The Actual Legacy of Mangaliso Sobukwe.

April 14, 2015

Flipping through the re-issue of Benjamin Pogrund’s hagiography of Robert Sobukwe, How Can Man Die Better, one starts off by noticing that Pogrund has chosen a really trite and crummy title for the book. It would be difficult to find a more imperialist text than Lays of Ancient Rome, especially given the British ruling-class policy of pretending to be a replacement for Rome. Then again, one notices that the poem is about a man who risked his life by successfully protecting his country against attack, which Sobukwe did not do — he eventually died of cancer in bed.

Sobukwe enjoys an uninterrupted stream of praise in the media, mostly on the pretext that he was a genius and a marvel of humankind. He has a great big monument in Graaf-Reinet, though mysteriously people keep on vandalising it. Some have suggested that Fort Hare University be renamed Sobukwe University. Obviously there’s a lot of noise being made here, but it seems a lot like a football crowd chanting “Ooh-aah Sobukwe!” and blasting away with vuvuzelas. The problem being that it doesn’t take a lot of vuvuzelas to make a loud noise, and you can get people to join a chant even when they don’t know what they’re chanting about. Did Sobukwe do anything to justify this? Does Pogrund tell us?

Pogrund is a South African liberal in the classic mould — a thoroughly dishonest person who believes that his rich friends will buy him political power thanks to his ideology, which holds that what is needed is absolute freedom for everyone who agrees with Pogrund and obeys the same masters that he does. More recently Pogrund has become a firm supporter of racist mass murder provided that it is committed by Jews (or perhaps this was the position which he always held). This intellectual degradation is quite positive in this case, for it means that one can easily discern when Pogrund is lying, especially since he doesn’t acknowledge it even to himself, and frequently provides one in the book with evidence which contradicts his own propaganda.

Apparently, then, Sobukwe was marked out at an early age as a potential tool of white power and privilege. He went first to Healdtown, then to Fort Hare, where he was sponsored by white supporters on condition that he would return to Healdtown as a teacher. However, something went wrong. According to Pogrund, Sobukwe (who was President of the SRC, at that time making him a liaison officer between black students and white staff) gave a speech to a select gathering which was unduly Africanist in tone. Therefore, says Pogrund, Healdtown no longer wanted him, seeing him as a troublemaker. (Alternatively, it could just be that he wanted to leave rather than have to pay back the money he owed.) In any case Sobukwe, after taking his degree, went off to teach in a Johannesburg township in 1950. (He didn’t get any distinctions, although according to Pogrund he was considered good enough to get them; his main speciality was Bantu Language and Native Administration.)

But after a short while he fell foul of the authorities by giving a political speech. He was then notified that his contract would not be renewed — he was working in a government school. (So, rather than work for the missionaries, he preferred to work for apartheid? How interesting.) Normally that would have been the end of it, but the missionaries and Z K Matthews pleaded his case, and the government decided not to sack him. However, he went off to teach at the University of the Witwatersrand anyway. So he moved from a relatively low-paying job working in the interests of black people, to a much better-paid job working for, and largely teaching, white people. Interesting again. Also interesting that Wits wanted him. Was it because he was a genius, or because they thought he might be a useful lackey?

Throughout the early 1950s he was only modestly involved in politics, but he joined the ANC and began building up a personal power-base, especially in Alexandra. He was particularly associated with the Africanists in the ANC, who had their own newsletter in which they vilified the party leadership and the Communists, whom Sobukwe hated. Ostensibly he hated them because they were undemocratic, and because they were whites (though most of them were black) and because their allegiance was not to Africa. But then again, these Africanists were also remarkably friendly with white liberals like Pogrund, many of whom were on the “left” wing of the United Party, some of whom were thinking about forming a Progressive Party, and some of whom were thinking about forming a liberal pressure group.

This was Treason Trial time. The people who had taken over the ANC in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Mandela and Sisulu and Luthuli, were all banned, and a lot of their friends were as well — and they were all faced with courtroom drama and the possibility of long sentences if they had a sufficiently corrupt judge who would take the ludicrous charges at face value. It was obviously a time which cried out for unity. Except, to people like Sobukwe and his friends, this was an opportunity not to be missed. The old Youth League crowd and their allies were all officially out of action — they were not allowed to participate in ANC activities and their movements were restricted. Now, surely, was the time for Sobukwe and his friends to move in and gain control of the ANC. Why not?

Well, the reason why not was that they were exploiting the oppression of the apartheid regime for personal gain — not an unfamiliar practice by Africanists. (As Pogrund coyly reveals, one of Sobukwe’s great allies and a co-founder of the PAC eventually decided that he did not like exile, and did a deal with the apartheid regime to return to the Transkei bantustan, where he became Minister of Police under the Matanzima dictatorship.) This obviously did not win friends among the ANC’s stalwarts, and a couple of the people from the Alexandra cabal who suggested this were expelled from the ANC, probably at the behest of the SACP, who loved expelling people almost as much as they loved the sound of their own voices.

Not liking this, Sobukwe and his friends decided simply to take over the ANC at the next Transvaal congress late in 1958. They showed up at the congress with about a hundred tsotsis carrying sticks, along with the people who had been kicked out of the ANC. To their dismay, Oliver Tambo, the Chair, allowed them all in, where they were considerably outnumbered by non-Africanists and where they were allowed to speak their piece. The problem was that Sobukwe and friends had nothing to say except that everybody should get out of the way and let them take over, something which the rest of the ANC wasn’t much impressed by. Tambo, meanwhile, set up a committee to investigate the credentials of all delegates — which is the typical ANC way of keeping out people you didn’t like, but which applied painfully well here because the Africanists were almost all either people who had been expelled, or Alexandra street thugs who’d never belonged to the ANC. Furthermore, because the non-Africanists were in the majority, the Africanists couldn’t pack the committee with their supporters. The actual assessment of the committee was put off to the following day, at which point Tambo had acquired sticks for the majority and the Africanists were easily excluded because their appalling behaviour fully justified it. Thus Sobukwe and their friends succeeded in splitting the ANC out of their incompetence and greed; they had nothing to justify their high-handed behaviour which could only serve the interests of the white minority forces.

Pogrund’s view of the period between then and March 1960 is interesting. On one hand he does his best to smear the ANC, declaring that they did nothing of substance apart from a potato boycott and preparations for the great anti-pass defiance campaign. However, they had at least three times the membership of the PAC — and, as Pogrund remarks, the PAC’s leadership was almost entirely middle-class (Wits allowed Pogrund to carry on at his lecturing job while being the President of the PAC, something which would never have been permitted for an ANC activist — it was almost as if the fact that the PAC was in constant contact with white liberals, as well as holding opinions which were very congenial to white racists, was helpful.)

The PAC picked up its membership predominantly in the Vaal Triangle, where Sobukwe’s friends had been strong, and in the Western Cape where there had always been distrust for the ANC and where factionalism was strong. The reason why these people joined the PAC seems to have had little to do with any ideological or practical motive, for apart from bombast Sobukwe and his friends offered no ideas. The suggestion was that they would be more vigorous than the ANC and would take advantage of the ANC’s failure. However, it was only in late 1959, after the ANC announced their plans to launch a massive national anti-pass campaign, that the PAC came up with its own idea — a massive national anti-pass campaign. In other words, the PAC had no ideas of its own.

Nor did the PAC have any planning capacity of its own. It did not even set a date for its campaign. It did not develop media or other material for its campaign, in spite of having  months and months to work on it. This was partly because the PAC had virtually no dues-paying members; in sharp contrast to the ANC the PAC focussed all its energy on people who were prepared to say they supported the PAC rather than on committed members. This, of course, would pose a huge problem were there to be a crackdown, because support would then melt away to nothing — it would appear that Sobukwe was blissfully unaware of the certainty of state repression, perhaps because, unlike the ANC’s leadership, he had never personally experienced anything except pampering from whites.

