang up like mushrooms in a day; primitive accumulation went on without the advance of a shilling.” [4]

And there we have the reason why Europe carried out this early accumulation at home and abroad with such merciless enthusiasm and passion — because the process assured men of property stupendous and immediate profit. Brought up in this European hothouse of rapine, the settlers in South Africa could not but continue this process in their colony. The result was that when England abolished the slave trade in 1834, ‘nearly two centuries after the arrival of the first batch of slaves, the descendants of the original colonists rebelled against this decision.

Judging themselves too weak to reimpose slavery by arms, the Boers resolved to take themselves out of the area of British jurisdiction. Thus began the so-called Great Trek of the Boers into the interior of our country.

Of course, all along, the Boers were determined that again they would have to seize our land and livestock and enslave our people.

We see therefore that the methods and practices of primitive accumulation which represented a transitional phase in the development of capital in Europe, assumed permanence in the South African economy and life-style of the Boers. They acquired a fixity characteristic of feudal society, legitimised by the use of force and sanctified by a supposedly Calvinist Christianity.

The South African settlers of 1652 had themselves been the expropriated of Europe. But, as in America, here in Canada, in Australia and elsewhere, after a little while, they were able to re-establish themselves as independent producers, acquiring land in the manner we have described, on the basis of the expropriation of our people, despite the most fierce resistance of the indigenous people.

It was exactly the blissful regaining of their status as masters of their own house, their re-emergence as independent producers, that froze the Boer community at a particular moment of historic time and thereby guaranteed their regression.

Thrown up by the birth of a higher social system, they reverted precisely to that natural economy which capital was so vengefully breaking up. But capital had already taught them that in the pursuit of a better life, everything, including murder, was permissible and legitimate.

A natural economy presupposes the absence of accumulation, “consisting of the petty dealings of peasants and craftsmen in the small market town, where industry is carried on for the subsistence of the household and the consumption of wealth follows hard upon the production of it, and where commerce and finance are occasional incidents, rather than the forces which keep the whole system in motion.” [5]. Thus it is the direct opposite of a capitalist economy even when the latter is at its primitive stage of accumulation.

When they reverted to a patriarchal economy, the Boers therefore abandoned all that was dynamic and revolutionary in the formation of bourgeois society and transmuted the rest into something stultified and reactionary.

The Boers had brought this Calvinism with them from Holland and were joined later by the Calvinist French Huguenots. But when they grafted this eminently bourgeois theology onto their patriarchal economy, they in fact transformed its content into a species of Lutheranism, which was essentially a theological school which sought to idealise feudalism and save it from destruction by the capitalist mode of production which was springing up all around it.

From Calvinism the Boer took the doctrine of predestination and perverted it.

For Calvin, the chosen of God were those who survived the jungle of capitalist enterprise in industry and trade and emerged as successful men of business, without regard to race or nationality.

In the patriarchal economy this was transmuted to read: the chosen of God are those who are white. For his part Luther had said: “An earthly kingdom cannot exist without inequality of persons. Some must be free, others serfs, some rulers, others subjects.” [7]. Racism, today so much part of South African reality, constituted a justification, an attempt to rationalise, to make acceptable the enslavement and expropriation of the black people by the white.

In Boer society and in the end among almost all the Whites, racism as an ideology, squired the attributes of a psychological fixation, with the characteristic of fixated behaviour that an ineluctably irrational perception of a particular set of relationships coexists with and distorts the perception of all other sets of relationships. In the circumstance that, in any case, ideological formations bear a complex rather than a simple relationship with the material world, generating a momentum which carries them beyond the material conditions that created them, we could expect that this racism would in time present itself as an autonomous force, God-given or nature-given, as an incontrovertible condition of human existence.

To go back to Calvin, where his theology had sanctified individualism to detach the bourgeoisie from the narrow and rigid world of feudalism and thrown him, unhampered by old prejudices, Into the world market, the Boers sang praises to a stultified individualism even narrower than that of the feudal epoch, an individualism which drew its strength from the economic self sufficiency of each Boer family, the isolation of the homesteads one from another and the isolation of a whole community from the rest of the world; an individualism which became truly itself and complete only to the extent that it despised and set itself in contrast to everything that was black: an individualism therefore which was and is characterised by a rapid racism.

British Involvement

British capital subdued this petrified and arrogant individualism during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1910 Boer and Briton entered into a social contract in which the Briton undertook to help ease the Boer out of the Dark Ages while promising to respect his traditions. For his part, the Boer pledged’ not to resist the advance and domination of British capital.

