The Weirdness Closes In.

February 20, 2013

On the face of it, Mamphela Ramphele’s long political Calvary has not seemed so strange. It has been clear ever since she returned to South Africa, flushed with neoliberal propaganda and plugging effortlessly into the right-wing smear campaign against President Mbeki, that she was being groomed for some kind of stardom. The only question was what vehicle was going to be used to loft this political star to greatness.

Yet it has been very slow, and very ineffectual. It has been nearly a decade since she stopped tormenting Third World economies through the World Bank and returned to plot her path towards tormenting the South African public. It would seem that she did not quite anticipate that a man like Zuma would displace her in the affections of the white ruling class. More probably, she returned without fully understanding what was going on, and was instructed to mark time while the ruling class waited to see how things turned out. A real tool of the ruling class should have the capacity to wait and build up her value to her masters. So she wrote her books, none of them worth the writing much less reading, and recited the usual right-wing talking points provided by white journalists, and made friends with black journalists who pretended in articles written for white people that she was popular in the black community. And nothing happened. No call came for her. It must have been wearisome.

It has been even more wearisome for those of us who had to wade through the journalistic nonsense around Ramphele. She is undeniably the most overrated South African public figure apart from Cyril Ramaphosa himself. Seemingly every week her banal opinions flooded the media, her obnoxious judgements were available from every source, and whenever she eructated, crowds of obviously fraudulent commentators swarmed out to tell us that the sound was an indication of extraordinary wisdom and unprecedented perceptiveness.

Eventually, last year, it was revealed that Ramphele was thinking about forming a political party. It was far from clear what kind of party she was likely to form. Or, rather, it was clear what her political views were, but it was difficult to see how her opinions differed from a crass blending of the most odious elements of the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus, perhaps with a slight touch of the most corrupt aspects of the Congress of the People. She had expressed cloudily racist and plutocratic opinions, but apart from these she had said almost nothing which was not an unreflective repetition of banal and ignorant opinions expressed by white journalists. Why would anyone want to follow such a leader?

The obvious answer was that nobody would. The barrage of pro-Ramphele propaganda does not seem to have had much effect on the general public — and why should it, given that most people don’t read the newspapers? Moreover, the headlines telling everybody about how wonderful someone named Ramphele is supposed to be seen as, merely assured everybody that someone in a position of power wanted them to believe this. It was hardly likely to convince anybody — indeed, it mostly doesn’t seem to have been intended as such, but was rather intended as a form of whistling in the dark.

The problem seems to have been that the white establishment believed that a new saviour was needed. The old saviours — Zuma and Zille — were no longer taken seriously by anybody. It was possible to market them to their traditional constituencies and prop them up as if they were real saviours, but the general public was not fooled. Since the white elite thinks in entirely corporate terms, it was obvious that a new product was needed — but not a wholly new product. Rather, a familiar, but superficially remastered, product, one upon which a new sales campaign could be based without in any way seeking to change the market or indeed change the principles on which campaigning, marketing and electoral sales strategies were based. There were two obvious figures available — Ramaphosa and Ramphele.

Ramaphosa, however, could only be deployed within the ANC brand. That might be useful, given that the ANC brand had turned out to be profitable for Jacob Zuma’s handlers, but it means strengthening the ANC, which meant having to live with the ANC in power for a long time to come. It also meant that it would be difficult to base a large part of the elite’s election campaign on attacking Zuma, because without the support of Zuma Ramaphosa could not gain power, and even once he was in a position of power it was likely that he would need Zuma. This all ran against the propaganda line which the elite wished to pursue, and the long-term object — the destruction of the ANC — which the elite sought to attain.

That left Ramphele as the only figure outside the ANC who could be made use of in this way. It was also significant that she was a woman — because the DA’s leadership was dominated by women, partly because its leader Helen Zille was suspicious of the male-dominated leadership which she had displaced and therefore installed females, partly because the party was still highly patriarchal and therefore Zille’s male competitors would not arrange themselves behind a powerful female challenger to her authority.

There was, however, a problem with Ramphele. She was so thoroughly hyped that she might actually pose a threat to Zille. She might be seen as the black alternative to Zille, especially because her right-wing political stance made her, more or less, the “black Norman Tebbitt” that the party had long been looking for. This meant that Zille would have to watch Ramphele carefully, lest she use all this potential authority to undermine the party Leader. Precisely because Ramphele had not come up through traditional political party structures and had therefore never learned the merits of subservience and obedience as De Lille had been obliged to learn in the PAC (and which Mazibuko had learned from her years of apprenticeship and internship under Zille) she could not be trusted to be obedient and docile.

