February 26, 2014

The unspeakably tawdry claptrap presented to the public by the ANC and the Democratic Alliance as manifestoes, tripping over each other’s shoelaces in order to promise six million jobs and eight percent growth rates without any proposal at all by which such goals might be realised, arouses disgust among most of the public. The grim fact is that both parties are no better than Agang; the only difference is that one is mismanaging the country and the other is mismanaging the Western Cape whereas Agang mismanages only itself. They are intellectually, morally and politically bankrupt. They have no ideas, not even old ones, which could arouse the attention of the public. Nor is there any other political party which is not moribund, embedded in a dead past to which even when it was the present, that party had neither the intention nor the capability of responding.

Into this vacuum surges something positive; the manifesto of the Economic Freedom Fighters. This has been widely denounced by all the usual reactionary suspects from the Free Market Foundation (who contributed their illiterate screed to the neo-Nazi website Genocide Watch) to Professor Stephen Friedman, reactionary pseudo-leftist at the University of Johannesburg and enthusiast for both Jacob Zuma and the Workers And Socialists Party which has no party organisation, no worker membership and no socialist policies which it has not stolen from elsewhere. If we are to judge them by their enemies, the EFF must be good guys.

The media has made a mistake in publishing some of the EFF’s manifesto and reporting on Julius Malema’s speeches, because this appears to be what the EFF desires. The reason is clear: the manifesto, and the EFF itself, is a direct assault on conventional wisdom. Both the party and its platform represent precisely the kind of thought and behaviour which the South African ruling class has been struggling to suppress since — well, forever, but particularly since the 1980s when ideas like these first strutted into the public gaze after having been first presented in the 1920s by white supremacists and again in the 1950s by the Communists. It’s not new; it’s never new; it’s the return of the repressed. The desire for us all to get together and sort out our problems, rather than bending over and permitting the ruling class to fuck us in the arse, has been incoherently present from the beginnings of time. All that the EFF has done has been to lay things on the table.

The response from the ruling class is that the EFF’s proposals are fantasies, impossible, inconceivable, unworkable, although naturally this response incorporate no analysis or facts. (The obvious rejoinder should be that these observations are much more clearly and demonstrably true of the ruling class’s proposal, the National Development Plan, so even if the ruling class were correct, it would only mean that we have no valid proposals to choose from.) Besides, this is the same response which we hear from the ruling class whenever anything is proposed which in any way contradicts their immediate momentary interest. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the ruling class response is not worth considering. Besides, even impractical and utopian projects may provide some basis for discussing what ought to be done, and over time may grow more practical and less utopian. The object of the ruling class is not to point out the flaws of the EFF proposals, but to discourage their listeners from discussing the issues.

So, let’s discuss the issues.

The EFF Manifesto kicks off with two rather similar documents: an introductory statement by Julius Malema, which in the midst of some florid criticisms of the established order presents a long list of the failures of the present government, and a list of the problems facing the country at the moment, many of which repeat in different phraseology what Malema says. These two documents are more or less bullet-proof truth; they incorporate some exaggerations and mix comparative trivia with undeniably important issues, but they direct our attention to the fact that the present system is failing the majority of the population; it is not providing jobs, social services, social equality, political power, self-respect or virtually any of the rights purportedly guaranteed in the Constitution, and there is no sign that things are going to get any better.

Moreover, it is pointed out that all parties have pledged themselves to providing these things and have failed to do so and are entering the election with the promise, yet again, of providing the things which they have consistently failed to do. The only way to deny these things is to deny reality, which is the favourite habit of our politicians. It is not, therefore, just a political party which needs to be changed, or a set of plans which need to be revised. The system is not serving the people, and that being so, the system needs to be changed. Only a servant of the ruling class will deny this.

The Manifesto does not waste much time, however, on identifying the ruling class or any other forces threatening the state. This is interesting, for virtually all other attempts to put leftist ideas forward have devoted most of their energy to denouncing the ANC and, if there were any energy over, to criticising big business and global imperialism rather incoherently presented. The EFF don’t take much account of this; they call themselves Fanonists, meaning that they are anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist socialists with an Africanist bent. However, they assume that their audience know that if you are a socialist and an anti-imperialist, then you have a pretty good idea of who your enemies are, and the main issue is how to deal with them.