Between them, Boer and Briton agreed that they would share political power and, finally, that the indigenous African population would not be party to this contract but would be kept under the domination and at the disposal of the signatories, to be used by them in whatever manner they saw fit.

There were therefore written into this agreement, the so-called Act of Union of 1910, the continuation of the methods and practices of exploitation characteristic of primitive accumulation of capital which had remained fossilised in the Boer economy but which British capital had outgrown, certainly in Britain.

Why did the British ruling class, having won the war against the Volksraad, thus regress?

One reason of course is that we; are ere dealing with the post 1885 Berlin Conference period. It could therefore be argued that the predominant colonialist practices and attitudes of the time made natural and inevitable that the British ruling class would do in South Africa what it was doing in other colonies.

Yet this explanation would not be complete. For Britain had maintained an uninterrupted colonial hold on South Africa, to one extent or another, since 1806.

The decisive point to bring to the fore is that British capital, throughout the 100 years before 1910, had itself, in South Africa, clung tenaciously to the methods and practices of primitive accumulation.

Thus while in 1807 the British administration prohibited the importation of slaves into the Cape Colony, in 1909 it introduced a vagrancy Act directed at the Khoi people. [8].

Under this law, all Khoi people not in the employ of a white person were declared vagrants. Vagrancy was made an offence. To prove that one was not a vagrant one had to produce a pass. To get the pass you had to enter into a written labour contract with a white employer.

This measure was introduced to meet the labour short-fall created by the non-importation of slaves. It was therefore used to drive those Khoi people who still maintained an independent existence, off the land, to turn them into permanent wage earners and to create the means to direct this labour where it was needed.

In the end, it was the British armies which defeated the African people, the British who drove us off our lands, broke up the natural economy and social systems of the indigenous people. It was they who imposed taxes on the African peasants and, starting with the Masters and Servant’s’ Act of 1856, laid down the labour laws which govern the black worker in South Africa today.

In Europe, the economic freedom of the worker to hire himself out freely to the highest bidder, which came with and was part of the bourgeois revolution was of course connected with, accompanied and enhanced by the political freedom of the worker to represent themselves in matters of state through the vote, itself an integral part of the victory of the bourgeoisie over feudal society.

In South Africa this was not to be. Here, the capitalist inherited the rights of the feudal lord and appropriated to himself the right to determine where, when, at what price and under what conditions the African shall sell his labour power to the capitalist. He also appropriated to himself the right to decide “what is good for the native.”

It is therefore clear that British capital in South Africa differed from the Boer patriarchal economy with relation to primitive accumulation in two major respects.

The first of these was that it outgrew chattel slavery and therefore abolished it: the second, that, as capital, its aim continued to be that of greater and greater accumulation, through the pursuit of maximum profit.

It was therefore inevitable that British capital would be all that more thorough in the expropriation of the African peasant, all that more brutal in the exploitation of African labour, more scientific and less wasteful.

The historic compromise between the British bourgeoisie and the Boer peasantry represented hence not an historical aberration but the continued pursuit of maximum profit in conditions of absolute freedom for capital to pursue its inherent purposes.

British capital had at other times and in other circumstances made other compromises. One of the most important of these was undoubtedly that made with the British working class.

In its struggle against its feudal predecessors, the British bourgeoisie had called upon and received the support of the working people. It therefore had to take cognisance of the fact that its political victory did not belong to it alone.

It further took note of the fact that the denial of political freedoms to its ally while claiming them as a natural right for itself, posed the danger that these working masses would pass beyond the struggle against the feudal lords and take on the bourgeoisie itself.

While convincing the workers of the sacredness of private property. especially its own, bourgeois property, it nevertheless conceded them their political democracy. Thereby and mainly because of this concession, it destroyed the possibility for capital to continue using primitive methods of accumulation within Britain.

Capital in South Africa never had to contend with such a situation. Historically, it owes the working class nothing and has therefore conceded to it nothing, (excepting of course the white workers, about whom later.)

It is clear that during its war with the so-called Boer republics, the British ruling class consciously avoided putting itself in a state of indebtedness to the black people. For instance, in January 1901, Lord Milner, the British High Commissioner “told a Coloured deputation… that he could not accept their offer to take up arms against the republican forces.” [9]. The same thing happened when another Boer rebellion had to be put down in 1914.