But once the ANC had announced that it would launch its anti-pass campaign on the 31st of March (much sooner than it wanted — it had originally hoped to wait until June) the PAC announced that it would launch an anti-pass campaign as well. Pogrund claims that the PAC was afraid that the ANC’s anti-pass campaign would fail, and that this would lead to a decline in support for liberation movements. This makes no sense; if the ANC’s campaign were to fail then the PAC could surely have prepared a better one thereafter. Instead, the PAC decided to pre-empt the ANC’s campaign with their own — unfortunately without effectual coordination, leadership or planning. Whether the ANC would have been able to do better is not certain, although it is likely.

Anyway, Sobukwe came up with the brilliant idea not only of launching the PAC’s anti-pass campaign on the 21st, but also of announcing this on the 18th, which ensured that the PAC’s campaign would definitely happen before the ANC’s. The PAC’s campaign was much more of a damp squib than has ever been admitted; it had any success only in the Vaal Triangle and in Cape Town, and in both places the chaotic demonstrations which took place led to massacres of PAC supporters (fortunately, thanks to the unexpected behaviour of Philip Kgosana, who took charge when nobody else would, the Cape Town massacre was on a smaller scale than at Sharpeville). The leadership of the PAC rushed to the nearest police station demanding that they be arrested, and duly were, which had the effect, completely unanticipated by Sobukwe and his friends, of decapitating the organisation and preventing it from doing anything. The ANC then arranged a stayaway to mourn the dead — Sobukwe attempted to disrupt the stayaway, but failed; it was the ANC’s most successful single action before the banning of the organisation, and showed the virtue of organisation as opposed to opportunism and blather.

But it didn’t, of course, save the ANC, which was duly banned along with the PAC. And Sobukwe was sent to prison — though only for three years, and the bitter complaints presented by the PAC leadership about how awfully they were treated in prison, which Pogrund reproduces in faithfully pitiful detail, simply shows how pathetically unprepared they were for prison, and how vulnerable the middle-class PAC leadership were to state bullying. It is hardly surprising that so many of them betrayed the movement and that others walked away from the PAC itself in search of a tougher and more effective organisation.

Pogrund also points out how deeply the PAC was entwined with the white Liberal Party. To Pogrund this is good — but it is also, obviously, the sheerest hypocrisy. On one hand they were denouncing whites as their enemies, on the other they were begging money and aid from them and writing cringing articles for white magazines. It seems likely that the PAC’s hostility to the SACP was driven partly from racism, partly from envy of the SACP’s courage and discipline — everything the cowardly and chaotic PAC was not — and partly from a desire to please their white patrons.

So what is left of Sobukwe that one can respect? Not much. He was a modestly able ANC activist in the mid-1950s who proved incapable of sustaining himself as a disciplined comrade, and whose subsequent behaviour was not worthy of respect or even close scrutiny. He was not even a Biko, a mock-intellectual with at least the courage of some convictions. He was, instead, simply a man who tried to do the best for himself and, because of his ignorance and bad judgement, ended up ruining himself instead. That wouldn’t be so bad if he had not contributed to the ruin of the ANC for half a generation, and if he had not promoted a foolish, parasitic strain in South African politics. Compared even with Jacob Zuma or Tony Yengeni it is hard to see anything of merit in him.

He deserves to be forgotten, not commemorated.


Parliament and its Enemies.

February 28, 2015

Gradually, the status of the EFF is beginning to crystallise. Now that it has a democratically elected leadership (something which the UDF never possessed) it can turn its attention to maintaining organisational discipline. This should mean calling people like Andile Mngxitama to account.

In the Pan-Africanist Congress and the Africanist movement in general there has long been a tradition of telling lies in order to foster private advantage, an advantage handicapped by the intellectual deficiencies of the PAC leadership. Mngxitama seems to be acting within this tradition. At least, when you go to a press conference to announce that you are the victim of a conspiratorial deal under which the leadership of your party has undertaken not to disrupt the Presidential State of the Nation address, it’s advisable not to hold that press conference the day before the leadership of the party disrupts the Presidential State of the Nation address. One is apt to be recognised as a very silly and incompetent liar when one does that.

But more to the point, there’s a big difference between “bringing the organisation into disrepute” when the organisation is riding high in power and influence, and when the organisation is an insurgent force which has to cope with immense amounts of attacks from all sides. The former is just pitiful; when Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being just like ZANU (PF), and was called on the carpet, he wasn’t kicked out of the party because he was easily exposed as a nauseating, opportunistic hypocrite (a role he has played ever since). If he had done something like that in 1989, he could easily have been shot (and the Jeremy Cronin of 1989 would have pulled the trigger himself).

Mngxitama doesn’t understand party discipline because his goal is not to accomplish anything, but to get himself talked about and potentially get some money out of that, which is the goal of most of our contemporary politicians. By his behaviour he’s showing himself unfit to have been elected as an official of the EFF — which is the petulant reason he’s telling all these lies and smearing his own party. Whether or not he’s kicked out, the point is that he will never be taken seriously as an EFF member again, by anyone, even the right-wingers who may try to exploit him as an example of the “divisions” within the EFF.

It is fortunate, in fact, that those members of the EFF who are corrupt Africanists are exposing themselves so clumsily as tools of white plutocracy (Wa Azania is another example of this tendency). One must remember that Africanists have often made healthy recruits for the Charterist movement; figures like Terror Lekota were once Africanists.

Meanwhile, the disruption of the State of the Nation address was, of course, a publicity stunt, but it also conveyed various messages which are worth conveying, so claims that such behaviour is doing nothing more than lowering the tone of political debate.

The most obvious message is that the President is dishonest and afraid of acknowledging his own dishonesty.

Another obvious message is that the President abuses his authority and prefers violence to debate.

Yet another obvious message is that what the President has to say is not worth listening to.

Furthermore, another obvious message is that when the rules of procedure serve to protect dishonest and cowardly thugs engaged in telling lies and wasting time, the rules of procedure should be exploited in order to show the thugs up.

All this is quite obvious to anyone paying attention to events. It is known to virtually the whole public, which is why this publicity stunt was so successful. Also, virtually everything that the Zuma supporters did, all the way down to the hysterical shrieks of Baleka Mbete and her allies, cast more light on it and made the issues more obvious. The DA was forced to piggyback on the EFF’s success, which was helpful for both of them (although virtually all commentators, and the ANC itself, attempted to discredit the EFF and endorse the DA, for the DA poses no threat to the established order whereas the EFF might).

The thing which the ANC took away with them from this was the idea that thuggery works. This is, in fact, the idea which the Zuma faction has always possessed, and it is a gross oversimplification. Firstly, thuggery works best when you have the support of the propaganda agencies (which the Zuma faction no longer has) and when the public is stupid enough to be behind you (which the Zuma faction can no longer be sure of) and when you are dealing with people who are either cowards, or paralysed by indecision or by divided loyalties. Thuggery worked against Mbeki because he had been betrayed by all his allies and thus could not take action against it. Thuggery did not work against the ANC Youth League, and it doesn’t work against the EFF. You can only intimidate people who are either cowardly, or know that you are prepared to carry your intimidation to the bitter end, and since the EFF aren’t cowards and don’t believe that the ANC will use apartheid-era tactics against them, these criteria don’t apply.