It was thus obvious that Zille would not view Ramphele as someone who could just steam into the DA and take office. If Ramphele had been weaker and less hyped, this might have been possible; Zille could have overpromoted her, spread the word that she was incompetent, and thus ensure that she would never progress further than Zille desired. But Ramphele would have wanted a position commensurate with her talents and her powers.

Only, what kind of record did Ramphele have to provide a basis for such talents and powers? She had been Steve Biko’s mistress (albeit, by all reports, remarkably promiscuous — but then, that was the 1970s and she had been in her late twenties and few in the struggle at that time paid much attention to bourgeois morality). Even before he was murdered, she had been placed under a banning order — whether on her own account or as a blow at Biko is difficult to gauge today. In any case, she remained under a banning order, like Winnie Mandela, until 1984, and like Winnie she did what she could to pursue whatever political scraps she could assemble on her doorstep during that time.

The difference was that after Winnie’s unbanning she went into serious national politics, for good or ill. Ramphele did not. This was, no doubt, partly because the organisation which succeeded Biko’s SA Students Organisation, AZAPO, was in terminal decline by the time Ramphele emerged from internal exile, and thus unlike Winnie she had no easy home to go to. All the same, it was significant that she ran off to the University of Cape Town and to the Americans, putting her name to several books (though most of these appear to have been written chiefly by Francis Wilson) working under the Carnegie Commission — that is, working with a right-wing American NGO before running off to the United States to complete a doctorate in social anthropology, then returning to work at UCT during the transition period.

In other words, she abandoned serious politics in favour of using academic politics to leverage her way into a position of authority within the global white power-structure. Presently she was kicked upstairs into UCT management, where she pursued a career of self-aggrandizement which ultimately raised her to the Vice-Chancellorship. Supposedly her agenda was transformation; actually, during her term of office, her objective was to maintain UCT as a bastion of white privilege while dismantling the two main threats to UCT’s stability — democracy in the form of unionised workers (who were crushed by Ramphele’s aide and friend Helen Zille) and democracy in the form of intellectual ferment (the academics were trampled by Ramphele’s aide and friend Wilmot James). Ramphele successfully bureaucratised the institution and empowered management at the expense of everyone else (including students, needless to say) and did so with such efficacy that she was a shoo-in at the World Bank, an organisation ever ready to employ academic hatchet-people with properly right-wing credentials.

But all that this meant was that Ramphele, like Ramaphosa, had docilely followed other people’s orders. Like Ramaphosa she had even slipped into mining corporate directorships when she returned, although these had never been so central to her life as they had been for Ramaphosa (and as a result, crucially, she lacked the considerable wealth which could create an illusion of power and gravitas).

It’s mildly amusing. Ramphele had always preached the value of hard work and personal responsibility to others. However, she seems to have assumed that political preferment would fall out of the sky thanks to a relentless process of persuading journalists to hype her and of self-promotion. In the end, she had no cards in her hand; her political authority amounted to nothing. So what was she to do? Only what she was not at all prepared to do — to build up some political authority, and by doing so gain a ticket of entrance to the DA, even if on a junior level as compared to the level she anticipated.

It is surely the fact that she was so unprepared which explains her bizarre behaviour, stumbling desperately around seeking political support from her friends in the political journalism community, especially in the Midrand Group, that gang of hopelessly corrupt corporate propagandists largely trained up through the Mail and Guardian and docilely repeating whatever their rich white masters tell them to repeat. But none of these political journalists had any political authority or property. All they could do was write articles full of empty praise for Ramphele, and nobody who read these took them seriously. A tiny handful of old SASO warriors might have been willing to support her as well — but nobody knows or respects them any more. Worse still, because Ramphele was relying upon empty vessels whose allegiance is to rich whites, she was incapable of finding any intellectually consistent or ideologically meritorious political position. Her political “platform” was bankrupt. She delayed her launch more than once, and when she eventually launched, it was an empty, disappointing event. So much had been promised, so little delivered.

Hence she resembled Zuma, and this is surely the kiss of death. Zille may be a little disappointed that Ramphele is not going to deliver any significant black constituency to the DA. However, Zille can be confident that Ramphele is not going to pose any challenge to her leadership.