That the bourgeoisie was aware that the denial of democratic rights to the workers was in the interests of capitalism was evident when indentured labour was imported from China after the Anglo-Boer war.

Then, the mine-bosses stated that “a big body of enfranchised white workers ‘would simply hold the Government of the country in the hollow of their hand’ and ‘more or less dictate not only on the question of wages, but also on political questions.” [10]

Translating the advantages of black worker disenfranchisement into cash, the Chamber of Mines stated in its 1910 Annual Report that it “viewed the native purely as a machine, requiring a certain amount of fuel” It decreed accordingly that the diet of the African miners living in the mine compounds should be determine in Arms of the formula “the minimum amount of food which will give them maximum amount of work.” [11]

Of the bourgeois countries, South Africa is unique to the extent that profit maximisation is the overt, unhidden and principal objective of state policy, and can therefore be regarded with respect to this characteristic as an almost perfect model of capitalism, cleansed of everything that is superfluous its essential characterisation; a model which displays to all, in their true nakedness, the inner motive forces of this social system and its fundamental inter-connections.

The position that black people occupy in this model can be defined as follows:

they are the producers of wealth;

they produce this wealth not for their own benefit but for its appropriation by the white population; and,

they are permitted to consume part of this wealth but only in that proportion which will “give the maximum amount of work” on a continuing basis.

This may sound harsh and anti-human but it characterises “pure capitalism.” Let us see for instance what Marcuse in his studies of Max Weber had to say: “The ‘formally most rational’ mode of capital accounting is the one into which man and his ‘purposes’ enter only as variables in the calculation of the chances of gain and profit. In this formal rationality, mathematimisation is carried to the point of the calculus with the real negation of life itself…”[12]

If this sounds too abstract, the white South African Member of Parliament G.F. Froneman translates it into the concrete when he says: “(within white society, Africans) are only supplying a commodity, the commodity of labour…It is labour we w importing (into the white areas) and not labourers as individuals…” [13]

Froneman went on to say that the numbers of Africans to be found in the so-called white areas therefore make no difference to the composition of Society — society with a capital S — precisely because the African is not an individual, comparable to a white individual.

Rather, he is the repository of the commodity labour power, which can and must be quantified in a profit and loss account to the point of the very “negation of life itself.” In that very real sense the African therefore belongs to the category of commodities to an equal extent as gold, diamonds and any other commodity you care to mention, to be bought and sold. hoarded and even destroyed depending exclusively on the state of the market.

The denial of the humanity of the Slav’ which occurred during the period of primitive accumulation of capital is therefore repeated here but at a higher and more rational level.

That rationality demands that to ensure maximum profit that portion of the national wealth which accrues to the black people as consume” should be kept at the barest minimum.

Consequently, the real wages of the African mined are today lower than they were in 1911. [14]. Note also the almost total absence of social security benefits for the African people. To provide these benefits would be to increase the cost of reproduction of the producer and conversely to decrease capital’s show of the national cake.

It might be argued that our thesis might begin to collapse when we tackle the question of the white worked.

Appearance would have it that in maintaining a white labour aristocracy, capital is behaving in a most irrational fashion, that capital itself has become so impregnated with racial prejudice that it cannot seek to extract maximum profit from a white worker.

Yet we must bear in mind that the capitalist class does not view itself solely as the appropriator of wealth in contradistinction to our being the producers.

The capitalist class is also heavily burdened with matters of state administration. It has taken on itself the task of ruling our country. As early as November 1899, Lord Milner had said: “The ultimate end (of British policy) is a self-governing white Community, supported by well treated and justly governed black labour from Cape Town to Zambesi (sic).” [15].

A principal pre-occupation of this self-governing community must therefore be to ensure that the “justly-treated and well-governed” do not one day rise up and transform themselves also into a self-governing community.

From the very beginning,British capital knew that it had to face this possibility and that if it fought without any allies; it would lose in such a confrontation.

The historic compromise of 1910 has therefore this significance that in granting the vanquished Boer equal political and social status with the British victor, it imposed on both the duty to defend the status quo against especially those whom that status quo defined as the dominated.

The capitalist class, to whom everything has a cash value, has never considered moral incentives as very dependable. As part of the arrangement, it therefore decided that material incentives must play a prominent part.

It consequently bought out the whole white population. It offered a price to the white workers and the Afrikaner farmers in exchange for an undertaking that they would shed their blood in defence of capital.

Both worker and farmer, like Faustus, took the devil’s offering and, like Faustus, they will have to pay on the appointed day.