Thuggery also doesn’t greatly impress people who disagree with your basic principles, which is why it probably hasn’t impressed the DA. (Meanwhile, thuggery used by the EFF against the ANC might be more effective provided it is used in the pretense — or even the reality — of defending the Freedom Charter.) So when the ANC disrupted the Western Cape “State of the Province” address, they weren’t doing exactly the same as the EFF had done to them. No doubt to some extent they were rallying ANC supporters (who feel, with considerable reason, that the DA doesn’t look after their interests) but they weren’t making DA supporters uncomfortable in the way that the EFF did by focussing on the personal dishonesty and abuse of authority f the President. On the contrary, they were probably galvanising DA supporters. And, as for the ANC supporters, there must have been some who were aghast at the sheer hypocrisy of justifying an assault on MPs by saying that hooliganism must be rooted out of elected assemblies, and then promoting the behaviour which you had called hooliganism in another elected assembly. Therefore the action probably lost support without gaining any.

The fundamental problem about Parliament, and in a sense all elected assemblies in South Africa, is that they are fetishised and idealised to a ridiculous extent by people who ought to know better. We are told that because they are elected assemblies they are representatives of the masses, and therefore deserve a respectful hearing. Actually that is only true to the extent to which they actually represent the masses — and, on investigation, they usually represent the masses very badly, whether in a municipal chamber misspending the rates, in a provincial legislature mismanaging the provincial administration, or in Parliament failing to run things effectively. The general public want a lot of quite specific things which we are not getting, and our elected assemblies are failing (for the most part) to even acknowledge this, let alone do something about it.

Therefore, the protest against Zuma and the State of the Nation Address makes a certain amount of sense as a protest both against bad governance and against elected assemblies helping to enable, protect and cover up for that bad governance. The same would be true of disrupting the Western Cape legislature if one could believe that the people doing the disruption had any real intention of improving the governance or of discouring such cover-ups — which, of course, they don’t.

So, if these legislatures are not fulfilling their function, then they do not deserve to be held in high regard and treated with respect. Yet many commentators do not accept this, because in the end they hope that their factions will take control of the country someday and will seek to mismanage it in the interests of the tiny minority constituting their chosen faction.. Therefore they want the glamour of Parliament and high office, the fashion parades and uniforms and brass bands, to substitute for legitimate government, and therefore they do not want anyone to detract from those shoddy symbols. Also, of course, they do not want to encourage people to think too deeply about who they are voting for or what they are voting about.

Such people are obviously the enemies of democratic governance, and yet they are the ones who are chosen to speak on behalf of democratic governance by the propaganda organs of the ruling class — who are, clearly, themselves opposed to democratic governance. The enemies of Parliament, in other words, are everywhere in power. They are the enemies of the actual Parliament, the idea that a gathering of elected representatives might be able to make a difference to the lives of those who elected them — on behalf of the Parliament which has walls and restaurants and guards and glittering brazen ornaments.

Paradoxically, this means that the ANC in the Western Cape legislature was doing the right thing after all, although for the wrong reason and, because they were the wrong people to do the job, having the wrong effect. Unfortunately, nobody is going to think more deeply about the radical potential of an elected legislature because the ANC disrupts it. They will either think about how they can exploit and make use of the situation, or they will pretend to be outraged because they cannot exploit the situation on these terms, but only by pretending that shibboleths and empty symbols are the only thing which is important in politics. It’s very like the people who appeal to the Constitution in order to prevent the public from accessing their rights.

It is certainly important to know when it’s appropriate to accept discipline, even the discipline of people for whom you have little respect. Sometimes discipline is deserved, and sometimes it is advisable or necessary, simply because the alternative is chaos. Sometimes it has to be challenged. In a case where you are in a weak (but just and intellectually valid) position and discipline can be used to make it still weaker, then that discipline has to be jettisoned. But when you are challenging discipline simply because you do not have the strength of character, organisational loyalty and political intelligence to recognise the value of that discipline, when you would rather play in the muck and pretend that you are free — that’s when someone has to strike you firmly in the back of the neck. We need more such strikers in our political climate.


How Can The Crisis in Eastern Ukraine Be Resolved?

February 28, 2015

The fundamental problem in Eastern Ukraine is that because of the civil war, nobody is really sure who is in the right. It is true that Novorossiya had a referendum about independence last year, but it is also probable that this referendum was largely seen by the inhabitants of Donetsk-Lugansk as a bargaining tool to win more autonomy for the area. It is true that Novorossiya has two elected independent governments, but one could argue that these elections were held under duress, since Novorossiya was under Western Ukrainian attack at the time and conditions for a truly free election were unsatisfactory.

All the same, it looks very much as if Novorossiya is unhappy about being ruled from Kyiv.

Kyiv, on the other hand, wants to rule Novorossiya and has made at least four attempts, of increasing violence, to enforce that rule. Kyiv has also held elections, although many of the opposition parties were banned, and of those opposition parties which were not banned, most suffered various levels of violence from the thugs of the fascist Pravi Sektor, meaning that the elections were not by any means free and fair.

Nevertheless a lot of people voted for the leaders who had launched attacks on Novorossiya before, which suggests that they approved of attacking Novorossiya. On the other hand there is very little sign that they want to do it themselves; there has been no flood of volunteers to the colours (apart, again, from Pravi Sektor, who have ideological reasons for wanting to attack Russians — they believe, like Heinrich Himmler, that Russians are a mongrel race who ought to be exterminated). It appears, therefore, that a lot of people in Western Ukraine are living in a sort of dream-world within which they want victory without effort.

This doesn’t seem to be the case in Eastern Ukraine. The people there probably now want independence from Ukraine — which would probably mean union with Russia, not that the Russian Federation appears to want them — but might settle for something less provided that they were given guarantees of cultural and political autonomy within a federated Ukraine. The problem with such guarantees is that the Kyiv government has shown itself completely untrustworthy; they have broken every promise they have made, and therefore they cannot be trusted. Another related problem is that the Kyiv government has shown itself completely inept; when they break their promises it is usually to launch brutally mismanaged attacks which fail disastrously.

In effect, Novorossiya’s situation is rather similar to the situation of Finland in late 1939, under attack by the USSR. There are major differences, however. Ukraine does not have the resources that the USSR had and it is unlikely that they have generals capable of reversing the disasters of October 1939 — it is often forgotten that when the USSR exerted itself it tore up the Mannerheim Line like paper, advanced to Viipuri, and would have advanced to Helsinki had they desired to do so; the reason why they did not was simply that they had become belatedly aware that the Finns did not want to be liberated by the USSR, and the USSR had enough on its plate with the Polish and Baltic States occupation without having to occupy a hostile Finland as well.

Kyiv, on the other hand, does not appear to care that the territory which they are trying to conquer is full of people who hate their rule, increasingly hate their state, and will offer violent resistance to any occupation which could turn a conquered Novorossiya into a larger and less friendly version of Chechnya. What they seem to want is to take revenge on the inhabitants of Novorossiya for daring to resist Kyiv’s rule, and perhaps for the unpardonable insult of being Russian. One hears very little about what is happening in the territories of Novorossiya which have been occupied by the Kyiv forces, such as Mariupol, because no Russian journalists are allowed there and the Western journalists appear to speak only to official sources (the military and the Pravi Sektor, usually) and emerge hymning the glories of Ukrainian resistance against evil Russian aggression. Whether there is repression, whether there is brutality, we do not know, although we may surmise that, contrary to the claims of the Guardian, Pravi Sektor does not exist to provide picnics for Trotskyite Russian lesbians.

What this means is that negotiations have thus far been fruitless. One side — the one which has won a lot of the battles, although it has lost a lot of territory — would probably compromise if only a guarantor could be found that the compromise would hold. The other side — the one which lost a lot of territory in the initial political crisis, and managed to take some of its territory back at prodigious cost in blood and treasure, but has subsequently lost much of it — appears not to wish to compromise.

The logical conclusion would be that if negotiation does not work then the issue should be decided on the battlefield, ideally by the Novorossiyans taking back their territory by destroying the Kyiv armed forces, establishing solid defensible frontiers, and then taking whatever political stance they want, whether it be to exist as an impoverished buffer-zone between the rump of Ukraine and Russia, or simply going for outright union with the Russian Federation, perhaps with unusual rights of autonomy.