After the World Ended (IV): But How Can It Be Done?

February 20, 2013

What has to be overthrown in the ANC is a party which nearly two-thirds of the electorate voted for, and which is led by some of the shrewdest and most unscrupulous politicians in the country. Somehow those people have to be persuaded to stop supporting it, and those politicians must be compelled to relinquish office. That can only happen if they permit a powerful opposition to arise in order to overthrow them — in which case they might be imprisoned, or conceivably even executed if the hostility to them becomes violent enough.

All this is not an easy task to accomplish. It is particularly difficult when the party is supported by the largest trade union movement in the country as well as the most prestigious left-wing organisation, because this means that the party’s pretense to popular support has powerful rhetorical backing. It is fairly clear that the problem with the ANC is most conspicuously that it has been taken over by right-wing elements, but to deploy left-wing arguments against trade unions and Communists is difficult. Meanwhile, in the background but unmistakably there are powerful corporate elements supporting the ANC and — whenever it is convenient to them — forcing the media to toe the ANC line, however much the media may wish to support someone else. Therefore, not only has the ANC got reliable mass support, but it also enjoys elite support, or can acquire this by strategic concessions and surrenders.

Does this, then, mean that the ANC’s impregnable, or at least can only be driven out by such immense force that we must all surrender to the white elite in hope that they, or Cyril, or Mamphela, or Barack, or someone out there, will save us?

Of course it can be done by the white ruling class — or so they hope. They have a party which is backed by the self-styled losers in the anti-apartheid struggle, assisted by wealthy and influential white elite, with immense foreign support and the uncritical backing of the global capitalist elite, which also dominates the press, the electronic media and their allies abroad. Even that doesn’t look like being an easy struggle. All the money in the world may make the white ruling class’s power-grab a safe proposition — in the sense that they can buy themselves out of any trouble they may cause and are not risking life or limb — but it is not safe in the sense of being a safe investment which is undoubtedly likely to succeed.

The white ruling class are clearly opposed to the ANC as a historical liberatory force, and most of the whites who are working for or under or aligned with the white ruling class are happy with this — indeed, they also oppose the ANC out of a sense of racial prejudice or general hostility to democracy. This does not mean that the white ruling class are committed to opposing the ANC; they are pragmatic enough to be willing to allow it to surrender to them and even to nominally control the country (nom nom nom, goes the ruling class to the South African cake) provided that the white ruling class is really running things. However, the white ruling class are not perceived by the current ANC leadership as their enemies. It seems that when given the least chance, the ANC leadership will not only do what the white ruling class wants, but will sell the white ruling class whatever rope they need to hang the ANC leadership with.

This means that the ANC leadership will not be distracted by the real threat of being crushed by the white ruling class; they will focus their attention on preventing the left outside the ANC, and the resentful residual democratic and leftist forces within the ANC, from posing any threat to them. Their attention will be focussed on fighting against any challenge to the SACP and to the Zuma faction.

This is important, because it means that anti-ANC activity will inevitably be fought against by almost everybody who has power. And, therefore, it is likely that everyone who places self-interest ahead of patriotism will join with either the ANC or its corporate sponsors or the hangers-on of one or the other. Therefore, the forces ranged against the ANC will consist largely of political novices lacking financial support, and professing ideals which are opposed by the press, the global capitalist elite, and the opposition party as well as the government. It seems impossible to overstate the weakness and difficulty of this position.

It is not, however, an altogether impossible position. Left-wing opinions are popular in South Africa. It is for this reason that they  have to be suppressed or distorted by the right wing; because when given a hearing, a large number of people actively follow them and probably a majority would be prepared to at least give them a try. When left-wing opinions are expressed (as by Julius Malema) they are systematically ridiculed and the people expressing them are punished as severely as possible. In spite of this practice, the opinions themselves are usually endorsed and sometimes celebrated by almost everyone expressing an opinion who is not directly connected with, and financed by, the ruling elite. The twitterings and bloggery of the cybersphere display an astonishing ignorance of elementary economics, sociology and political science of a kind which would have seemed startling among Transkeian migrant labourers in the 1980s — tribute to how completely political debate has been silenced since then. But despite the fact that even the petit-bourgeoisie have no idea how to analyse their plight and that of the country, they have no doubts about the fact that the plight exists. After 2007-8, the majority of them are also well aware that the right-wing nostrums preached by the ruling class are shibboleths and charlatanry.