Even so, what the EFF presents is a series of goals to be aimed at:


Nationalisation of the mining and financial sector and of state-owned industries privatised by previous governments;

Promotion of domestic industry and domestic agriculture through subsidy and tariff and import-substitution policies;

Establishment of strategic state-controlled industries (especially light industry);

Establishment of a state development bank and nationalisation of the Reserve Bank;

Establishment of norms for higher wage levels for workers;

Establishment of a national health insurance system;

Improvement of transport infrastructure, specifically roads and railways;

Doubling the size of the social grants payments and increasing public servants’ salaries;

Increase taxes and tighten exchange controls;

Elimination of outsourcing in government by providing government with skills and tools required to perform its functions independently of consultants and private service providers;

Establishment of new cities through the use of Special Economic Zones;

Promotion of trade with countries sympathetic to the ideal of an independent South Africa within an independent Africa, rather than those which use trade to subordinate the country and the continent;

Rejection of Western domination of South Africa and Africa, and hostility to AFRICOM, Botswana, Swaziland and Israel, and promotion of ties with BRICS and Latin America.


A lot of this stuff is either in the Freedom Charter, or in the constitution of COSATU, or has been adopted as policies by ANC Conferences (especially at Polokwane) or by the SACP. Some of it is even the nominal policy of the Zuma administration, or was the policy of the Mbeki administration. It’s just that this stuff is usually more honoured in the breach than the observance where it is honoured at all. Putting these issues front and centre, as the EFF are doing, forces us to ask whether we really want them.

It’s immediately obvious that these things are not going to be easy to do. For instance, the EFF specifically talks about nationalisation without compensation, which is not only going to bring down the wrath of the international financial community, but is also forbidden by our corporate-drafted national constitution (all rise and uncover, please). It’s obviously going to be possible to introduce a national health insurance system within a few years — the US managed it — but it’s clear that the currently-proposed system is fatally flawed as the US system is. Mammoth increases in social grants, along with massive infrastructure investment and massively increased subsidies and tariffs and increase in government capacity are all going to cost a hell of a lot, and taxes and exchange controls, and income derived from nationalised industries, are probably not going to be enough to pay for it all.

Of course the biggest problem is going to be the hostility of the ruling class and of the international financial agencies who essentially control the American, EU and Japanese governments and their sub-satellite states. They could have the EFF leaders assassinated, or they could impose an investment strike and a lending freeze which would throw South Africa into a Zimbabwe-style crisis which could then be exploited through Ukraine-style destabilisation or even a Syria-style civil war. Presumably the EFF leaders are aware of that; they are, however, not publicly preparing for it. (Whether they are privately preparing for it is uncertain.)

However, these are in a sense details. The big issue is, are these potentially practical steps to take? The answer is that they are steps which have been taken in the past, and not always the distant past. Russia, for instance, has nationalised privatised industries. China has an exchange control system which is extremely tight. Taxes used to be a lot higher than they are now. Things like the national health system and the infrastructure development programme are actually under way right now — what the EFF proposes to do is to turn these things from corrupt scams pouring cash into the pockets of rich elites, into projects which serve the interests of the country and its people in the way that similar projects did in South Africa in the past, and are doing in other less poorly-run countries today. Empowerment of the government and promotion of new industries were activities routinely performed under the apartheid regime, when South Africa was poorer and weaker than it is now. Increasing the purchasing power of the working class is an obvious move to accelerate economic growth and promote industrial development; it is basic Keynesianism.

In fact, the EFF Manifesto is anything but radical. It is, very largely, a social democratic programme which might have been developed by the left wing of the British Labour Party or the Indian Congress Party in the 1970s, had they wished to do so. There is no plan for class war or race war; just a plan for fair shares for everybody in the wealth of the nation. This requires that the ruling class be stripped of its political dominance, but that has been promised by almost every new government since 1910.

What’s amazing, therefore, is not that the Manifesto exists. What’s amazing is that we should be encouraged to think that it’s unworkable and weird and intolerable and dangerous. It shows how far we have come to accept the diktat of our ruling elite, that anything which does not immediately pour cash into their pockets and slip silken cushions under their fat arses must be repudiated as evil and wrong and those who support it should be taken out and shot.