The problem, of course, is that Ukraine does not exist in a vacuum. Kyiv’s patron is the United States, and Novorossiya’s patron is Russia. Both patrons have made their positions fairly clear. The United States wants a stable, highly militarised Ukraine to serve as a base for NATO operations against Russia and a staging-ground for NATO operations in the Caucasus. Russia wants a neutral or friendly Ukraine which poses no threat to Russia, preferably because it is tied economically to Russia.

It will be noted that Russia’s desires are easier to accomplish and more peaceful than the United States’, but also that the United States’ desires have been much more completely fulfilled; Ukraine is now highly militarised and, outside Novorossiya, at least outwardly violently anti-Russian. The only problem is that Ukraine is so unstable that it is not a very reliable base for actions against Russia or the Caucasus, and the United States wishes to solve that problem by beefing up repression and crushing dissidence in Ukraine. What the United States is doing is very similar to what it did in Colombia, or in Turkey during the height of the war against the Kurds, and so the United States believes that the situation is manageable — not that either Colombia or Turkey have turned out to be exactly triumphs of American foreign policy.

The big danger from the perspective of the United States would be that Russia would change its mind in principle as well as in practice. While in principle Russia wants a united, peaceful Ukraine, in practice Russia provides arms, training and other assistance to the secessionists in Novorossiya, but simultaneously provides itself as an honest broker for talks aimed at ending the war. This is a decidedly problematic position for Russia to be in — backing one side while bringing the two sides together — but Russia’s argument is that while Kyiv is in a dominant military position its government has no reason to negotiate in good faith; therefore Novorossiya needs to be supported — but just not so much that Novorossiya decides that it doesn’t want to negotiate with a beaten foe who has never shown any sign of good faith anyway. It’s a difficult balance, and it’s increasingly pointless so long as the United States and its satellite Kyiv insist that the only acceptable outcome to the crisis is the unconditional surrender of Novorossiya and the advance of NATO forces to the Don.

In that case, Russia might abandon its vacillating policy. It is quite aware, from its experiences in the Iranian and Syrian negotiations, that it is impossible to deal in good faith with the United States; all you can do is get them to sign a document, but they will break every term of the agreement if they wish to, and if they can, so any negotiations must be concluded from a position of immense strength. (Ironically, this is precisely the position which the Americans had towards the USSR during the Cold War — and while it was probably a more or less legitimate position under Stalin, it was totally inappropriate under Krushchev and Brezhnev, both of whom were happy to deal with the United States in good faith if there were any reciprocal signs of good faith — which there never were.)

If this is the conclusion which Russia adopts, only one conclusion arises out of that: Russia will never be safe until the Novorossiyan crisis is resolved in Russia’s favour, and that resolution can only happen once Ukraine ceases to be an American suzerainty, and therefore instead of waiting for the Ukrainian government to collapse from unpopularity (which, thanks to the repression of the legitimate opposition, now seems impossible) the Ukrainian government must be overthrown by a combination of civil war, popular uprising and, ultimately, Russian invasion. In other words, Ukraine must first face a much more aggressive Novorossiya openly planning to march on Kyiv whatever the cost, Ukraine must then face a campaign of terrorism carried out by Russians and Ukrainian democrats sponsored by Russia, and then, after a couple of months of that, a lightning thrust to Kyiv along the lines of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, except with considerably more violence and casualties among the Ukrainian military. There are numerous precedents for such behaviour, such as Kosovo in 1999 and Ivory Coast in 2010, although the provocation which Ukraine has offered to Russia is immensely greater than the provocation which Serbia offered to NATO or Ivory Coast to France.

The reason why the Russian government is not doing precisely this (although it is probably preparing for it and undoubtedly planning for it) is that they do not want to destabilise the global political order. However, the Russian government is starting to see that Western Europe is never going to treat Russia as a normal equal state (Western Europe’s behaviour towards Greece doesn’t exactly help in terms of calming Russia’s mood, either) and that in the end a cold war with America, provided that China and Latin America remain on Russia’s side, is less harmful than giving America a free hand to turn Ukraine into an anti-Russian satellite state. In which case, May would be a fine month for an invasion, and the mud of a Ukrainian spring would not seriously inconvenience the broad tracks of Russian armoured vehicles.

If that happened, the end product would probably be an annexed Novorossiya, and a Galicia under heavy Russian influence, nominally neutral but not recognised by anyone except Russia, and politically hostile to the NATO states all around it, all of whom would have interests in trying to carve chunks off it in the way that Eastern European states carved chunks of Czechoslovakia when the Nazis moved in.

In that case we can look forward to an interesting 2015, but not a prosperous one.


The French Disconnection.

February 7, 2015

So the Wahhabi Sunni militants in Yemen, who are theoretically at war with the Yemeni dictatorship which is aligned with the Saudi dictatorship (although elsewhere in Arabia these militants are usually aligned with, and often funded by, the Saudi dictatorship) decided that they could take no more of the massacres perpetrated against them. (These massacres are sometimes committed by Yemenis in the pay of the dictatorship, more often by Americans; the Americans and the dictatorship, however, are mostly fighting against the Shi’ite rebellion against the Yemeni dictatorship, although the Wahhabi Sunni militants are elsewhere mostly concerned to suppress Shi’ite rights and indeed to massacre Shi’ites, as in Syria and Iraq.) Doubtless murmuring under their breath “In the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate”, these Wahhabi Sunni militants therefore hired some people who had been fighting against the Assad government in Syria on behalf of other Wahhabi Sunni militants, and sent them off to murder some French journalists in Paris.

If you think that makes any sense, you have not been paying attention (for which the Creator forgives you).

We should, first of all, clear all sense of outrage from our minds, which means that we should ignore virtually all commentary about the Charlie Hebdo massacre. There is a war going on, the war to sustain the supremacy of the United States in the world; a large part of that war is armed aggression against Muslim countries because it happens to be easier to legitimate such aggression in American eyes, and also because (purely coincidentally) there is a lot of oil under Muslim sand. There is a war within that war, in which Saudi Arabia is attempting to expand its influence in the Arabian peninsula and in Mesopotamia by promoting instability and fomenting Wahhabi violence in the region. In these wars the laws of war have been suspended; civilians are slaughtered without quarter or even concern and illegal weapons may be used. Hence, butchering unarmed people in Arabia or Mesopotamia or Paris cannot be condemned because there is no basis for condemning it.

Of course, we may say that the war should not be happening, that the laws of war ought to exist, and if we say that then we can certainly condemn the Charlie Hebdo massacre (like all the other related massacres) on moral grounds. Some have earned the right to do that. Nobody engaged in the war, however, has any such right.

Disregarding all that, however, it seems obvious that murdering the staff of an anti-government periodical is a very foolish thing to do under the circumstances. What is worse — publishing a cartoon, or exterminating a wedding-party? Logic suggests the latter, and yet the perpetrators of the Yemeni bloodbaths sit peacefully in their air-conditioned offices twiddling controllers and watching screens, joking with each other as their missiles blast civilians into sprays of blood, shit and flesh, while the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were themselves turned into such amorphous “bugsplats” by rifle and rocketry. Why the one, and not the other?

It’s not going to be possible to say, because, as is customary these day, the perpetrators were murdered by the French state. This raises the possibility that the perpetrators might have been employed, not by the Yemenis at all, but by the French state itself. A common characteristic of Arabian guerrilla movements is their eagerness to take credit for things which they did not actually accomplish; meanwhile, the French state had its own reasons both for attacking Charlie Hebdo and for promoting fear and loathing of Muslims. The speed with which the assassins were identified suggests that the French state must have had a good deal of information about what was going on, unless the assassins announced themselves (in which case why did they bother to wear ski-masks?). However, although such speculation is entertaining, it probably should not be assumed to be true.