Therefore, there is a middle-class constituency for an anti-ANC struggle separated from the ruling class campaign — and it could be a majority constituency if it could only be reached and mobilised.


What do working-class people think? Nobody is asking them questions about this — apart from loaded questions intended to elicit specific answers favourable to the questioner’s agenda. They don’t have much access to speak on their own. What they do, instead, is to go on strike and take actions in protest against being neglected, increasingly including public violence. All of this suggests a willingness to make sacrifices so as to change a situation becoming increasingly unbearable. Sometimes, no doubt, they are fooled into imagining that the ANC or the SACP or the DA or the unions or the Trotskyites are on their side. They are therefore gulled into heeding the calls of the local organiser or councillor or whatever, which invariably ends in betrayal since such people have little or no real intention of serving their interests, but this is not the point. It isn’t hard to fool people when they are living in an intellectual wilderness where every landmark is a paper-mache lie and they desperately want something solid — and usually the people who pursue such actions get at least some betterment as a by-product of serving their local master’s agenda.

It seems clear that the ruling class is worried about the attitude of the lower classes. On one hand they (along with the government) are energetically pretending that they wish to reduce the “poverty, inequality and unemployment” which the policies they promote are increasing. Also, they are energetically promoting “public-private partnerships” supposedly aimed at reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment. Such partnerships are obviously intended to squeeze money out of the taxpayer into the pockets of the rich, but they also constitute opportunities for the people promoting poverty, inequality and unemployment to pretend that they are doing something to reduce it. Meanwhile, the ruling class also works to deflect the hostility of the increasingly troubled middle class away from them and towards the government (as in the Marikana episode).

But this is a fallback position. Undoubtedly the ruling class would much prefer a docile proletariat who are unaware of how badly they are being screwed by the ruling class, and a subordinated petit-bourgeoisie who do what the ruling class tell them, energetically and willingly, because they believe that serving the ruling class is in their interest. The fact that the ruling class has to fool proletariat and petit-bourgeoisie into being distracted, strongly suggests that they believe that if they aren’t fooled and distracted, something bad might happen. After all, stirring up working class or petit-bourgeois dissatisfaction could generate problems if it led to actual demands for change which might hamper the immediate enrichment of the bourgeoisie.

So the notion of a dissatisfied, restive public probably isn’t simply an illusion fostered by the bourgeois media to immiserate the pro-ANC petit-bourgeoisie or encourage the anti-ANC petit-bourgeoisie. There is a lot of dissatisfaction out there. People do not like having no prospect of a better life. Nor do they like precarious employment, being fired, having their real salaries reduced, unemployment, and all of the other things which characterise current South African economic life for most of the population. Many of these people may be still waiting for the ANC to somehow improve the situation. Others may be willing to believe that these problems are due to the bad barons — to the Ace Magashulas and Zweli Mkhizes of this feudal society of ours — and not to the almighty anointed King, and especially not to the Holy Chain of Being which Cyril in His inscrutable wisdom saw fit to impose on us after Codesa II.

But it is likely that reality is dawning on many. Hence there are fewer people liable to be fooled all the time, at least to be fooled in this way. Therefore it should be possible to mobilise people against the ANC and on behalf of something better — if only something better can be constructed. The most important political task in the next few years is to construct something better. The public deserves to be shown actual alternatives to the present system, so that they can understand that if they work for it themselves, they may be able to accomplish not merely a slightly better pay packet at the end of a calamitous battle, but a completely different system under which they will no longer be exploited in the way that they are being at the moment.

This means that opportunistic support for worker demands is not enough. Yes, it must be done, because worker demands are often legitimate. It must also be done because opposing worker demands is likely to discredit the person opposing them without providing any political advantage to anyone of use to the workers. But it is most important to develop political education, to restore the kind of intellectual freedom which South African politicians evolved in the 1970s and were able to see across the country in the 1980s — but which then died.


All That Is Solid Melts Into Sewage.

February 14, 2013

The hyenas awake! (Apologies to actually existing hyenas, who are deeply impressive and sexually progressive beasts apart from their scrawny hind-legs.) The cannibals are sharpening their carving-knives! The vultures circle in the sunset! The bandits, false phrasemongers and poisoners of public wells are on the march!

All of which is to say that the white ruling class is getting hopeful again.

