Anti-apartheid was denounced as a slogan of British imperialism at a meeting in Conway Hall, London, on 16 March addressed by I. B. Tabata, President of the Unity Movement of South Africa and N. Honono, President of the All-African Convention (a constituent organisation of the Unity Movement).
The South African ruling class, argued Tabata (what follows is only a summary of his arguments not an exact report of his speech), was split over how to govern the millions of African workers and peasants on whose labour the South African capitalist economy rested. The bulk of the industrial wealth of South Africa was owned either by capitalists from Britain or the English-speaking section of the White population. British imperialism had come to realise that it was no longer necessary to govern places like India and Africa by means of direct colonial rule. They had learned that it was cheaper and less inconvenient to rule through “independent” governments. However the bulk of the South African electorate, made up of White workers and farmers, was Afrikaans-speaking and traditionally opposed to British imperialism. They followed the lead of the Nationalist Party which preached that the only way to govern the Africans was by police methods. Brutal apartheid was the implementation of this policy of suppression. This the British capitalists and their counter-parts in South Africa, like gold magnate Oppenheimer, regarded as unnecessary and even dangerous in that it could provoke unrest and violence that would endanger their investments. They would prefer to rule through the White opposition parties (with their policy of less rigid segregation) or even, if necessary through organisations like the African National Congress. The “anti-apartheid” campaign by obscuring the class struggle of the African peasants and workers against capitalist exploitation and oppression, served their interests. As the Unity Movement put it in their pamphlet The Revolutionary Road for South Africa:
“In terms of the South African set-up, anti-apartheid means anti-Afrikaner Nationalist Government. It means the return to power of the English speaking sections. It means the entrenchment of imperialism in South Africa and all that that connotes for the exploitation of the mass of the Black population.”
This is an analysis which the Socialist Party of Great Britain would largely endorse and is one reason why we do not take part in single-issue campaigns such as “Boycott South African Goods” and “Stop the Cricket Tour”. It is in fact in line with what we ourselves have long argued: that the rigid apartheid imposed by a government drawing its support from a farm-orientated electorate is a hindrance to the development of capitalism in South Africa and is against the interests of both the South African capitalist class and the international capitalists who have investments there. We have always rejected the facile view that apartheid is imposed by these capitalists in order to protect their investments.
The Socialist Party is of course opposed to apartheid, but to separate the struggle against apartheid and other forms of oppression and discrimination from the general struggle for Socialism (which will mean the emancipation of all mankind, irrespective of race or sex) is to play into the hands of that section of the South African ruling class that is opposed to apartheid.
We also have fundamental criticisms of the programme and policy of the Unity Movement, which is heavily influenced by obsolete trotskyist ideas about Russia and China being “workers states”, about leadership and “transitional demands” and about guerilla warfare. Nevertheless, on the issue of anti-apartheid, we concede that they take up a basically correct position. Wc doubt however whether their supporters in this country, who include Tariq Ali, really understand the full implications of this line of argument.