The workers took the offering in monthly cash grants and reserved jobs. The farmers took their share by having black labour, including and especially prison labour directed to the farms. They also took it in the form of huge subsidies and loans to help them maintain a “civilised standard of living.”

The indebtedness of these farmers to the profit-making bourgeois in 1966 was equal to $1.25 billion, amounting to nearly 12 per cent of the gross national product.[16]

In 1947 a commission of the Dutch Reformed Church included in its report the prophetic words: “In the country, one feels dependent on God; in the towns on men, such as one’s employer.” [17]

In the struggle that marks the growing onslaught of the black producers on the society of the parasites, the white worker will have to pay for that dependence on the employer-industrialist, the white farmer for that dependence on the employer-creditor.

The God of Calvin is a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him: the God of Capital will after all have his pound of flesh!

Engels wrote in 1895 that: “When Bismarck found himself compelled to introduce (universal) franchise as the only means of interesting the mass of the people in 0a plans, our workers immediately took it in earnest and sent August Bebel to the first constituent Reichstag. And from that day on, they have used the franchise in a way which has paid them a thousandfold and has sewed as a model to the workers of all countries. The franchise has been… transformed by them from a means of deception, which it was before, into an instrument of emancipation…And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the result of elections than those of rebellion.”

Engels continues: “Of course, our… comrades do not thereby, in the least renounce their right to revolution. The right to revolution is, after all, the only really ‘historical right’, the only right on which all modern states without exception rest…” [18]

Yet it came to pass that in large measure the working class of western Europe and North America did in fact for some time anyway renounce its right to revolution.

Some of the mass parties of the workers became parties of Order and Reform. And to the extent that bourgeois Law and Order was the basis on which the proletariat founded its trade unions and secured for itself higher wages, better working conditions and the right to strike, this was an inevitable outcome.

That bourgeois Law and Order also gave the proletariat the right to form its own political party and the right to install that party in power, all within the legal framework of bourgeois democracy.

In the work from which we have just quoted Engels says: “The irony of world history turns everything upside down. The Parties (of the property owning class) … are perishing under the legal conditions created by themselves. They cry despairingly…legality is the death of us; whereas we, under this legality, get firm muscles and rosy cheeks and look like life eternal… (There) is nothing left for them to do but themselves break through this fatal legality.” [19]

The condition of the black workers of South Africa, the place in society allocated to us by the capitalist class, demands that we must assert our right to revolution.

Capital in its South African mould turns things right side up again. We are perishing under the legal conditions created by the bourgeoisie whereas they, under this legality, get firm muscles and rosy cheeks and look like life eternal. We have no choice but to break down this fatal legality.

For the burden of our argument has been exactly this that in the totality of the social relations that describe the apartheid system, we have a place only and exclusively in so far as we are “the ragged trousered philanthropists” — the exploited producers. We are otherwise the outsiders, the excluded — on our own continent, in our country!

In this context, take the Bantustan programme. In its objectives stated by the creators of this policy, the black producers will have the right to be complete human beings only in these areas which have been set aside as our so-called homelands.

Otherwise, when we enter so called white South Africa, we have the following dramatis personae: “He who (is the) money-owner…strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.” [20]

The Bantustan policy is therefore not a deus ex machina, a contrived and inartistic solution of a difficulty in the drama of South African life. Rather, it is but the legal codification, the pure representation in juridical form, of the centuries-old socio-economic reality of the alienation of the black producer from the society which he daily produces and reproduces.

At the level of abstraction, there are two alternatives out of this condition -available to the black workers.

One of these is to cut the umbilical cord that ties us to bourgeois South Africa, for us to cease to be producers on somebody else’s account. What would then happen?

We could then join the demi-monde of the thieves and murderers, the pimps and prostitutes and, by becoming true and complete outcasts, recast ourselves in the parasitic model of our bourgeois progenitor, outside the bounds of bourgeois legality. Such an alternative is obviously absurd.

The racist regime is on the other hand pushing us into the Bantustans. This constitutes a death sentence for thousands of our people. For South Africa’s land policy, of which the Bantustans are the historical outcome, is founded precisely on the land dispossession of the African people which ensures that hunger compels us to bang our own hides to market.

The second, and in fact, the only historically justifiable and inevitable alternative is that we cling very firmly to our position as producers, that we hoist the bourgeoisie with its own petard.