With the installation of their ally Jacob Zuma and their agent Cyril Ramaphosa in charge of the decaying remnants of the ANC’s organisation, the ruling class has two high roads to power. One is simply to destroy the ANC and remove it from power. The other is to take over the ANC and retain it in power as a ruling-class operation. (In comparison with what the ANC was before Zuma, this latter is already the case — but even today the agents of imperialism have to at least pretend not to be cronies of global capital; the ANC cannot be an active proponent of plutocracy as the DA is.)

The immense unpopularity of Zuma and his allies, the decay of the National Executive Committee into a club for feeble-minded failures, and the organizational disintegration of the ANC outside Luthuli House, naturally offer empowering opportunities for the white ruling class. There is an election coming up in two years, and the money is pouring in from everywhere (reputedly, even from the Guptas, those Zuma allies who, like Zuma himself, are happy to walk on both sides of the street simultaneously). The Democratic Alliance hopes to take control of Gauteng.

They have been hoping to take control of Gauteng for the last eighteen years, without any real sign of success thus far. This is partly an obligatory matter; Gauteng is the main centre of white wealth in the country and therefore is the place where victory is most likely if white wealth is the fountainhead of victory. Gauteng is also the heartland of white male Anglophone Democratic Alliance values (their success in the Western Cape relies heavily on the coloured vote) and therefore victory there would possibly enable them to strike back against the usurping Führerin Helen Zille. Above all else, Gauteng is full of confused black middle-class people, many of them embedded in white values, who are quite capable of voting against their interests just as Western Cape coloureds do, and who might conceivably stumble behind the Democratic Alliance like rats behind the Pied Piper of Hameln.

The year after that there is a municipal election. Having taken Gauteng, the DA then hopes to take control of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and also of Port Elizabeth. They will thus control two out of nine provinces and four out of seven cities and will have (in their minds) driven the ANC out into the peasantry and the working class, which will compel the ANC to rethink its support for Zuma, except that there is no apparent difference between Zuma and the ANC.

At this point, namely 2015, the ANC will (in DA theory, anyway) call on Zuma to stand down as President and install his Deputy President, Ramaphosa, as boss of the country. Once Ramaphosa is in charge of the country he will be able to implement ultra-right-wing policies which will further alienate the ANC utterly from the people, so that by 2019 a majority will be voting for the DA (possibly after Ramaphosa splits the ANC and his portion of it merges with the DA) and the end of the line is total and permanent victory for white supremacists and neoliberals, with the 25-year rule of the ANC (but only nine years of which were genuinely independent of white control, if one accepts that Mandela was largely under the thumb of the white bourgeoisie) being a minor interregnum in white control.

Now this is not an altogether impossible scenario, horrifying and disgusting as it might seem. The idea that the ANC’s support will fall substantially between 2011 and 2014 is by no means impossible; it fell substantially between 2006 and 2009, and fell again between 2009 and 2011, and by now the Zuma administration has done so much harm to its own image that the ANC is inescapably tarnished; nobody can see the Tripartite Alliance as a vehicle for progress or development.

One problem is that the ANC may not lose as much support as the DA hopes. It is certainly likely that Zuma has alienated a lot of supporters, but are they really likely to run off to the DA? Granted, if they stay home, the vote will decline, but not so much as if they switched parties — which is far from certain. One major reason for the big increase in DA support in 2009 was the decisive defection of coloured support after Zuma purged coloureds from the Western Cape ANC leadership and installed a string of half-witted Xhosa tribalists and SACP careerists in their places. This is obviously not going to happen again; there weren’t enough coloureds supporting the ANC in 2009 to make a loss of coloured support decisive. On the contrary, even with the egregious Patricia de Lille fronting for the DA in Cape Town, it is entirely possible that a lot of coloureds will stay home from the DA vote, pushing them down again.

This has nothing to do with the vote in Gauteng, where the DA will have to win over a lot of Africans to win. The ANC got 64% of the vote in 2009 to the DA’s 22%, a relatively small change from 2004. The DA needs to improve its share of the vote dramatically, and it has no real expectation of doing that. It might conceivably be able to win Pretoria, but it is very unlikely to win Johannesburg. In other words, the dramatic shift that the DA hopes for will not make a tremendous amount of difference in the outcome because the DA is extremely unlikely to be large enough to assemble the kind of coalition which Helen Zille threw together to seize control of Cape Town in 2006.