Charlie Hebdo was engaged in what appears to be another war entirely from the one being waged in Arabia and Mesopotamia (and North and Central and East Africa). This is the war against sacredness, the idea that there are some things which can and should be deemed special by virtue of their very nature. Ridiculing sacred figures such as Mohommed and Jesus is a tactic in this war, which is an extension of the Enlightenment and an attempt to strip the world of any worship at all — except, perhaps, the worship of money and those who possess it. Understandably, pursuing such tactics outrages people whose world revolves around the sacred and who also view the modernisation in the name of the Enlightenment as simply a form of intellectual colonisation — as indeed it usually is.

So, although it might seem absurd to attack a magazine for making rude references to a religious prophet, it probably doesn’t seem so to those who financed the attack or those who launched it. They cannot, after all, get at the drone pilots, safe in the United States, or the other drone operators safe in Djibouti under French protection. They cannot get at the people who order these things in Washington, London or Paris. They can, however, get at people whom they probably conceive of as among the propagandists for a war against the Islamic world. Particularly those ones who do not receive protection (whereas official propagandists certainly would receive such protection, at least better protection than a couple of lightly-armed beat cops.

Still, the attack seems strikingly pointless. It only makes sense if you believe that the enemies of Islam are all essentially the same — that Charlie Hebdo is just one tentacle of an octopus of religious bigotry, and that by slashing at the tentacle you can cause the octopus to wince. In reality, most of the other enemies of Islam in France do not much like Charlie Hebdo. After all, despite its anti-Islamic fervour and its Zionism it still made frequent and pungent criticisms of the French state and the state religion. French leaders are glad to exploit the magazine’s suffering by mobilising anti-Islamic fervour around the massacre. Meanwhile they can delight in the massacre of its journalists and cartoonists; enemies of neoliberal uniformity are dead! Best if all is the fact that the massacre was carried out by Muslim gunmen who, when push comes to shove, were trained, equipped and commanded by forces under the indirect control of the United States which is allied with the neoliberal French state! So the neoliberal state arranges massacres which benefit it, but which it can use to justify its existence and tighten its grip on the throat of the people! What could be more perfect?

Naturally, although the gunmen may have believed in the octopus theory (which is just a mirror-image of white Western conspiracy theories about Muslims fostered by the neoliberal imperialists) their leaders probably did not. They did not believe that the massacre would accomplish anything to reduce the suffering of Muslims in the world. Rather, they believed that it would have two effects useful for them. Firstly, it would fool French Muslims into thinking that someone was sticking up for their interests, thus bringing them more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella and thus increasing the tyrannical power of the Saudi dictatorship and its allies. Secondly, it would empower and encourage French Islamophobia, and thus build a sense of paranoia and oppression all around which would not only force French Muslims more fully under the Sunni-Wahhabi umbrella, but also make French Islamophobes and their dupes more subservient to the American anti-Islamic campaign, and thus less critical of neoliberalism. What could be more perfect?

Oh, Creator, you’re such a beastly cynic and conspiracy theorist. What hard evidence have you for all these things? (Disregarding, as one must, the entire tendency of neoliberal foreign policy since at least 1967, that is.)

Well, let’s consider the “We are Charlie” movement. According to the propaganda organs, a million people marched over the weekend in protest against the massacre. That’s an impressive number of people, all in absolute conformity, under the protection and with the encouragement of government officials of course, demonstrating in support of non-conformity and rejection of government. You don’t really believe that, do you? If that were the case, it would be 1968 multiplied (which the founders of Charlie Hebdo would approve, being old soixante-huit veterans themselves) and the government would collapse after the street fighting began.

No, they were marching against these filthy, corrupt Muslims who are seeking to take away our grand freedoms — the ones donated by the benevolent regime which has taken away our working rights, our privacy, our social mobility, our access to the media and our ability to change from one kind of government to another. We may have lost all our rights, but we still have freedoms, which are under threat from Muslims who must be bombed, or something. Maybe we can go fire-bomb a mosque tonight to show how we value our freedoms. The police won’t object.

Notice how much bigger this march was than the march against the Iraq war in London in 2003, and that was big enough (and if Jonathan Steel is to be trusted, was establishment enough). Of course, this is a march without a real objective, because nobody was urging anybody to make any demands or sacrifices or pursue any goals. Just a protest against gunmen shooting journalists, carefully drained of any context. You won’t take part in the march? Good Lord, are you in favour of gunmen shooting journalists? What do you mean, nobody marched against NATO’s murder of Serbian journalists in 1999, or of al-Jazeera journalists in 2001 and 2003? What has that got to do with anything?

It is, in short, a march of delusion. It changes nothing, except that it flings a wet, stinking blanket of conformity over the populace, like one of Napoleon III’s plebiscites. (“Do you support law and order and national harmony? Answer yes or no.”) And of course the current French government, like most governments nowadays, has about the same legitimacy as Napoleon III had.

Would the Saudis be able to turn out similar proportions of people in support of murdering French journalists? Probably. But they don’t need to bother.


Woeful Prospects.

February 7, 2015

It would be magnificent if some sort of grassroots, effectual alternative to the current pitiful crop of political organisations were to evolve in South Africa. It would be magnificent, but it is not very likely. For that to happen, the organisers would have to develop some kind of political independence from the circumstances in which they find themselves, and that is hardly going to happen all by itself.

Instead, what we are getting is the United Front, as organised (supposedly) by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. The United Front, supposedly, is a nationwide organisation, which will be established through People’s Assemblies. This all sounds alarmingly like Occupy Wall Street, although unlike OWS it appears to lack coherence as well as constituency.

The invited representatives to the latest People’s Assembly mostly come from organisations of slightly dubious merit, like Abahlali baseMjondolo, or from political parties which are profoundly questionable, like the United Democratic Movement, or from Trotskyite organisations which are manifestly coat-tail clingers. There are unspecified “faith-based” organisations and “civil society” organisations (and what is their agenda in joining the United Front?) .There are also figures like Moeletsi Mbeki, who bring a big bottle of staunch conservatism, white supremacism and neo-colonialism to the party. These are not figures who inspire confidence that the United Front will be something spectacularly impressive.

What, exactly, does the United Front stand for? It is against neoliberalism and it is against the ANC, but what does it wish to accomplish? Although NUMSA remains committed to the Freedom Charter, the United Front cannot easily accept the document because the Front largely consists of anti-Charterists. It could develop its own set of principles, but that would take a long time and would probably lack substance because at the moment the United Front consists of an extremely wide range of potential supporters, none of whom are obliged to come into the Front and who can thus veto almost any policy which they do not admire.

So this is a political organisation run part-time by a trade union which has not decided what it wants to do with this political organisation, an organisation which has little grassroots support but nevertheless receives much support from elite elements of the conservative or neoliberal chattering class. The organisation has few clear goals apart from hostility to the ANC, and its membership is divided on ideological and class bases. Its leadership lacks legitimacy and also lacks visibility. This all looks depressingly like a repeat of Agang, supposedly on the left rather than the right, but possibly covertly endorsed or even supported by the same people — that is, an elite plutocracy which is out to pretend that South Africans have some kind of electoral choices while running everything behind the scenes.

Even more recently, in about 2006 or so, Zackie Achmat, no doubt acting under orders from Martin Legassick as usual, declared that he was relaunching the United Democratic Front. As he had no idea what the UDF had been, or how to do such things, this “relaunch” was a total failure. So, more recently, have been the various Trotskyite “unity” organisations “set up” in various centres, which invariably fail to attract anyone except other Trotskyites and waterheads. So it was obvious from the beginning that the Trotskyite political advisers which NUMSA was employing were not going to offer much in the way of organisational ability.

