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Vol. 77/No. 46      December 23, 2013

South Africa revolution:
Historic victory for working class
(feature article)
Below is an excerpt from a speech given in 1985 by Jack Barnes national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, to a meeting of the SWP’s National Committee. It was published under the title, “The Coming Revolution in South Africa,” in issue number 5 of New International, a magazine of Marxist politics and theory. It walks through the class character and leading social forces of the revolution, the vanguard political role of the African National Congress, and the place of the revolution in the class struggle in southern Africa, the U.S. and the world. Its purpose was to arm party members to expand work, especially in the labor movement, in the fight for a free South Africa. Copyright © 1985 by New International. Reprinted with permission.

What is the historic character of the revolution in South Africa?

It is a revolution to overthrow the apartheid state and tear apart the apartheid system.

It is a revolution to open the door to forging, for the first time, a nonracial South African nation-state.

This new nation will incorporate the African people from various tribal backgrounds, the descendants of those who lived there and worked the land before the white colonizers arrived, and who are the vast majority of the population of South Africa today. It will incorporate those the apartheid system classifies as Coloureds and Indians, who, together with the Africans, constitute the oppressed Black population. And it will incorporate those whites who will accept living and working as citizens with equal rights — no more, no less — in a democratic South Africa.

It is a revolution to conquer the right of the Black majority to own, work, and develop the land from which they have been expelled by the apartheid regime. To win the right of Africans to become free farmers, producing cash crops for an expanding home market. To carry out a real Homestead Act, opening the land to those who want to work it.

It is a revolution to abolish all restrictions on the rights of Black South Africans to live, labor, and travel where they choose. To establish full equality in the job market. To guarantee full trade union and labor rights.

It is a revolution aimed at replacing the state of the white minority with a democratic republic based on one person, one vote. Its goal — in the words used by the African National Congress — is a single, united, nonracial, and democratic South Africa.

It is a revolution in which the toilers are seeking to replace minority apartheid rule with rule by the working people, the great majority. They will then use that new revolutionary power to ensure that not a single brick of the apartheid system is left intact and that the democratic program of the revolution is put into practice.

From the historical standpoint, the South African revolution today is a bourgeois-democratic revolution for these goals. It is a democratic revolution, a national revolution. The working people are striving to lead it to victory and to create for the first time a true South African nation-state.

The South African revolution today is not an anticapitalist revolution. It will open the road to the transition to an anticapitalist revolution, but no one can predict how long, or short, that road will be. That will be determined by the relationship of class forces in South Africa and internationally that will emerge from the revolutionary overthrow of the apartheid state. …

The working class is striding forward to lead the national, democratic revolution to overthrow the apartheid state and replace it with a democratic dictatorship of the South African workers and peasants. This democratic revolution cannot be carried through to victory under the leadership of any wing of the South African capitalist class or liberal political forces.

This leadership role has been thrust upon the working class by the development of South African capitalism itself. As a result of the special oppressive forms through which the apartheid system mobilizes labor power, South African and foreign capitalists have squeezed superprofits from the labor of Black workers. But in the process they have brought into being a large and powerful South African working class, the vanguard of the gravediggers of apartheid. …

The ANC has conquered, in struggle, its place as the vanguard organization of the democratic revolution in South Africa. Revolutionists in the United States and around the world must act on the basis of this fact in participating in the fight against apartheid. …

The national, democratic struggle unfolding in South Africa is also decisive for the forging of a communist leadership there. The ANC is not a communist organization, and it does not strive to become one. It is a revolutionary democratic organization, the political vanguard of the national, democratic revolution in South Africa.

Out of the revolutionary struggle that is being led by the ANC, however, a growing South African communist vanguard will be forged and tested. This will occur as younger forces come forward in this struggle, as more and more leaders emerge from the ranks of the working class. And with this strengthening of a communist leadership in South Africa will come a strengthening of its convergence with communist forces on a world scale.

The advance of the South African revolution and its leadership marks a further objective shift in what is possible and what is necessary in the construction of a vanguard of the world revolution. It registers yet another step away from what Lenin — pointing to the bankrupt Second International — referred to as an International of the white race. It moves another step toward the kind of truly world revolutionary leadership that the Communist International sought to build in Lenin’s time. And that has an important impact on the decisive question of building communist leaderships in every country where the construction of a multinational proletarian combat party is essential — from Brazil to Canada, from New Zealand to Britain, and of course, here in the United States.
Related articles:
What apartheid defeat opened for workers in SAfrica, world
‘Cuito Cuanavale was milestone in struggle for African liberation’
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