1980s >> 1986 >> no-985-september-1986

Editorial: How to defeat apartheid

The fundamental need of the world capitalist class is to exploit the wealth-producing working class. They are empowered to legally rob us (for they make the laws) and that robbery is the source of all profit. The worker is to the capitalist not a fellow human being but a wage slave to be used until every drop of profit is squeezed out. It is within the context of that ruthless social system that apartheid must be comprehended.


Apartheid is legalised and politically organised racism. It is a legacy of the colonial ideology of the European plunderers who traversed a planet looking for resources to appropriate and humans to enslave economically. The essential feature of apartheid is that the white people of European descent (Dutch Afrikaaners and British) are inherently superior to the black people of African origin. Biologically, anthropologically. genetically and historically there is not a scrap of evidence in support of this racist mythology The defender of apartheid is intellectually as ignorant as socially arrogant.


Racism has been of considerable use to the South African ruling class. They have used it as a means of monopolising power in southern Africa to the exclusion of the African majority. No black worker has the free right to vote, to assemble freely, to oppose racism openly or to travel without restriction beyond the confines of the slum reservations. The gross evils of apartheid have been chronicled fully, especially of late, and there can surely be no worker with eyes to see and ears to hear who is not aware of the atrocities which have been perpetrated in the name of superior white civilisation.


So, what is to be done about apartheid? Before addressing that question. let us consider who it is that must do it. There are two classes in society — the robbers and the robbed and there can be no collaboration between them. At present the robber class — the international capitalists — have turned against apartheid. They have done so firstly because such overt tyranny is bringing them into disrepute and the capitalists do not like excessive.,Nazi-style class rule: they prefer it to be done more subtly. Secondly, the very high profits made by apartheid’s capitalists contrast with those of other capitalists who have to deal with trade union organised labour, so many capitalists resent the advantage of their racist competitors and want to move in on the South African market. Thirdly, and most importantly, the majority of capitalists are economic rationalists and do not favour institutionalised racism: they wish to exploit any worker of any colour in any place and do not want to waste opportunities to profit from black skills and energies because of obsolete racist barriers. The multinational Anglo-American Corporation, which makes huge profits out of South Africa’s valuable mineral resources, has held this view for several years. So the international capitalists are putting pressure on the apartheid ruling class to put their house in order. This is not a moral attack against racism (capitalism knows no morals which cannot earn dividends) but one based on the needs of their system.


Economic sanctions against South Africa have been called for. This means that capitalists are being asked to boycott trade with the apartheid capitalists and if sanctions are imposed by governments it will be illegal to do business with South Africa in certain fields. Thatcher, with all the disingenuity of a fellow-travelling racist, says that she opposes government-imposed sanctions but will allow “voluntary” sanctions. This, she says with a straight face, is because she does not want to hurt the black South Africans. Thatcher’s opponents in the administration of British capitalism (Kinnock. Owen and the rest) insist that the government must impose sanctions. Interestingly, many of the loudest voices who are now crying with indignation about the need for sanctions did absolutely nothing to impose them against racist South Africa during their course of the last Labour government. Sanctions were imposed in the 1960s when what was then Rhodesia persisted in its racist administration of capitalism. The tactic failed. The failure reflected the hard fact that governments cannot control the market: if there are profits to be made the capitalists will find a way of breaking sanction laws. It must be added that companies like Lonrho which did so were never taken to court by the then Labour government. and there is evidence that sanctions were evaded with the knowledge, if not the collusion, of that government.


It is unlikely that sanctions against South Africa would have much effect. For example capitalists in India, formally committed to sanctions, can simply export commodities to Sri Lanka from where they can easily be reexported to South Africa. Nominally independent countries like Zimbabwe, which is in fact dominated to a great extent by multinational capital, could easily be used by British or US companies to trade with South Africa. The capitalists have their own economic incentives to replace apartheid with a system of exploitation in accordance with international norms but it is foolish to trust the bosses to fight racism and we would be limited in our aim if “business as usual” was all we could wish to achieve.


This returns us to the question: what is to be done about apartheid? The answer is that the struggle against apartheid cannot be separated from the struggle for the emancipation of workers everywhere. This does not depend on the summits of ruling class sloganisers but on the active and conscious political movement of workers ourselves, divided neither by colour or country.


The power of South African capital depends on the weakness of workers in that country. The organisational efforts of our fellow workers in COSATU (many of them now in prison) are worth much more than the praise of nationalist would-be rulers. In South Africa as elsewhere, the demand for political rights must be in opposition to any new ruling elite. Workers in South Africa will learn to reject the limits of the system. They will see that while production for profit remains (under private or state supervision) there will be no end to oppression, that only the defeat of capitalism will end the basic problems of all workers.


The division in South Africa is not simply racial: there are plenty of poor white wage slaves, just as there are black capitalists elsewhere in Africa. Colour is neither the problem nor the solution. Class is the problem — establishing a classless, propertyless, stateless system of society is the practical solution. To reform capitalism is not enough: to build Brixtons for South African workers instead of Sowetos is simply to exchange one condition of poverty for another. The wealth producers have suffered for too long: we do not want better, but only the best. In order to achieve that we must disarm our rulers politically — deny them the right to coerce us — and dispossess them economically — deny them the right to legally rob us. That is revolutionary socialism and united under its aim our brothers and sisters in South Africa, with workers everywhere, will win.