Oh, and the other amazing thing is that anybody thinks it might be advisable to vote for anyone else except the EFF.

Putting the “Rat” back in “Plutocrat”.

February 26, 2014

Because we don’t have any competent political journalists or commentators any more, virtually all the discussion of the DA’s Agang catastrophe has focussed on personalities; is it Zille’s fault, is it Ramphele’s fault, is it a bit of both? Who should we blame? The real issue is the nature of the DA within South African politics, and that cannot be discussed, partly because to discuss it would be to make the DA look very bad indeed, and partly because nobody in a position of power supports intelligent political debate, as this might lead to intelligent political action.

The big issue was the status of Mamphela Ramphele, a political nonentity with no public support who had been massively promoted in the media and publishing industry by someone with a lot of money and very poor political sense. Ramphele supposedly has “struggle credentials”. Actually she was sufficiently involved in the black consciousness movement to spend several years under a banning order in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But after she was unbanned, Ramphele worked with white liberal academics “investigating poverty” (but doing nothing about it). On the basis of this she was placed as the black fairy atop the University of Cape Town’s white Christmas tree, crushing trade unions, hobbling academics, and generally ensuring that UCT would not undergo any transformation towards social concerns or racial equity. Thereafter she went off to become a black face at the American-run World Bank, that tool of global plutocracy. If she ever did anything positive while she was Steve Biko’s girlfriend (and nobody seems able to remember that she did), she has made up for it by pursuing evil consistently for twenty subsequent years.

The problem with all this is that Ramphele had never pursued any consistent political agenda or shown any political leadership — so she was thoroughly unfit for a leadership role in any political party. Why, then, was Ramphele proposed for the leadership of the DA? It was not as if there were no alternatives.

The reason lies in a combination of race, class and political dishonesty.

The DA’s racial history is as a white party which sought to fool coloureds and indians into voting for white leaders — much like the National Party which the DA absorbed. A large part of its political tradition consists of systematically denigrating and demonising africans. However, this identifies the DA as a party of apartheid, and this is an enormous problem. Obviously, in the long run, the DA wants african votes, which cannot be obtained if the party is perceived to be anti-african. Furthermore, identification with apartheid is considered to be a bad thing among most of the white South African community, and therefore the party does not wish to depict itself as anti-african, nor do its members wish to base their own identity on hostility to africans. They are hostile to africans, but they don’t want to admit it.

Therefore they are eager to take africans on board of the party so long as those africans do not have any power to challenge white control of the party — and so long as the africans follow scripts drawn up by whites and do not raise any issues embarrassing to whites, neither in the eyes of the electorate nor in the quiet of the conference room. This makes it very frustrating and even downright humiliating to be a black DA member.

Then why would any african want to belong to the DA? Here we come to the DA’s economic history. The party was born out of the lobby-group for the mining industry — mildly reformist in nature by 1950s South African standards, in other words essentially corporatist. It did embrace some social-democratic principles in the 1970s, but by the mid-1980s it was completely under the thumb of big business and has subsequently been loyal and true to ultra-right-wing neoliberalism, monetarism and — to a great extent — global imperialism. This is enormously attractive to reactionaries and plutocrats, and therefore is attractive to the new irresponsible black colonial bourgeoisie who have grown up on the right of the ANC. It is these people who constitute the africans who join the DA out of ideological principle — or, to put it more politely, out of selfish greed and sheeplike adherence to the propaganda of the white elite whom those africans so slavishly mimic.

This is an advantage for the DA, but it is also a disadvantage, because the africans who support reactionary economic politics are wholly out of touch with the majority of africans. Despite all propaganda, the african middle class is very small by comparison with the african working class and lumpenproletariat and ur-peasantry. It is true that the ANC was based in the african middle class — but the traditions of that african middle class were shaped around hostility to white plutocracy and distrust for white capitalists on a scale not very different from that felt by the Afrikaner nationalists of the 1930s.

