This week in the middle of May, with autumn coming on and gradually lurching towards bleak winter, has been a louse-ridden week for democracy, but a splendid week for fascism.
It began with the minor upset of an interview with the last President of apartheid South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, on CNN. CNN is, of course, not the most right-wing American propaganda channel, but it is an odious propaganda channel which panders to the reactionary tendencies of those Americans who pride themselves, quite mistakenly, for their independent intellectual qualities. It is the “not-Fox-News”, and thus manages to produce reactionary ideology by insidiousness rather than by outright utterance. In this way, it is rather like the South African media, which promotes extreme-right views without ever saying so out loud.
In the course of the interview, De Klerk expressed an extreme right-wing racist opinion. (I know, you had to rush off and get the Rescue Remedy to recover from that shock.) This opinion was that the Bantustan system, the system of deporting black people to those areas of land which white farmers and miners did not want and then setting up undemocratic toy governments in those areas, was a perfectly sound system which De Klerk had been entitled to support for most of his life, as he did.
This aroused a certain amount of annoyance within the ANC. No doubt some of the critical utterances which were made, arose out of delight that a prominent white person had said something stupid which could safely be dissed, since no black South African would support the Bantustan system unless a) utterly corrupt and b) exceedingly well-paid. However, any principled opponent of apartheid would behave just as the ANC did.
De Klerk rushed to control the damage, under the auspices of his modestly-entitled F W De Klerk Foundation. De Klerk’s spokesperson, Dave Steward, propaganda supremo during the State of Emergency, explained that De Klerk had been speaking of the period before De Klerk ended apartheid and therefore nobody was entitled to criticise him for that. De Klerk added that since he had personally ended apartheid, nobody could associate him with it (his having been a Cabinet Minister in the apartheid government for a decade was, of course, a minor detail to be forgotten as quickly as possible).
De Klerk thus remains in the public gaze without being wholly discredited as a human being. Indeed, although many journalists rushed to criticise De Klerk, some stood up for him, saying that as the man who ended apartheid (and, indeed, many of De Klerk’s critics slapped down the same forged note) he was entitled to say such things. And, anyway, the Bantustan system was a perfectly worthy and valid system, was it not? It wasn’t as if it was a bad thing, like insisting on having separate park-benches for blacks and whites, not so?
Bitch-slapping such opinions properly would wear out all the palms in all the world. Suffice to say: De Klerk did not end apartheid, he fought tooth and nail to retain what he could of it and was prevented from preserving it completely only by the struggle of the people of South Africa — less the racist white minority who supported apartheid and who voted for De Klerk. The Bantustan system was a massive crime against humanity along the lines of Stalin’s “nationalities policy” or the American Indian wars. It was the central crime of apartheid, and therefore for De Klerk to say that it wasn’t so bad is effectively to exonerate apartheid itself — and it is surely no coincidence that so many right-wing white South Africans are agreeing with him.
Was De Klerk just being an idiot? Perhaps. Right-wingers live in a fantasy bubble in which everyone who disagrees with them is an agent of Satan or George Soros (a reasonable assumption in many cases). Therefore if De Klerk said something stupid he would naturally compound the stupidity by pretending that it was cleverness, nobility of soul, and general wondrousness reflecting shafts of translucent gold upon his majesty (as opposed to being pissed on).
On the other hand, perhaps he was testing the water. To praise the virtues of apartheid while simultaneously praise one’s own virtues as an anti-apartheid struggler is a lunacy too far, even for De Klerk, if it is simply accidental. However, if De Klerk wanted to see whether the white public would be prepared to buy into racism if it was wrapped up in attractive tinsel, and thus help to slowly shift white public debate into a more strongly segregationist attitude, of the kind which one sees on white-dominated web pages — why, didn’t Frederik Willem do well!
And then, down the street, in phalanx formation, the neoliberal squadristi. The Democratic Alliance marched on Cosatu’s headquarters in Braamfontein to demand that Cosatu stop protesting against the “youth wage subsidy”, a plot to get the government to pay corporations to accept young people as unskilled labour for very low wages without any security. In other words, they were trying to intimidate Cosatu into stopping fighting for the rights of the working class with a propaganda stunt meant to further the agenda of the right-wingers who blame trade unions for all of the problems of the national economy, because they want to destroy organised labour and thus further the profits of their corporate patrons. It’s not a hard thing to see, and everybody who isn’t deliberately looking the other way sees it.