Another problem is that the ANC is a very different kind of organisation from what it was before 2006. It appears far more subject to public opinion as represented through either newspapers or mobs burning down police stations, because whenever there is a crisis it responds by changing political positions or at least making humiliating public rhetorical climbdowns. It is also, by and large, docile and obedient to the orders of the ruling class in the way it was not before 2006. This has led the ruling class to imagine that the ANC will simply roll over and die at the blast of a newspaper headline.

However, this is not the case. Zuma and the SACP and the rest of them have not sacrificed the ANC’s principles and independence of policy simply out of a whim. They have done this in return for ruling-class support in embedding themselves inextricably in the party. In other words, for secure power within the ANC. (It is, in fact, very much like what Zille has done in the DA, rooting out the white male leadership and replacing them with blacks,  coloureds and women without changing the basic white structure of the party. As a result she is surrounded by people who will lose their jobs if she is replaced — so she is secure barring an immense purge or a catastrophic defeat which leaves the party’s paymasters with nothing to lose by dismissing her.)

Therefore, Zuma will not stand down if the ANC’s support falls by 10%, any more than he did in 2009 when its support fell by 4%. (Indeed, this fall in support was painted as a gorgeous triumph by hired pundits like Roger Southall.) He will not leave unless he is kicked out — it is far from certain that he will stand down as President in 2017; he may well seek to run his successor as State President from Luthuli House. There are no structures within the ANC independent of Zuma’s control, so for the “ANC” to dismiss Zuma, as various silly white right-wing commentators have fantasised, would be equivalent to Zuma dismissing himself. This is almost inconceivable. It is likely to grow even more improbable with every passing year that Zuma enriches himself at the state’s expense, and as he grows older and more set in the ways of power. (One must not be seduced the racist fantasies of Western imperialism, but this latter matter is probably the reason why Mugabe has not stood down — and Zuma is certainly not as much of a democrat or a patriot as Mugabe is.)

Very well, then; as before, the white ruling class is wrong. But this means that those of us who are not in the white ruling class are in very big trouble. To oversimplify a bit, the whites set up Zuma to fail in the anticipation that his failure would place power in their hands. Zuma is going to fail catastrophically as a national leader, because his policies are proving increasingly disastrous in every way — although (because) his economic and social and foreign policy policies are largely dictated by white power. But failure as a national leader is not going to translate into failure as a party leader; he will continue to hold on to party power, and therefore the ANC will not be plunged into ostentatious chaos and will not lose control. Therefore we will have a complete failure remaining in office, increasingly isolated from reality, ever less responsible for his actions, but obsessed with hanging on to control. It is the worst imaginable consequence of the white plot, and it is entirely a product of whites imagining that they had control over things which they did not control.

There is, of course, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Great White Hope. Even the whites are getting a little disappointed by his utter passivity and subservience to Zuma. They put him there to take over — why isn’t he taking over, as he doubtless promised to do when they offered him the job? But, of course, Zuma also offered him the job. Ramaphosa has stepped into a little Deputy Presidential capsule, and the political life-support systems connected to that luxurious capsule have their controls on Jacob Zuma’s and Gwede Mantashe’s desks. Ramaphosa has not the slightest political capacity to sustain himself without their support. Hence, when his former white employers shout in the media “Do something, Cyril!” it is not in his interest to do anything.

Of course Zuma knows Ramaphosa’s connections — that was why he appointed the man, so as to disarm the hostility of the white business community while having a man in the number two slot who posed no political threat to his control. He also, probably, knows that Ramaphosa has no original ideas and no wish to run risks — he has won the second-largest jackpot in the political casino without even putting his own money at stake, and now wishes to walk away with the pot without any losses. But he could only do that because the casino was rigged, and the owner of the casino is Jacob Zuma. Calls for Cyril to be unleashed on Zuma, which are popping up throughout the media, are futile. One does not unleash a poodle as if it were a Rottweiler. (Metaphor only  — apologies to actually existing noble canines — Ramaphosa is more of a stuffed plush animal resting on Zuma’s bed than like anything in the living state.)