Since the above was written, the launch of the United Front has been delayed yet again, while the trade unions which supported NUMSA over the Zwelenzima Vavi debacle and NUMSA’s subsequent expulsion from COSATU have made it clear that they have grave doubts about the United Front — or don’t support it at all.  These two points are not good signs, despite all the efforts by the ruling-class media to talk them up.

The United Front now has a sort of steering committee, although since there is no organisation it is far from clear what the responsibilities and duties of this committee are. Preposterously, Zackie Achmat has been appointed to this committee, suggesting that celebrity (somewhat stale now, however) among the white chattering classes is more important than organisational ability or political consistency. (Achmat is consistent in doing whatever Legassick tells him to do, but this doesn’t amount to much.) Mazibuko Jara, an ex-SACP person active in Cape Town Trotskyite circles (specialising in high-flown meaningless rhetoric) is also there, further showing how the UF is eagerly embracing failure.

But there are people with administrative and real political experience on board as well. Ronnie Kasrils, Thabo Mbeki’s right-hand spook, is there. So is Wayile, the former mayor of Port Elizabeth (apart from the fact that he also has a reputation for being an Mbeki-ite, his main claim to fame is his NUMSA leadership in the province). It’s hard to see how Trotskyites, who hated Mbeki with a passion and collaborated with big business and foreign governments to bring him down, are going to work hand in hand with people who served Mbeki with distinction; the best guess is that Kasrils and Wayile, who have no organisation backing them (unlike Achmat and Jara who have the full force of Western Cape Trotskyism behind them, numbering literally dozens of supporters) are there as fronts and teasers.

Why is the only union in COSATU which had a remotely socialistic agenda, and with any sign of the courage to stand up to the ANC, falling on its face with such a sickening thud? Was this inevitable, or was it a product of failed ideologies, or is it a product of a covert reluctance to challenge the established order? And, of course, what can the rest of us do about it?

This has happened before. Neville Alexander set up the National Forum in the early 1980s with the goal of challenging apartheid by uniting all the Trotskyites and Africanists and anyone else who wasn’t a Charterist under one banner. This made the NF a gathering of bourgeois faux-radicals united only in their hostility to the ANC, and whose anti-apartheid credentials were as feeble as their relations with the working class that they claimed to speak on behalf of. The fact that the organisation was dominated by egomaniacs, of whom Alexander was not the least, didn’t help much. When the revolutionary conditions of early 1984 arose, the NF was left behind in a cloud of dust, feebly squeaking to anyone who would listen that it was not yet time for strenuous action, comrades.

The failure of the kind of politics that NUMSA now stands for, and to some extent stood for back then, was not so disastrous in the early 1980s. In those days there was a clear enemy, and therefore it was comparatively easy to organise resistance. Conditions were favourable; it wasn’t necessary to engage in much political education (although there was a lot more of it then than there is now). When fools set up pirifully unsuitable organisations, there was intelligent and resolute people ready to set up effective organisations to get actual work done. This isn’t really the case now (for all that the EFF have turned out to be, as expected, a great deal better organised, procedurally and popularly, than CoPe were, and may have more staying power depending on what happens at the 2016 elections). The EFF may turn into something effective, but they are nothing like what the ANC and UDF possessed, or even what AZAPO possessed before they pissed it away in the mid-80s.

So, as a result, when disorganised and ineffectual bodies are set up, there is no clear alternative to them. People have to like them or lump them. Because they are so dysfunctional and objectively timid, however, it is more likely that the public will ignore them, perhaps sitting on the sidelines and watching, or perhaps shrugging their shoulders and turning away, rather than doing anything to support them or make them more effectual.

It doesn’t help that the public is barraged night and day with political garbage and consumerist balderdash which dovetails with it. While the most recent Mail and Guardian deals with “the left” (smearing the EFF, uncritically boosting the UF while denouncing Marxism as old-fashioned) the previous one dealt with “narcissism” — which basically in their terms meant becoming obsessed with personal appearance, instant gratification, trivia and electronic communications. It is impossible to be a leftist if one is concerned only with such things, because there is simply more to humanity than such matters. What the consumerist system demands is that individuals turn away from society and from human engagement; the spectacle of young “lovers” sitting across restaurant tables under the silvery moon, gazing smokily into their smartphones while they frantically text people elsewhere who don’t care about them, is both universal and pitiful.

As a result, the general culture, controlled by the plutocracy, naturally serves the interests of the plutocracy and discourages leftist organisation except on the terms of the plutocracy, which is largely anthropological — “isn’t this primitive leftist culture entertaining?” — or opportunistic — “beware, support us uncritically or the evil leftist over there in the corner will nationalise your smartphone!”. The left, thus, is both feeble and co-opted. This needs to be challenged, and it certainly won’t be challenged by noisily repudiating leftist traditions in exchange for occasional headlines, in the manner of most of the leading lights of the UF. In that sense the EFF started out well; the question is whether they will be able to overcome the plutocracy’s recent enthusiasm for supporting the EFF so long as they restrain themselves to activities which serve the plutocracy’s propaganda interests, such as Nkandla and the more trivial aspects of the Marikana massacre.

 


Cops And/Or Robbers.

February 7, 2015

The slow, steady suicide of the South African state continues.

A minor, but highly instructive example is the Dewani murder case. On the face of it, the case appears remarkably simple. Shrien Dewani is a masochistic homosexual whose ridiculously wealthy family compelled him to marry a blonde trophy wife, which had the potential to interfere with his Internet-aided cavortings (and this was doubtless the idea).

Somehow, the unhappy couple went to Cape Town for their honeymoon and went for a spin in Gugulethu, which is not the tourist centre of town, where Dewani was dumped after which the wife was unceremoniously shot. It then transpired that Dewani had not mentioned to anybody that he had had a little meeting with his driver a day before the trip, which was captured on closed-circuit TV, and when the driver was pulled in he immediately claimed that Dewani had paid him to bump off the wife.

Had the entire case been pre-baked and handed to the police with a pizza spatula it could hardly have been more convenient. Just to allow a little more convenience, Dewani scuttled off to the UK and used up the family cash to try to avoid extradition at all costs, hiring the repulsive celebrity publicist and speedily-imprisoned paedophile Max Clifford to smear South Africa on Dewani’s behalf. All this did Dewani no favours in the eyes of South Africans, and meanwhile it gave the cops limitless time to fine-tune their case to the last detail. By the time Dewani arrived in South Africa he should have been practically ready for the prayer-book, six-foot-drop and naked dump into a pit of quicklime.

Instead, what’s happened has been instructive; the cops have apparently devoted time to coaching the witnesses in contradictory directions so that they say different things about the same events, while the forensic evidence has been mishandled really bizarrely. There is now a real chance that they might lose the case even with an honest judge. And, of course, South Africa does not have many honest judges; they are all busy sucking up to the ruling class. So it seems that Dewani was correct in his apparent assumption that it would not only be easy to find someone to murder his wife for him in Cape Town, but that he would also get away with it — although he probably didn’t expect to have to spend so much time and money on his getaway.

Of course, this displays the incompetence of the police, and will very probably display the bias of the judge, but it also displays the incompetence of the National Prosecuting Authority, so that’s the executive, the judiciary and the legislature all done and dealt with.

This is worth thinking about when one considers the recent South Park-style shenanigans in Parliament.

It will be recalled that the shenanigans are about two things: the Marikana massacre, and the Nkandla fraud. The two events are both conspicuous failures of governance; the first a failure to resolve a dispute peacefully (or at least to restrain violence so that nobody got killed by the state) and the second a failure to hold the President accountable for his corrupt exploitation of his position for personal financial gain. Both, therefore, are issues which could serve as examples of a wider corruption and ineptitude within government, which Parliament ought to address.