As a result, when the union-busters hit the streets, so did the union, in far greater force. About three thousand DA-ite cannon fodder bribed with sandwiches and T-shirts recoiled from the throngs of workers, who then advanced on them. It’s claimed that the DA people threw the first stones, and even that they brought the stones with them on the truck which led their march; we’ll probably never know the truth because the media present were all DA propagandists. In any case, there was a scuffle, stones were thrown and people were hurt, after which the police moved in and drove off the Cosatu defenders with water-cannon and teargas. So much have we achieved in our struggle; at least in the Battle of Cable Street the London bobbies didn’t launch attacks on the Limehouse Jews in support of the British Union of Fascists.
Of course, Cosatu did not have the right to obstruct a march against trade unions. More importantly, Cosatu, had they chosen to obstruct the march, should not have used violence, but should simply have sat down in defiance of the power of rampant capital. After all, the poor sods in the blue T-shirts had been bussed in from the townships specifically to cause trouble, and were probably not even DA supporters, so attacking them was politically illegitimate. However, the DA was at fault for putting such people in harm’s way; if you’re going to start a street brawl, the least you can do is bring reliable brawlers in. But all the reliable brawlers in the DA are huge white males with Afrikaans accents, and watching big white men in DA T-shirts beating up black workers would have been altogether too accurate a picture of what was really going on.
But who goes out to demonstrate in protest against trade unions? (It’s not the first time — the DA has recently been demonstrating against Sadtu.) Obviously, people who don’t like trade unions, unless they are sweetheart unions. The DA could, of course, protest against the government which is not (so they apparently believe) giving enough money to rich people already and not doing enough to crush workers’ rights. But it appears that their real quarrel is not with the government which they someday hope to control, but instead with the unions which they someday hope to crush. Above all, they are unhappy that the unions hold the wrong opinions, which they hope to change or crush, and which they also hope to use against the unions, by pretending that the unions are undermining the interests of unemployed workers — if this belief can be made to take hold, then it should be possible to organise pogroms against trade union members. In other words, although this seems a bit silly at the moment, the whole tendency of the DA’s march is towards violence in support of tyranny.
While this is surely related to De Klerk’s little racist outburst, this is at least as much a matter of class war as it is of racism. On the other hand, apartheid and colonialism were always as much about class as about race — the racism served the interest of legitimating political tyranny and economic plundering. Hence, when the DA begins to adopt the behaviour-patterns of Mussolini’s Fascists, we may recall that the Fascists started out as the storm troops of Northern Italian big business, striking against the socialists, communists and the unionized workers who organised the big strikes of 1919-21. The implication is a desire to shift the political attitudes of the public to the right, and to demonise those who stand up against this. As a result, there has been a decidedly mixed reaction to the DA’s behaviour amongst the intelligentsia; those who are not completely bought stooges of the system are uneasy about the march and its potential consequences — because, of course, there is the possibility that the DA might not succeed in its goal, but might only succeed in alerting the working class to the threat and uniting and dynamising the unions and what little remains of the South African Left.
It would be nice to think that this might happen, that the DA’s behaviour is overreaching itself. Possibly this explains the sudden appearance of Brett Murray and the Presidential Prick. The idea that the ANC should devote any attention at all to a pretentious PR stunt by a Johannesburg art gallery is itself an indication of how completely obsessed with image the ANC has become — and also, how vulnerable to criticism Zuma and his foolish helpmates feel. This obviously has little to do with fascism in itself — although it is surely significant that Murray’s artwork also implicitly jeers at socialism (by cribbing from an old Bolshevik poster of Lenin) and at the anti-apartheid armed struggle (by calling Zuma’s penis “The Spear”, thus denigrating what was once an armed struggle to be taken seriously). In other words, Murray’s artwork panders to right-wingers (as does virtually all Johannesburg “postmodern” art, almost by definition, because right-wingers have the money and do not wish to see anything offensive to their private interests).
Which means that the ANC would be doing something right by attempting to critique the painting and exposing what is wrong about it. Instead, it is trying to censor the painting simply because it is jeering at the President, whose iconic image must be sacred (unless his surname is Mbeki, in which case it’s OK to burn his portrait). This clearly shows how utterly incapable the ANC is of even taking part in a battle for the minds of South Africans any more. It is thus no wonder that the reactionaries and fascists are on the march. They no longer have any real opponent to face.