What this means is that almost everybody is living in a state of pretense. The white ruling class cannot admit that it has stuffed up by installing Zuma in power possibly forever, nor can it admit that the policies it has imposed through Zuma are bringing socio-economic disaster without bringing any political improvements. (Instead, many of the white ruling class pundits like Steven Friedman and Adam Habib — honorary white, like Seepe and Gumede and Ramphele — are making the best of the situation by pretending that everything is going according to plan.) Zuma is not admitting anything. The ANC is not free to speak. All that we hear, therefore, are lies, either comforting or fantasising. And while the riders in the national wagon are squalling pointlessly about whose false claims should be imposed rather than some other false claims, the wheels of the wagon are coming off and we are plunging off the road into a ditch, drowning in ordure.

Perhaps, after what we have allowed to happen, that is where we belong.


After the World Ended (III): A Qualified Franchise.

February 14, 2013

Hurrah for the University of Johannesburg Trots! They have launched the first ultra-left political party since the 1994 elections! Isn’t this what the Creator has been calling for all along?

Well, yes and no. It hasn’t been launched or even registered yet; they are thinking of launching it in a few months, perhaps around the time of the university vacation which will at least ensure enough students to fill a small hall. When and if it is launched will be time to offer it support, because ultimately Trotskyites ought to contest elections just as Bolsheviks did in the Russian Duma.

The organisation proposing this project is the International Socialist Movement, a local affiliate of an international group of Trotskyites who are conspicuous for never accomplishing anything. (It seems likely that, as with so many other local Trotskyite cells, it was promoted by a foreigner, in this case by the British expatriate Peter Alexander, now at the University of Johannesburg on Deputy Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib’s dole for Trots and Africanists. Habib is now moving to the University of the Witwatersrand, which should do a lot for Trotskyism and Africanism at Wits.)

Internationalism has never been tremendously good for radicalism. None of the Internationals ever accomplished anything much, not even the First and the Fourth which were at least relatively honest bodies. (The Second International is now a pro-globalisation plutocratic talkshop, while the Third International was wound up in 1943 and after 1920 or thereabouts became an incompetent pressure-group for Soviet foreign policy.) The problem is that internationalism usually means in practice that you are doing your thing for someone somewhere else, which more often than not entails doing things which don’t help you to succeed locally.

Even when local conditions are favourable, the ultra-left has a poor electoral record. The Workers Party to Restore the Fourth International got risibly few votes in 1994. Trevor Ngwane’s attempt to build himself a power-base in Soweto in 2006 and thus escape from sweating for his boss-boy Dale McKinley, namely Operation Khanyisa, also failed miserably. (Ngwane nevertheless escaped, and now sweats for his boss-boy Martin Legassick.)

Because the Trotskyite left are mostly few, weak and discredited, they don’t do well in elections. One solution to the problem would be to build up numbers, enhance strength and acquire credit by sound political practice. The other solution, which has been pursued by most of what likes to call itself the non-Bolshevik Marxist Left, is to declare that elections are fraudulent and therefore nobody should participate in them, and any socialist who does is a Bernsteinite or worse. This practice is legitimated by the claim that any organised attempt to persuade the workers to do anything is Stalinism (or worse, Trotskyism — although this crowd are usually called Trotskyites by non-Trotskyites, they often hate Trotsky even more than they hate Stalin). The revolutionary road consists of sitting on your arse and waiting for the people to rise up, after which they will infallibly invite you to take direction of the revolution; therefore your duty is to “Prepare for Power” by building a highly centralised subservient cabal of zombie ideologues, the ideal leaders of a democratic regime.

It is therefore good that the Johannesburg ISM are trying to confront the necessity of contesting elections. (The danger is that they might lose their revolutionary impetus and become a mere reformist party, but this is a detail.) However, does the mere act of confrontation serve to overcome the flaws in their world-view, tactics and organisational framework?

The party is to be called the Workers’ And Socialists’ Party, which is the kind of name which stupid people consider to be clever. Presumably, with some UJ academics and students on board, there will be some socialists present, but what about the workers? Ah, say the organisers, this will be provided by the 150 000 workers of the platinum mines around Rustenburg.

Better make that 126 000, since thanks partly to the activities of the people who are founding the WSP, the unions in the Rustenburg region are in such disarray that the mine bosses have been able to plan the sacking of 14 000 workers (this following on from last year’s mass sacking of somewhere between 10 000 and 15 000 workers. Some bourgeois Joburg Trotskyites showed up at mines once the strikes were well under way (and once established mining unions had either been driven out or fled) to tell everybody that they were good and brave and should go on with the strike, and then went on to write articles on websites talking about how good and brave the Trotskyites had been to show up at the mines. This does not automatically translate into a high level of support for the Trotskyites among the surviving mine workers. Actually, it probably translates into near-zero support, and even if they did have support, a minor problem is that virtually all of these workers are not residents of Rustenburg but are resident, and probably voting, elsewhere in the country, far away from Johannesburg where the WSP has no organisers.