But they are also both issues which have been predominantly taken up by the ruling class for use against the ANC. On the other hand, one could argue very strongly that they are both issues which represent occasions when the ruling class has got what it wanted. The Marikana massacre was an extension of the militarised and unaccountable policing which the ruling class wants (and it also provided an excuse for the ruling class-controlled AMCU to call off a strike which the ruling class no longer needed once the power of the NUM had been broken). The Nkandla corruption was, arguably, a reward for Jacob Zuma’s compliance with their wishes.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that these two issues have received relatively little attention in Parliament, in spite of their immense significance in the media, and the fact that the “official opposition”, the Democratic Alliance, has been campaigning very noisily around Nkandla (though hardly at all around Marikana, doubtless because it embarrasses the large corporate entities which control the DA). Until, that is, the EFF arrived, with its well-justified and sensible hatred for Zuma and his deputy (whom the DA has to back off from since he is adored by the large corporate entities which control the DA). In effect, by attacking Zuma for Nkandla and Ramaphosa for Marikana, the EFF was following the narrative already established by the corporate media, so they were doing nothing new, and indeed arguably were potentially falling into a trap laid by their enemies.

And yet, in doing so, they were also pointing out how completely Parliament had failed to call the leaders of the country to account, and thus how not only the ANC was failing in its governance, but the DA was failing in opposition. Thus what they were doing was pointing out how Parliament had collapsed into a mere lapdog of executive power, which means corporate power — a fact which had largely escaped the people who never failed to make such accusations (sometimes justified, usually not) when Mbeki was President and the ruling class was keen on attacking him.

The EFF essentially behaved as if Parliament were an elected sovereign body. They refused to cover up for President Zuma’s misdeeds at Nkandla, and when Zuma hid from them and sent Ramaphosa in his place, called him a person unfit to receive a report on the Marikana massacre given that he had financial connections with the company involved in the strike. When the ANC used parliamentary rules to suppress the EFF’s protest, the EFF refused to acknowledge the rules, whereupon the ANC used force against them on behalf of the rules — first calling the police, and later, after it proved that the police had too much respect for Parliament to act brutally, calling the riot squad, claiming that Parliament was being brought into disrepute, rather in the same way that the ANC and COSATU love to expel people on this very subjective and dubious basis.

And then, rather suddenly, the DA decided to do the same. That is, they suddenly began to pretend that they cared deeply enough about these things to defy Parliamentary regulations and even face physical assaults. They had not done this before, and this was probably for two reasons. One, they did not need to — they had the press and Thuli Madonsela to do the work. Two, they did not want to — the ruling class would hardly be happy at having their beloved Cyril Ramaphosa attacked (and on every occasion when Cyril has been criticised the people most under the thumb of the ruling class, the leader-page commentators and cartoonists, have leaped to his defense). But the trouble is that the DA knows perfectly well that if the big conspiracy is exposed too conspicuously, if their collaboration with the neoliberal leaders within the ANC is revealed, then the public will stop voting for them. So, at least for a little, they had to stagger after the EFF, like a clockwork rhinoceros blundering after a caracal.

Then, of course, Ramaphosa had to play the peacemaker. It was what his white masters have employed him to do, much as he surely disliked to do it. He offered to withdraw the sanctions which the ANC imposed on the EFF in Parliament, if the EFF would only undertake to be nice and submissive. The EFF, sensibly, agreed to this, knowing that it could not possibly be binding — and then the ANC in Parliament repudiated Ramaphosa and reinstated the sanctions. If Ramaphosa ever had any status in the NEC into which he was parachuted by his masters, or in the ANC caucus which almost certainly despises him as an amateur and a turncoat, he lost it at once — although the press, owned by Ramaphosa’s masters, naturally could not say this.

Meanwhile, just in case anyone thought that the Fourth Estate was the watchdog which would discourage corruption and prevent abuses of power, the press was (again) exposed as the toadies of corrupt power which they have always been.

The story first broke in noseWeek, South Africa’s only muckraking magazine. The Sunday Times‘ crack investigative journalists, “Mzilikazi wa Afrika” and Steven Hofstatter, ran a story in 2011 claiming that the Cato Manor Serious and Violent Crimes Unit, commanded by General Booysen, the head of the Hawks in the province, was a hit-squad murdering people with impunity. The unit was closed down and Booysen arrested. noseWeek suggested, as informed by Booysen, that this was a ploy to remove Booysen for getting too close to corrupt police who were plundering KwaZulu-Natal SAPS supplies; it was obvious that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had received their information from within the SAPS. Presently noseWeek’s claims received some corroboration of a kind; the criminal charges against Booysen and his colleagues were all dropped and instead disciplinary charges were made. Subsequently, however, the disciplinary charges also collapsed.

It was obvious that the arrests and the disbandment had been completely frivolous and that “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had delivered a heap of someone else’s garbage which they had not bothered to test. However, the editor of the paper stood by them and they were allowed to keep all the awards which they had received for a story which should never have been published. No newspaper followed up any of noseWeek‘s stories.

But in October-November this year, the self-same team repeated a raft of implausible-sounding allegations about an alleged “rogue unit” within the South African Revenue Service which “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter had made earlier in the same paper; the core of the allegations was that the “rogue unit” had been investigating high government officials including Zuma himself. It seemed credible that, once again, “Wa Afrika” and Hofstatter were acting as channels for an official smear campaign in order to protect corrupt officials against investigation, with the approval of their editor and owner. Within days of the repetition of the articles, the “rogue unit” was closed down and its leaders suspended and threatened with criminal charges.

This time, however, there was a response; the South African Revenue Service was one of the sacred cows of the corporate ruling class. Max du Preez, the right-wing commentator with close ties to the ruling class, said in one of his rambling articles that the attack on SARS had been facilitated by the press. The Mail and Guardian ran a front-page article claiming that the attack on SARS was an ANC plot to punish the organisation for trying to impose import duty on imported T-shirts, and mentioning that it had been facilitated by the press. However, neither Du Preez nor the Mail and Guardian dared to mention either the newspaper which had run the stories, or the journalists who had acted as front-people for a government smear campaign. Thus the public, unless they were paying close attention (which few do) remained in the dark, except that the government, as usual, was bad. The fact that the press was colluding with corruption and covering up for this collusion as much as possible, passed the public by — apart from the vast majority of the public who understandably don’t believe a word of what they read or hear or see in the media.

So the security forces and the judiciary are incompetent or corrupt, the legislature is dysfunctional, the executive is out of control and the media are happily covering up for all these things while facilitating them as often as not? Well, what do you expect? Why make a fuss? We can move our wealth offshore, can’t we? Pass the under-age Ukrainian prostitute, would you?


Investigating the NUMSA Case.

February 7, 2015

Donning one’s deerstalker hat, putting on a dressing-gown and taking a pipeful of strong tobacco out of the toe of one’s Persian slipper, it is time to settle down and investigate the Curious Case of the Trade Union Federation in the Dark.

What has led COSATU to expel NUMSA? It has certainly not been an easy road, and has taken a good deal of time. The given reasons for expelling NUMSA are that NUMSA has been poaching other union members, and that NUMSA has been criticising the ANC (to the point of talking about setting up an alternative political party, but not actually doing so), and criticising COSATU for being unduly sympathetic to the ANC.

This is not, however, new stuff. NUMSA, like other unions within COSATU, has criticised the ANC intermittently for twenty years or so. COSATU as an entity was severely critical of the ANC’s economic and social policies. What is new, therefore, is that this has led to a political conflict within COSATU, between those unions wishing to go on with this criticism and those unions wishing to abandon essentially all criticism of the ANC — the latter unions particularly represented by NEHAWU and NUM.