The irony of the South African situation is that exactly because capital permits us to enter the city, to pass through the sacred portals of a white church, and set foot in the even more sacred sanctuary of madame’s bedroom, but only as workers, capital thereby indicates to us daily that it is in fact our labour that makes the city to live, that gives voice to the predikant, the preacher and provides-the necessary conditions for procreation.

Since then we are, in a very real sense, the creators of society, what remains for us is to insist and ensure that that society is made in our image and that we have dominion over it.

In as much as the producer and the parasite who feeds on the producer represent antithetical forces, the one working, the other idle; the one wanting to escape the obligation of the nurse-maid and the other striving to ensure that he is for ever the fed, in as much therefore must a South Africa over which we have dominion be the antithesis of a present-day South Africa.

The Freedom Charter

That free South Africa must therefore redefine the black producer or rather, since we the people shall govern, since we shall have through our own struggle, placed ourselves in the position of makers of history and policy and no longer objects, we shall redefine our own position as follows:

we are the producers of wealth;

we produce this wealth for our own benefit to be appropriated by us the producers;

the aim of this production shall be the satisfaction, at an increasing level, of the material and spiritual needs of the people;

we shall so order the rest of society and social activity, in education and culture in the legal sphere, on military questions, in our international relations, et cetera, to conform to these goals.

In my view, this redefinition contains within it the theoretical basis of the Freedom Charter, the political programme of the African National Congress adopted in 1956.

It should be of some interest to point out that this programme was written exclusively on the basis of demands submitted by thousands upon thousands of ordinary workers, peasants, businessmen, intellectuals and other professional people, the youth and women of all nationalities of South Africa.

It is a measure of their maturity that these masses should have so clearly understood the fundamental direction of their aspirations. It is a demonstration in practice of how much the bourgeoisie, by refusing to temper its greed, did ultimately teach us to identify our true interests without any equivocation.

Whenever we stand up and say “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people…,” [21], we always meet with three different reactions.

There are those, naturally who agree with us. There are those who howl in derision: these are the white supremacists who are confident of the everlasting power of the repressive force of apartheid South Africa.

But perhaps more important, there are those, themselves the offspring of the black producers of our country together with their sympathisers, who, in anger, throw at us the epithet, traitor!

Yet this is what a free South Africa will be like. For as the masses themselves long discovered, the antithesis to white supremacy, exclusiveness and arrogance is not a black version of the same practice.

In the physical world, black might indeed be the opposite of white. But in the world of social systems, social theory and practice have as much to do with skin pigmentation as has the birth of children with the stork. To connect the two is to invent a fable with the conscious or unconscious purpose of hiding reality.

The act of negating the theory and practice of white apartheid racism, the revolutionary position, is exactly to take the issue of colour, race, national and sex differentiation out of the sphere of rational human thinking and behaviour, and thereby expose all colour, race, nation and sex prejudice as irrational.

Our own rational practical social activity, rational in the sense of being anti-racist and non-racist, constitutes such a negation; it constitutes the social impetus and guarantee of the withering away of this irrationality.

Consider the circumstances in which we might position “black capitalism” as the antithesis to “white capitalism.” Fortunately, Fanon has already warned us that one of the results of imperialist domination is that in the colonial middle class “the dynamic pioneer aspect, the characteristics of the inventor and the discoverer of new worlds which are found in all national bourgeoisies are lamentably absent.”

“In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial countries identifies itself with the decadence of the bourgeoisie of the west. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end. It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness, or the will to succeed of youth.” [22]

Thus black capitalism instead of being the antithesis is rather confirmation of parasitism with no redeeming features whatsoever, without any extenuating circumstances to excuse its existence. If you want to see a living example, go to the Transkei.

Even more, by thus expelling racism to the realm of the irrational by our own practice we would help to deny those who want to exploit and oppress others, including our very selves, the possibility of finding justification for their actions in such prejudices.

We particularly, who are the products ‘of exemplary capitalist exploitation, must remember that when German capital found opportunity, especially during the 2nd World War, to revert to primitive forms of accumulation, under the stimulation of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious, lilt used exactly these prejudices literally to enslave and slaughter millions of people.

We must remember that the exploitation of the so-called gastarbeiter in Western Europe today is founded, in part, on contempt for their nationality: that in the United States and Northern Ireland the black and Irish worker respectively are oppressed and exploited on the basis of colour and national prejudice.

The charge of traitor might stick if we were to advance a programme of equality between black and white while there remained between these two communities the relations of exploiter and exploited.