Indeed, the DA’s economic policy is fundamentally opposed to the interests of the majority of the people of South Africa: neoliberalism, financialisation, and deep-seated hostility to any rights for workers and to any redistribution of wealth. The more impoverished white and coloured voters are prepared to overlook this only because they believe that the DA’s policies will keep the africans down and they can hope that perhaps they may benefit from racial solidarity in other respects. Most africans, however, are sympathetic to worker organisations and definitely support wealth redistribution, and are well aware of how these forces have benefited them in the past. The hostility to working-class interests which the DA expresses has a definite racial tinge which greatly annoys africans; the DA’s hostility even to middle-class initiatives like affirmative action, a hostility which it shares with such reactionary forces as the Freedom Front and AfriForum, makes it very difficult for it to appeal to africans when economic topics arise.

But the DA cannot admit this. It can’t say that its goal is to enrich a tiny minority of rich people and plunder the remainder. In this, of course, it faces the same problem that is faced by most other political parties in South African and elsewhere. It has the special problem, however, that it has never (not since its incarnation as the DP in 1989) had any other real agenda than this. The ANC has at least taken some steps in the past which benefited the poor more than the rich; the DA has never had any interest in such things. Therefore it is difficult for the DA to pretend that it is anything other than a plutocratic party; it must therefore pretend that plutocracy is desirable, and preferable to anything else.

And so, back we go to Mamphela Ramphele. On one hand she is filthy rich and a pliantly reactionary tool of big business at home and abroad, and on the other hand she is black and a willing (if not necessarily loyal) subordinate. She is therefore an ideal figure to serve the self-image of the white party and its white supporters. The words they want to hear will come from the mouth of a person whom, they can persuade themselves, is respected by, and presumably representative of, other dark-skinned people. Blacks, feel the DA’s supporters, are racist, and will not listen to white people’s lies; when black people tell the same lies, blacks will be fooled. However, it is necessary to put Ramphele in a position of apparent (though not real) authority, so that africans will be deceived into thinking that whites actually respect them; Ramphele’s voice somehow carries no authority, otherwise, unless it receives the stamp of approval from white people. It would be difficult to find a greater sequence of delusional patronising attitudes anywhere.

But none of this says anything about Ramphele’s actual qualities to serve as a leader. The leadership of the DA is a difficult job; the Presidency of South Africa is a still more difficult one. It is obvious that Ramphele is not qualified for either task. The consequence of her taking such power would be disaster — as virtually everybody knows. Presumably, the DA only intended her to hold such posts on the understanding that people elsewhere would have the actual power. (Since Ramphele seems to be egotistical and incapable of self-awareness, this is not something which pleases her, even though she has been a front-person for her entire career, she continually yaps that she is nobody’s poodle.) This being obvious, Ramphele could not have been a vote-winner for the party.

All this is obvious, and yet the DA still went ahead and compounded the problems which had already been manifested with people like Mazibuko and which appear to be arising out of Maimane. It isn’t clear what was responsible for this — some say Zille, some say wider factions within the DA, others say (which is most plausible of all) that it was actually the funders. Whoever was responsible for this, it represents the triumph of everything which is stupid, racist, patronising and corrupt about white liberal politics in South Africa.

Of course, this is not going to lose the DA a lot of votes. They will continue to enjoy the uncritical support of the bulk of the white community (who are always ready to mock africans for voting for the ANC; you might wonder why whites are incapable of perceiving themselves, but this is because most of them are vampires and don’t reflect in mirrors). They will also continue to enjoy the financial support of the bulk of the corporate community.  All the same, they have demonstrated their extraordinary incompetence even at being subservient to rich and powerful business interests, and that isn’t going to impress business in the long run.

The biggest problem, though, isn’t votes alone. The problem is that the DA doesn’t have much in the way of plans to increase the number of votes. The Ramphele bungle was a wrong-headed attempt to dash into the african electorate and bamboozle them, and unfortunately it exposed the DA for what it is (and also exposed Agang for what it is, though Ramphele doesn’t seem to have realised this). Hence, however much big business might have backed Ramphele initially, the grim fact is that the DA is running out of time. Its political manifesto is fundamentally indistinguishable from the ANC’s policies — and almost everybody who votes ANC will notice this, which is not going to make anyone who doesn’t like the ANC’s policies rush off and vote DA. The party is also hell-bent on backing Maimane in Gauteng and is writing off the Northern Cape, which is a province which the DA might be able to win by sheer financial clout if it put all its energy into that. As a result the DA is in danger of not doing well at all in this election — and in that case, big business may decide to put more of its eggs in the ANC basket.