So, bluntly speaking, it seems that the party contains a fair degree of fantasy.

The name incidentally recalls the Socialist Workers’ Party, which is still probably the biggest ultra-left organisation in Britain. It is currently in a state of acute crisis, however, produced by the lack of democracy in the party and therefore the fact that when the Central Committee decided to cover up the sexual predation of some favoured members, a few other members got cross and complained about the coverup, whereupon they were of course purged, whereupon a LOT of other members, such as China Mieville the much-tattooed science fiction novelist, and dear old Richard Seymour of the Lenin’s Tomb website, began raising a ruckus. It looks as if a combination of authoritarianism, bourgeois class denialism and power fantasies are not as good a basis for setting up an effectual political party as it was — wait, when did any of those things actually look good? And is this the kind of tradition that the WSP wants to draw on?

Obviously not. To be fair, the WSP does have some sensible policies. It does not wish to draw on external funders, which is a good thing — South African Trotskyites have for too long battened on the external funding of organisations like the Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung, which naturally comes with strings attached in no uncertain terms. However, without any mass base, it’s going to be difficult for the WSP to make any inroads into national politics. It’s all very well to get an article in the Mail and Guardian and in Business Day, but the more astute members of the WSP may notice that these newspapers do not exist for the furtherance of anti-capitalist ideology, and that if they want to get consistent free coverage they will have to make statements which appeal to the ruling class.

In fact the WSP also has the sensible policy of nationalising the mining industry and the banking industry, policies which they have obviously borrowed from the ANC Youth League back when Malema and company were running it. This is not going to get them much joy from the mining or banking industry, but the question is whether it will earn them colossal support from the working class.

After all, it is one thing for a leading light in the youth wing of the governing party to go against the leadership of his party and proclaim his support for radical policies. He at least has something to lose by making such a proclamation, and if he succeeds he will influence a party which has the capacity to implement those policies. WSP, making such statements, has nothing to lose (because they have nothing) but they also do not have any means of doing anything practical about them. So why vote for them? 150 000 supporters translates to under .75% of the electorate, meaning that they might get only 4 votes in the House of Assembly — enough to make a modest noise, perhaps, but certainly not enough to shift government policy in any way at all.

And the question is whether they would actually get anything like that level of votes. In 1994 the Workers’ List Party got just 4000 votes nationally. In 1999 AZAPO, which has vaguely Trotskyite leanings, got just 27 000 votes (barely scraping a single seat in Parliament) — and they had enormously more public presence and a long and relatively successful history. It seems likely that any attempt to become a serious left-wing party will be a long, hard slog rather than a comparatively quick and easy project based upon the momentary advantage of some sympathetic coverage in on-line media.

This might sound overly harsh. It is important to overcome the self-destructive quietism of traditional Trotskyism, and at least the ISM appear to be doing this. However, are they doing this simply because they feel the need to compete with Legassick’s University of the Western Cape-based Democratic Left Front, which is proposing to organise “mass demonstrations” (whatever that adjective really means) in protest against February’s opening of Parliament? Such demonstrations might also be valuable if they fulfilled any significant function to mobilise support around a particular cause — but it is far from clear that the DLF is thinking that far ahead. Certainly, at the moment, the DLF seems to have no intention of contesting elections or even organising much in the way of popular movements (it seems to have been outflanked, in the recent Western Cape farmworker protests, by COSATU, which managed to appropriate these for the ANC — even though a lot of the farmworkers may have wished otherwise).

Let’s hope that this is not the case; that the ultra-left is at last beginning to recognise that there is more to political action than booing at the ANC and cuddling up to big business. If it fails to do this it will continue to be what it has been for so long — a mental annex to the Democratic Alliance and the white elite. But if it actually does start to confront the ruling class, it will, for the first time in its history, be knowingly challenging someone able to hit back at it. (The Non-European Unity Movement was shocked when apartheid regime’s Suppression of Communism Act turned out not to have an exclusion clause for Trotskyites.)

 Let’s wait and see, with sympathetic but sadly experienced eyes.