Why not, then, just agree to disagree? There were doubtless trade unions which felt that GEAR could be given a try, and trade unions which felt that denouncing the government as a pack of AIDS denialists was a bit over the top, but they did not go running around denouncing those who said these things, and they did not find themselves getting kicked out of the federation. One can make a strong case that attacking the ANC, while fun, does little real harm so long as it is accommodated within the framework of the “Tripartite Alliance”. In other words, NUMSA’s behaviour can be considered more as political theatre than as anything concrete. Up until now it was also possible to believe that COSATU’s leadership’s attacks on NUMSA were also political theatre.

But the expulsion of a union is not theatre; it’s solid fact. It goes along with the attempt to fire Zwelenzima Vavi for immoral behaviour. Therefore it appears that if this was posturing before, it has now turned into something real — and extremely destructive. Why?

For one thing, where the issues of GEAR and AIDS were — in a sense — peripheral to a trade union’s core business, the current problems which the union movement has with the ANC are far more fundamental. This is not so much because there have been dramatic changes in ANC policies, as because the ongoing failure of those policies are becoming extreme enough to affect the average worker. Salaries are falling relative to real experienced inflation, and the call is going out from government and business to make this situation worse. Service delivery is deteriorating in much of the country, and the call is going out from government and business to reduce public spending on service delivery. Unemployment, meanwhile, is rising. So workers are under pressure, and are looking to their union leaders to do something about this.

The logical response to this would be to power up unionization; to expand the unions, to become more militantly anti-employer, to criticise those government members who are promoting the policies which are stifling growth and encouraging unemployment, and to strive towards alternative policies. Of course this means attacking the ANC’s policies and some of its leadership, but this does not, actually, mean an attack on the idea of the ANC running the country. It simply means that the ANC is to be portrayed as having strayed off the paths of righteousness and needing to be guided back. In a sense it means reviving political and economic debate.

Obviously, this isn’t happening. COSATU trade unions are not expanding; with the exception of NUMSA, they are shrinking, sometimes quite calamitously so. Strikes are certainly taking place, but in general they are ending with big concessions to the employers and wage settlements which are below the rate of real experienced inflation. Unions outside COSATU are largely devoid of militancy (with the ostensible exception of AMCU, although this may also be more theatre than reality, painful as it has been for AMCU’s members). It seems, then, that far from trying to remedy the situation, the organised working class is losing ground and lacking leadership.

Given that there is a crisis, COSATU’s leadership must resolve it. However, they enjoy the support and patronage of the ANC’s leadership, and the ANC’s leadership enjoy the support and patronage of the business caste. As such, then, the ANC leadership has a strong motive to veto any aggressive action on the part of the unions, and COSATU’s leadership has a strong motive to accept such a veto. In effect, NUMSA’s accusation that the ANC wished to turn COSATU into the ANC’s “labour desk” is far too mild; the ANC actually seemingly wishes COSATU to be an organisation which does nothing for labour at all, but instead simply milks the workers of their dues and makes ritual obeisance to the ANC at election time. This does not seem to be wholly opposed to the agenda of many union leaders.

The alternative to resolving the crisis is to deny that it exists. The standard method of denial employed by the Zuma administration of the ANC is to accuse anyone who says there is a crisis, or who dissents from received policy, of factionalism, and thus getting rid of them. This method builds unity among those who are not dissenters, though at the price of losing not only the dissenters, but others who dislike such spurious accusations. This is obviously the method which is being used against NUMSA; eliminate the people who say there is a problem, and the problem ceases to be one which needs to be addressed. Business can continue as usual — which is to say, doing nothing.

The obvious problem with applying this method is that it allows those who are kicked out freedom of action, and it expands and legitimates their position among those who dissent. The steady draining of support from the ANC since Zuma took over has been largely a product of the attack on Mbeki’s supporters, which produced CoPe, and then on Malema and his supporters, which produced the EFF. The calculated risk for the ANC — losing support — is balanced against the greater unity and the superior status of party leadership among those remaining behind. Thus far the loss of support has been manageable.

The problem for COSATU is that it is not the ANC. It is instead a federation of unions, some of which support NUMSA (as the expulsion vote showed, more than a third of the federation’s executive supported NUMSA even though the executive has been relentlessly purged of NUMSA supporters over the last few years). Therefore, the danger is that these unions might decide that membership of COSATU was no longer a benefit to them and might hive off and perhaps link up with NUMSA and its allies. Also, individual members of unions might decide that they no longer trust their unions, in which case COSATU unions might split, anti-COSATU members forming alternative unions which could align themselves with NUMSA.

All this has a great deal of potential to benefit the ruling class, of course. Splintering unions and factionalism within union federations is something which bosses can take advantage of, as they did during the NUM-AMCU conflict. On the other hand, if COSATU were to end up a small rump of ANC-supporting unions with limited membership, and NUMSA were able to unite a large number of dissident unions into a militant federation following a more drastic anti-neoliberal, anti-corporate line than COSATU is capable of, then this would not be such good news for the bosses. It’s difficult to predict how this will turn out.

One thing which seems clear, however, is that NUMSA has been angling for expulsion. This is because simply walking out of the federation which you helped form, and which you have belonged to for thirty years, is unlikely to be automatically supported by your membership however much they might like your policies. Also, doing this out of antipathy to the ANC means turning your back on the party which you have supported for the same length of time, and effectively giving support to the enemies of that party, many of whom are neoliberals and white supremacists. That’s a difficult change to make for the rank and file of the union.

But expulsion — that’s different. Provided that you are not being expelled for anything particularly wrong, provided that you can convince your members that it’s a stitch-up by a kangaroo court (which it obviously is in this case) then the immediate response for the union member is that the union comes first, and if the federation and the party don’t like that, tough. NUMSA has not lost membership as a result of its leaders’ critical stance on the ANC and COSATU; instead its membership has been increasing. Hence it is quite unlikely that a lot of members are going to leave following this expulsion. Instead, the members will be angry; they’ll want to punish COSATU and the ANC for ill-treating them, and they’ll consider their leaders vindicated by the whole affair. As a result, the alternative metalworkers’ union set up by COSATU’s leadership to serve as a vehicle for NUMSA members to flee to, is probably not going to do very well.

This  set of circumstances has been obvious for some time. COSATU’s leadership must have known that it was the case. Therefore, why did COSATU choose to expel NUMSA now? Why not wait until December, when NUMSA’s “United Front” would be nominally launched, or March, when the “United Front” is supposed to go into full operation? Obviously a union which had set up an anti-ANC party would be ripe for expulsion from a pro-ANC federation, and with such solid grounds for attacking NUMSA the expulsion might have been more damaging for the union — especially if the ANC and COSATU spent a few months condemning the “United Front”, and especially if the “United Front” fails to get much traction in the community (which seems lamentably likely given its actual nature as a cabal of Trotskyites).

One possibility is that COSATU’s leadership is stupid and has not thought through these issues even though they have had plenty of time to do so. Another possibility is that the ANC, which has been trying to distance itself from action taken against NUMSA, is actually putting pressure on COSATU, behind the scenes, to expel NUMSA. If NUMSA were indeed expelled for setting up a party in competition with the ANC, then the political significance of the expulsion would be obvious, and perhaps the ANC does not want to be too directly involved.

In either case, however, the ANC and COSATU have probably done precisely the wrong thing from their own perspective. The question now is simply whether NUMSA will be able to walk the walk, after talking the talk for so long. Will it be able to simultaneously set up a counter-COSATU and a counter-ANC? It would actually be better advised to work in the former than the latter, for the “United Front” is not going to be a success in the short term. But we shall have to wait and see whether NUMSA does anything at all, or whether, like so many radical movements before it, it proves to be all hat and no cattle, all mouth and trousers.


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