That will please Zuma and Ramaphosa. As for the rest of us — since when did the corporate elite care about us?

The Half-Per-Cent Solution.

February 26, 2014

A few people have worked out that the Reserve Bank Monetary Policy Committee should not have raised interest rates recently, but have usually done this for the wrong reasons, and without much intelligent debate on the subject.

Why did this happen? The Reserve Bank’s mandate is to control inflation, which, according to its economic theory, is the greatest problem in macroeconomics. This was considered too vague a mandate, so it was made specific; the mandate was to restrict inflation to less than 6% per annum. Interestingly, however, the decision was also to keep inflation higher than 3% per annum. It might seem surprising that a terrible demon like inflation should be considered so evil when it is over 6%, but also evil when it is under 3%. The first question should be not “Why inflation targeting?” (inflation targeting being setting limits to inflation) but “Why should moderate inflation be acceptable, if inflation is evil?”.

The answer to this question is a bit complicated. Inflation simply means that the amount of money in circulation is increasing faster than the rate of production of goods and services. Actually, this is inevitable in a growing economy, because money will be borrowed to finance investment, but not all of that investment will succeed; therefore there will be some spare cash circulating which has no counterpart in the real productive economy. The only way to stop this happening is to put the brakes on economic growth. That’s why the favourite tool against inflation is interest rates; raising interest rates discourages borrowing, at least borrowing for productive purposes, and therefore slows down the growth of the productive economy, and therefore raising interest rates curbs inflation.

Ta-ra! You can have economic growth, or you can have low inflation, but you can’t have both. According to this theory, then, the best way to curb inflation is to promote recession or depression. Which is actually true — during a depression there is an oversupply of goods and prices fall, and the circulation of money slows down and so the money becomes more valuable because there’s less of it to go round. (This is why monetarists call the Great Depression the “Great Contraction”; they pretend that the shortage of money was the cause of the depression rather than a consequence of it.) So putting a lower limit to inflation restrains the Reserve Bank from wrecking the economy and putting us all out of a job. They have only put a third of us out of a job (unless we started looking for a job ten years ago, in which case it’s more like half to two-thirds). Hurray for the Reserve Bank!

Why, however, should inflation itself be such a problem? Obviously, for people who don’t have much money in the bank it is no problem at all because salaries will have to rise to keep pace with inflation — otherwise people would stop being able to buy stuff and the result would be depression. Obviously, for people who spend their money on durable consumer goods and fixed assets it isn’t a problem because the value of those things goes up in step with inflation; inflation does not harm the value of your house. Again, if you have money in the bank, interest rates are generally factored in to be above inflation in real terms, so your money continues to grow in real terms. The real inflation rate in South Africa is something like double what the official inflation rate purports to be, but none of our billionaires are crying into their platinum-label Johnny Walker.

If inflation isn’t really a problem, however (unless it gets well into double digits, in which case it becomes really inconvenient) why has it been made the be-all and the end-all of the Reserve Bank, as it has been made the cardinal goal of all other major central banking institutions? Someone must benefit from this mad focus on an irrelevancy — someone for whom it isn’t mad at all. Why, then?

The answer, presumably, is to distract attention away from the need for investment in meaningful productive infrastructure which generates employment, a distraction known as monetarism which serves the policy known as financialisation. According to monetarism, the government should not concern itself with anything more than the money supply (which is why the government pretends to know how much money is in circulation, although it actually does not); doing anything else interferes with the proper functioning of the markets within which money circulates. Therefore, all that can and should be done is to raise or lower interest rates, which supposedly controls the money supply (though it does so only crudely and partially).

Therefore, the government does not attempt to direct capital away from investment in financial speculation, and in speculation in financial speculation, the latter being called derivatives, the famous “financial weapons of mass destruction” which ruined so many banks a few years ago. Therefore the financial speculators are free to make a lot of money and nobody will criticise them — because financial speculation is much more profitable than investing in manufacturing or extraction or agriculture, especially if you can control the environment in which the speculation takes place.

