The state and the ANC’s legacy within it
“The Communist Party sought to emphasize class distinctions, whilst the ANC seeks to harmonize them.” Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Treason Trial.
I came across this little jewel whilst reading The Sun Will Rise, a small book published by the International Defence and Aid for Southern Africa in 1981, and it struck me as it never has before why the ANC cannot deliver to the South African working class its long held promise of economic emancipation.
It came quite clear to me from this statement that the ANC has never sought the abolition of class rule (even with its highly popularized slogan of “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it”) only the taking over of the state by the black ‘majority’, put precisely, the running of the capitalist state by the ANC minority in the interest of white or black capital. In practice, this means running a state for the suppression of the black and white working class by white and black capital, for in a class society there cannot exist such a thing as “class harmony” unless the aspirations of one of these classes are being suppressed.
This, the proponents of the state will never admit to for to lend to the state legitimacy they have to claim its neutrality; they have to and do assert that the state is in “everyone’s” interest. However this is far from it, the state is a tool of class oppression. It is a tool used by a dominant class to hold down a subordinate class. In our present society, it is a tool in the hands of capitalists for the suppression of the working class.
The Marikana massacre is a case in point, where a workers’ strike was brutally crushed by the might of the state in the interests of capital. And there are numerable other examples of such incidents having taken place elsewhere in the world.
But what Mandela’s statement here and countless others coming from the ANC since, especially during this new political dispensation, seek to obscure remind one of the great Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s statement in his brilliant book The State and Revolution of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology:
“…compelled under the weight of indisputable historical facts to admit that the state only exists where there are class antagonisms and a class struggle, “correct” Marx in such a way as to make it appear that the state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes. According to Marx, the state could neither have arisen nor maintained itself had it been possible to reconcile classes. From what the petty-bourgeois and philistine professors and publicists say, with quite frequent and benevolent references to Marx, it appears that the state does reconcile classes. According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order”, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes. In the opinion of the petty-bourgeois politicians, however, order means the reconciliation of classes, and not the oppression of one class by another; to alleviate the conflict means reconciling classes and not depriving the oppressed classes of definite means and methods of struggle to overthrow the oppressors.”
I think of this quote only the first part is relevant to Mandela’s statement but I quote it in its entirety because only then does it illuminate the birth of the state, its role in society and the arguments purported for it by its supporters.
I’d like to argue furthermore on this point that the state cannot therefore be taken over by any oppressed class seeking emancipation and be used for this purpose as is clearly illustrated by the ANC strategy since 1994.
The capitalist state no matter who holds it is meant for the advancement of capitalist interests. As Karl Marx also pointed out “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” And this is exactly what the ANC has been doing since ’94, managing the common interests of the capitalists. Whether it be through GEAR, ASGISA or the current NDP, these policies have always been for the advancement of capital but hidden under the guise of serving everyone’s interests.
But if then taking over the state is not an option open to the working class in its struggle against capitalism, what other options are left to it in this pursuit? I believe it lies in the self activity of the working class smashing the capitalist state and setting up its own state. This workers’ state is needed to suppress the capitalists for they will not let go of power willingly or without a fight. As that counter-revolutionary General Lavr Kornilov during the 1917 Russian revolution declared, “We must save Russia, even if we have to set fire to half of it and shed the blood of three-fourths of all Russians.”
But because they are such a minority this can be achieved merely by the “organization of armed people” not by any special complex apparatus as is the capitalist state. And once this suppression of the resistance of the capitalists is achieved there won’t be any further use for the state and it will wither away. So the workers’ state is in fact transitory.
But what can be done in the here and now to accomplish this final goal of smashing the capitalist state? Because capitalism and its state are so organized the same should be adopted by the workers if they are to thrive in their striving for its overthrow. Workers need their own independent organization to challenge the system.
This organization, a party infact, needs to be build of the most advanced, most class-conscious and revolutionary section of the working class. Capitalism is always wrecking havoc in ordinary peoples’ lives, whether it be through economic crisis, austerity, unemployment, climate change effects like typhoons, floods and droughts. This organization of socialists needs to bring out clearly the link between these and the system and on how to challenge them, for the pundits in capitalism are always obscuring these, making them seem like natural phenomena.
Toxic ideas like sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia or Islamophobia need also to be challenged head-on because these are used as tools by the capitalists for splitting up the working class.
The party also needs to support all other working class struggles including service delivery strikes and wage strikes as these build up confidence amongst the working class in challenging the overall system. Strikes also help disillusion workers about the role of the state in society, for whenever there are such events the brutal arm of the state, in the form of the police and in other cases the army, is sent in to “keep things under control”. Lenin’s words that “So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.”, seem to me to pave a way for something working class people should strive for the world over, the abolition of things as they stand, the abolition of the capitalist order.