But we have already said that our victory presupposes the abolition of parasitism and the re-integration of the idle rich as productive members of society as well as our writing off the debt of the white worker and farmer so that they can start again afresh, as equals with other producers, in law and in every other respect, without the heavy weight of blood money in their pockets and on their consciences.

The Freedom Charter itself says that “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people.” It also goes on to say “all the land (shall be) redivided among those who work it to banish famine and hunger.” [23]

We believe sincerely that it is only in conditions of such an equality as is underpinned by these provisions that we shall each be able to discover and unfold our true individuality, reacquire the right to be human, and thereby create the conditions for the creative realisation of the considerable talent of our people, both black and white, which today is so firmly stifled by the suffocating purposes of a small exploiting and oppressive minority.

To transcend the status of mere producer to that of human being, capital has taught us by negative example that we must guarantee ourselves the right to work and to social security, good housing and health services, education, culture, pride and joy in the multiplicity of languages and progressive national traditions among ourselves and among the people of Africa and the world.

We must therefore preface our own system of accounting with the provision that our rational calculations must serve to enlarge human life and not to negate it.

We have therefore to strive to banish war and the use or threat of force in the settlement of international disputes. We must work to abolish the use of rear against individuals and communities as an instrument of policy, and therefore uphold and fight for the right of all peoples to true self-determination, for friendship and mutually advantageous co-operation among the peoples of the world.

We are convinced that in this way we would restore our country to its rightful position in the world as a steadfast friend and ally of all who struggle for peace, democracy and social progress, and not the repugnant predator that she is today.

In 1953, one of our outstanding leaders, Nelson Mandela wrote: “To talk of democratic and constitutional means (to achieve liberation) can only have a basis in reality for those who enjoy democratic and constitutional rights…We cannot win one single victory…without overcoming a desperate resistance on the part of the Government…(Therefore) no organisation whose interests are identical with those of the toiling masses will advocate conciliation to win its demands.” [24]

This is a call to revolution. This revolution is necessary, as Marx and Engels once said: “not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.” [25]

We have tried to covey to you our own view, as scientifically as possible, of our past, our present and our national democratic future and the organic connection between these.

Let us leave you with a few more words from Nelson Mandela: “In South Africa, where the entire population is almost split into two hostile camps…and where recent political events have made the struggle between oppressor and oppressed even more acute, there can be no middle course. The fault of the Liberals…is to attempt to strike just such a course. They believe in criticising and condemning the Government for its reactionary policies but they are afraid to identify themselves with the people and to assume the task of mobilising that social force capable of lifting the struggle to higher levels…The real question is: in the general struggle for political rights can the oppressed people count on the Liberal Party as an ally.”[26]

That question posed 25 years ago has reached a broader audience today, including this audience; can the oppressed people count on you as allies?


1. Karl Marx: Capital, Vol.1, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1965. p.751.

2. ibid. p.762.

3. H.J. and R.E. Simons: Class and Colour in South Africa; 1850-1950, Penguin Books, England 1969, p.11.

4. Karl Marx: op. cit. pp.752-3.

5. R.H. Tawney: Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Mentor Books, New York, 1958, p.91.

6. ibid. p.91 ff.

7. ibid. p.84

8. Edward Roux: Time Longer than Rope, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 1966, p.27.

9. Simons: op. cit. p.63.

10. ibid. p.82.

11. ibid. p.84.

12. Herbert Marcuse: Negations, Beacon Press, Boston, 1969. p.211.

13. Alex La Gums (Ed): Apartheid, International Publishers, New York, 1971, p.47.

14. See: Francis Wilson: Labour in the South African Gold Mines, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972 and Hans Kramer: in Asia. Africa, Latin America, Special Issue 1. 1976, Berlin.

15. Monica Wilson and Leonard Thompson (Eds): The Oxford History of South Africa, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1971. p.330.

16. ibid. p.167.

17. ibid. p.203.

18. Frederick Engels: Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France in On Historical Materialism, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1972. pp.264 & 269.

19. ibid. p.270.

20. Karl Marx: op. cit. p.176.

21. African National Congress: Forward to Freedom, Morogoro, 1969.

22. Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press Inc., New York. 1968. p.153.

23. African National Congress: op. cit.

24. Nelson Mandela: No Easy Walk to Freedom, Basic Books Inc., New York, 1965. p.34.

25. Marx and Engels: The German Ideology, International Publishers, New York, 1970, p.95.

26. Nelson Mandela: op. cit. p.33-34.

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