So, it would seem, for the sake of the enrichment of a tiny minority and the vanity of their hired pseudo-economists, governments have decided not to take effective action to promote economic development, but instead to focus their efforts on a foolish ideology which leads to destructive consequences. Nothing really new there. Also, this helps to explain why there is so little intelligent discussion on the matter.

But in that case, is it a problem that the interest rates have gone up? Well, there is another reason why they have gone up, one which has nothing directly to do with monetarism — but indirectly everything to do with the need for the rich to make a killing out of the misery of the rest of us. This is the lack of exchange controls, which permit the free flow of finance capital across South Africa’s borders. This is completely unnecessary for the development of the South African economy, but it is very convenient for people who a) want to pay as little tax as possible, and b) want to send their money wherever the investment is most profitable. In other words, for people who don’t want to develop the South African economy, at least not with their own money.

Since money can flow out of South Africa, there is the danger that we might be drained dry of capital. To prevent this, we have to be “attractive” for investors, meaning that they can temporarily stash their money in this country (so that we can use their temporarily stored money as virtual collatoral, borrowing money on that basis to pay our real debts) and make cash out of it. The money they make out of it is made through interest rates. Therefore, our bond rates have to be high — we have to pay out a lot of the money invested here. Therefore our interest rates need to be not too low.

What has most recently happened is that the United States has declared its intention of slowing the flood of money they are pouring into their own bond market. They have been doing this for six years in order to save the banks from the consequences of their profligacy and incompetence — essentially the banks are insolvent but refuse to change their policies to promote solvency, while giving the banks money directly would cause a confidence crisis, so the money is placed in the bond market and the bonds are then used by the banks as collateral for more lending and borrowing.

Unfortunately, this entails trillions of dollars which should mean that US inflation should be increased — over and above its current rate — by about 6%, which would be disastrous, in monetarist terms. Hence it is important that the bonds are never cashed in so that the flood of fabricated cash washes over the American financial system and causes another crisis. But “tapering” the flow of cash might lead to the bonds being cashed in out of panic. (This is yet another example of how utterly demented and suicidal the financial system is.) So in order to avoid this, the U.S. is cashing in its foreign bonds — meaning that all foreign currencies outside the Eurozone, Britain and Japan are falling against the dollar (and even more against the pound) and the rand is no exception.

How to combat this? Raise interest rates! Encourage people who aren’t Americans to buy our bonds! But of course everybody else is doing the same, and the consequence is likely to be a race towards the ceiling. As things stand, the modest rise in interest rates is not affecting the currency much and we can expect another fall soon. In which case there will have to be another rise, which will not work, and then there will be another one, and so our interest rates will inch upwards towards the relatively high levels of interest which we saw under the Mbeki government.

There are two problems with this. Under the Mbeki government we had twice the level of economic growth which we have at the moment, and we had less than half the level of state debt. Therefore, we are spectacularly poorly placed to counteract high interest rates. If those rates do indeed slow the rate of economic growth a little by discouraging investment borrowing, the consequences will be to push us towards recession. Meanwhile, raised interest rates will hit at the endebted people and the endebted government, leaving less money available for public spending (encouraging a recession) and less money for consumer spending (encouraging a recession). All in all, the stage seems to be set, thanks to the Reserve Bank, for a reprise of the economic crises South Africa saw in the 1990s, and meanwhile, with the lack of regulation displayed by both Reserve Bank and wider government, our banks are much less well equipped to deal with a financial crisis than they were in 2007-8, when they had not run up the kind of collateral-free loan books which they have been encouraged to run up by the current government.

The amusing thing is that this will be happening in Zuma’s second term, during which he has promised to generate six million jobs. We can assume that this will make the ANC unpopular. Unfortunately, these policies are wholly supported by the DA (insofar as the DA has any policy at all, rather than a set of disparate slogans drafted by brain-damaged neoliberal journalists and advertising executives). So we cannot possibly expect to escape the worst effects of the crisis which is plainly coming and which is being prepared before our eyes.

Woza Julius, woza!

Contradictory Circumstances.

February 26, 2014

What do we actually need in South Africa, and how can we secure and sustain the conditions for fulfilling these needs?

