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.