We need a growing and sustainable economy. Growing, because at the moment there is not enough production within the economy to provide everybody with a satisfactory lifestyle, even though the postmodern left delights in telling us that economic growth is a Bad Thing, not looking beyond this to the obvious point that if they are to maintain their congenial lifestyles without growth, the rest of us will have to suffer. Sustainable, because growth which depends on using up resources (like most contemporary growth) is a waste of time and effort.

But we also need a contented populace who are not struggling against the government or against the system within which they live. Therefore, the government needs to serve at least some of the interests of the populace, and the system needs to serve those interests, and the populace needs to know this. (One can fool people into believing that they are, or are not, being served, but some degree of reality is necessary if such perceptions are to be sustained over the long haul.)

So we need to substantially redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, in part by increasing employment with the goal (even if it is never met in practice) of providing full employment. We need to provide effective social services for everyone. None of this is impossible, but it is impossible without a dramatic change in the focus and nature of both government and society, so that the tiny minority of very rich people no longer dictate the purposes of government and suppress debate about those purposes through their control of the “ideological state apparatus” of education and propaganda.

That means that we need a war between the majority and the minority – ideally a war fought without violence, but also one fought ruthlessly and with the threat of violence always present. It is immediately obvious that for this purpose the ANC is hopelessly unsuited. We need a new government to fight that war, without which the rich will never loosen their stranglehold on the throats of the poor.

But if such a war is to be fought, the minority in this country have their own powerful and ruthless allies at home abroad who will fight on their side with economic, political and even military weapons. Therefore, we need a strong and trustworthy police service, espionage and secret policing service, and armed forces, to curb such forces. Unfortunately, massive armed forces, secret polices and other state “security” apparatuses tend to become an end in themselves. They also devour vast amounts of the wealth which is needed for redistributive purposes, and sometimes, because they have the power, simply use their power to appropriate the lot.

All this means that what we need in South Africa is approximately what was needed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. And we know how that turned out, or we think we do.

This isn’t a problem from the past, and it isn’t exactly a moral problem either. At the moment, the only reason it isn’t a problem is that it is inconceivable to most South Africans that we could ever even attempt to do these things. The whole propaganda apparatus of the South African state, backed by the global imperialist propaganda apparatus, is confirming all that. We cannot redistribute wealth, we cannot serve the interests of the majority, and we cannot oppress the minority when they fight against redistribution or the interests of the majority. It’s against the expressed rules of the global financial and trading system, and the tacit rules of the imperial armed forces and the mercenaries provided by the imperial satrapies.

But what if we were to try?

We would have to use force, not persuasion. Therefore, we would face precisely the condemnation that every successful left-wing government and organisation everywhere has faced. This condemnation comes not only from the right wing who stands to gain from left-wingers being discredited, but also — most effectively, in fact — from other left-wingers who wish to discredit anybody except themselves who attempts to accomplish anything.

Fear of being repressive is an understandable fear. It was evident, for instance, in Chile, where the Allende government could possibly have escaped the Pinochet bloodbath and economic collapse if it had declared a state of siege and rounded up the generals and businessmen who were colluding with the CIA in the proposed coup. A little ruthlessness would have saved many thousands of lives and prevented misery for millions.

Then why is there so much hostility to the idea of ruthlessness? The right wing is not at all afraid of repression. Yes, they condemn their political enemies with gusto; when the Cubans or the Chinese or the Russians round up people accused of being spies or traitors, the imperialist media is all over it. On the other hand, when the imperialist metropolis or its satellite states do the same thing, or when they simply murder people declared to be terrorists (a word which can mean anything) there is hardly a whimper of complaint from the right, and the left’s main concern is usually that there was not a proper hearing before the murder or detention without trial, or that the murder or the detention without trial happened as a result of espionage which is also used against citizens of the imperialist metropolis and its satellite states. In other words, the condemnation of official enemies is supposedly delivered on principle, but this principle does not apply to friends. Which is what one would expect of the opportunistic psychopaths of the imperialist ruling class.

It is, of course, annoying that many members of the left collude with this attitude. Anarchists, of course, believe that nobody should be allowed to oppress anybody else or threaten anybody else, and therefore scorn any organisation and any oppression. They are able to do this because they have never taken any authority — apart from the authority taken by the syndicalists in Spain in the mid-1930s, which the syndicalists defended with a substantial army and police force (even though the army and police force both had elected officers and were characterised by a lot of internal squabbling).

This makes it seem as if the condition for being free to criticise oppressive behaviour is irresponsibility. Certainly anarchists have been severely critical of the suppression of the Kronstadt uprising in Soviet Russia in 1921, which was undeniably brutal, just as ultra-leftists have been severely critical of the suppression of the outbreak of ultra-leftist terrorism in Leningrad at much the same time. These anarchists and ultra-leftists do not explain how it would otherwise be appropriate to treat people in armed rebellion against a government engaged in a civil war supported by foreign aggressors seeking regime change.

All this is true, and continues to be true today, and yet it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth because of the likely consequences of pursuing such policies. Police forces, secret police forces and armies are experienced as extremely dangerous things; they tend to be stocked by conservative people, even in left-wing societies. They are also expensive and economically unproductive and thus tend to be unpopular, in nature and in cost, with the general public. Ideologically, these forces therefore pose a threat to the ideological purity of a left-wing revolutionary movement, and the tendency is to say that they are unnecessary, or alternatively, that they are necessary only within frameworks laid out by the left, as with elected army officers and police forces whose leaders are appointed strictly according to their political affiliations and their willingness to subject themselves to political control.

The post-liberation South African armed services are a case in point. If it is true that the SAPS has of late enjoyed a degree of political appointment, the result seems to have been disastrous in terms both of SAPS leadership and of the effectual functioning of the service. The South African secret police is extremely dysfunctional, although arguably this is not simply an ideological matter but also a matter of the need to conceal the links between government and organised crime. The South African armed forces appear to function a little better, but this is largely because it has retained most of the ideological trappings of the old apartheid military (the so-called liberation forces having been intellectually captured by their former enemies). Notwithstanding, the South African armed forces are increasingly being used as cannon-fodder for imperialist colonial operations, and as such they are politically reactionary in nature.

In the end, a revolutionary police and secret police can function only if the members of that police are ideologically attuned to the objectives of the revolution. As such, then, they are simply tools in the hands of the political leaders of the revolution; they are not a nice, revolutionary, people’s militia, they are thugs and spooks who happen to be serving different masters. This is what bothers the far left, who would like to see the complete abolition of all thuggery and spookery and imagine that this can be done simply by fiat. Alas, the reactionary, imperialist, plutocratic opposition does not share that desire, and is happy to use thuggery and spookery, along with all the other tools which it uses against the people attempting to liberate countries from reaction, imperialism and plutocracy. For this reason, the far left’s criticism simply entails tying the hands of the revolution (while saying that if only they were in charge it would not be necessary to do this, of course).

If it is impossible to have a revolution without a sword and shield of the revolution (which was what the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD, MGB and KGB called themselves during the Russian revolutionary period) then the obvious danger is that this sword and shield will end up running the show, as happened in the last decades of Stalin’s rule. It was, of course, possible to execute Beria and to downgrade the Ministry of State Security to a mere Committee, with KGB junior officers no longer outranking army generals as NKVD non-coms had done in the 1930s. That was possible because the Communist Party had enough power to do so (thanks to the support of the Army and the fact that everybody in the USSR hated Beria and the MGB like poison). However, it took a long time — and it is particularly ironic that Yezhov and his friends were able to capture near-supreme control of the revolutionary state on the pretext that they were defending the Revolution against an attempted coup d’etat by the army (which was what the purge of Marshal Tukhachevsky and his friends was justified by).

This is really something which any serious revolutionary needs to watch. It is, if you like, a dialectical process between the need of the revolution to defend itself, and the desire of the authoritarian personalities tasked with that defense to garner more and more power and influence by spreading paranoia and fabricating evidence along the lines of the behaviour of Western secret services during the War on Terror (which liberal American Democrats referred to, more accurately, as the “War on Terra”, though they toned down their rhetoric once they believed that they had their hands on the levers of the repressive state apparatus.) It’s very like the need to suppress the press, which is real and yet can easily be turned into the kind of Karima Brown-style balderdash which one saw in Pravda or the SABC in the old days, or which one sees in the New Age today. It’s something which any serious figure wishing to struggle for the liberation of this country needs to spend a lot of time mulling over.

So long as it doesn’t lead you to abandon the struggle, comrade.