Opinionista Jackie Shandu 18 December 2014

Battle for the soul of the Economic Freedom Fighters: Class first or race first?

The fatal defect with class purists of South African Communist Party background is that they have never understood the race question. This is partly due to the racist history of the SACP itself, dating back to when it was formed and named the Communist Party of South Africa.

For those who may not know, white South African ‘communists’ founded the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) – which was later remained the South African Communist Party, or SACP – under the slogan ‘White Workers of the World Unite’. It took none other Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union to reject an all-white delegation of the CPSA and told them only black people were true representatives of the South African proletariat.

The SACP has never ‘problematised’ race and racism in the South African context and it’s for this reason black leaders produced in its ranks have always had a race blind spot. This is not of their own doing. Throughout its existence, the SACP has always had white makhulu baas pulling its strings, at the forefront or behind the scenes. From Braam Fischer, Joe Slovo, and Ruth First to Patrick Craven to Jeremy Cronin, these white teachers laboured intensely to produce race-unconscious black communists who cringe at the very sight of the words such as ‘Black Power’ or ‘Africa for Africans’.

We must recall that it was the white communists who drafted the Kliptown Charter, wrongly called the ‘Freedom Charter’ and which was to be basis of the breakaway from the ANC, led by Robert Sobukwe and fellow Pan Africanists to form the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. In adopting the Kliptown Charter, the ANC unilaterally and arbitrarily exonerated European white settlers from their historic land theft and oppression of the native black majority in the land of their ancestors.

How else can one interpret a document that begins with “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it, black and white”, in 1956, at the height of oppression of blacks by whites?

What did this sudden change of mind mean to the stalwarts of the resistance wars such as Sekhukhune, Moshoeshoe and Bhambatha, to mention but a few? Again, this is where the SACP historically distorted and falsified the South African problem as class exploitation when it actually was race oppression effected through land dispossession and economic exploitation of the natives by the unwelcome foreign settlers.

Friedrich Marx and Karl Engels invented a powerful tool of social analysis out of the European socio-political paradigm that was, and still is, fundamentally different from the African context. To forcefully and arrogantly impose Marx’s prescription to a situation he neither grappled with nor wrote about was the greatest undoing of the black Marxists, then, as it is now. To drive this point further, if Marx had his way, European powers would have colonised the entire globe to introduce and entrench capitalism to its highest stage and only thereafter could these ‘uncivilised’ and ‘backward’ societies be ready for a socialist transition. In Marx, therefore, we are still dealing with a white supremacist that believed and stated that the only way forward for all of humanity is through Western intervention, paternalism and leadership.

To state these facts is not to reject Marxism but to point out that Marx was a product of his time and environment, with limitations and flaws like all of us human beings. It is true to say that when applied into a context that Marx never covered, Marxism must be bent, modified and/or stretched according to the dynamics of the context in question. If Marxism is indeed a science, as some class purists never forget to remind us, then Marxism must effortlessly re-invent and adapt itself to become useful in how we theorise and wage our contemporary struggle against white monopoly capital and white racism in South Africa. But the class purists simply shove it down as a rigid and holy dogma received from Mount Sinai that can only be grasped and interpreted by a chosen, anointed few.

To reduce racism to a mere function of material conditions in contemporary South Africa is to either suffer from acute intellectual malnutrition or consciously compromise the truth for political expediency. White supremacist anti-black racism is in the DNA of white South Africa and has been internalised by the black majority. The attitude and behaviour of whites towards blacks and vice versa is mutually reinforcing phenomena that validate and reproduce white supremacy and white racism. Through their arrogant display of power and privilege when interacting with blacks, whites always send a message that blacks receive and internalise wholeheartedly: that whites are indeed superior and special and must be treated as such. Simultaneously through their sheer timidity and total submissiveness when interacting with white people, black people send a message that most whites warmly receive and internalise: that blacks are inferior and less human and must be treated as such. The overall effect of this virulent social intercourse is the deepening of the culture of racism in all spheres of society.

The class purists fail to recognise that installation of a socialist regime will not in- and by-itself reduce, let alone eradicate, the scourge of racism so deeply entrenched in the minds and mainstream culture of post-1994 South Africa. You can and will have an anti-black racist socialist society if de-colonial discourse is not at the centre of the theory and praxis of the vanguard movement that wants to end oppression and exploitation of the black majority. This was Fidel Castro’s lamentable discovery when scientific research evidence was produced pointing to unabated social marginal marginalisation and economic exploitation of blacks in Cuba, decades after the socialist revolution of 1959. The studies found that Cubans of African descent were highly under-represented in areas of leadership across sectors as well as in terms of access to opportunity for social upward mobility, such as education, housing and productive (arable) land. Poverty also disproportionately affected black Cubans. Thirty years later, the revolution had still not arrived for black Cubans, as Castro was to discover.

In socialist Venezuela, probably inspired by the non-inspiring findings of Cuban race relations and racialised inequalities decades after the advent of socialism, in the mid 2000s Hugo Chavez chose to be proactive and legislated for pro-black social reforms in education, housing, land reform and leadership positions in the public sector. In fact, in 2011 Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, a leading black American scholar and activist, produced a four part documentary series entitled Black in Latin America chronicling the lived experience and contribution of Africans throughout Latin America since they were kidnapped to that part of the world by Europeans and white Americans. Without exception of a single country, Gates found that anti-black prejudices were so institutionalised and normalized throughout Latin America that both blacks and others had accepted this as the way it ought to be. Needless to say, poverty, disease, crime and other scourges affected black people disproportionately higher than anybody else.

The big question in South Africa, where a minority of racist settlers continue to dominate and subjugate the native majority, is whether in the main the native majority is exploited or oppressed or both. I say this fully aware of difficulty of determining where exploitation ends and oppression begins. Nevertheless the point is to say that if we understand the South African problem of today to be that of exploitation (Class Struggle), then we understand how some prescribe socialism as the only answer. If we, however, see, beyond material conditions, we will see in black people a broken, defeated, violated, stigmatised and dehumanised group. If we see an arrogant, hateful, denialist, remorseless, cold and unrepentant people in white people, then we know that class struggle is but just one component of a much bigger struggle to be waged by a vanguard movement that once to deliver total liberation and create a just, human and egalitarian society.

Both whites and blacks need to be decolonised and cured, the former of his superiority complex, the latter of his inferiority complex.

To posit, as it was during the first national peoples’ assembly of the EFF in the last few days, that ‘EFF is fighting a primarily class struggle in a neo-colonial setting’ is an acute misreading of the South African problem in the post-1994 era. It is also a worrying contradiction in that in any neo-colonial setting the economy of the formerly colonized nation is retained as private property of the former coloniser through the unholy arrangement between the bourgeois native rulers and the former colonial foreign rulers. South Africa’s wealth, through this wicked arrangement, is redirected to Wall Street, London Stock Exchange and Paris by the very same apartheid corporations that Thabo Mbeki and clique were very happy to allow delist from the JSE and run away with all that Apartheid loot acquired through the blood, sweat and tears of black people. SAB Miller, DeBeers, are today ‘foreign’ companies that still steal South African raw mineral resources to create jobs in the global north and make monstrous profits selling finished products throughout the world, including to South Africa itself – the very source of those products.

The domestic economy itself is an exclusive preserve of local and foreign whites. When it comes to manufacturing, blacks are nowhere to be seen except as powerless, tokenistic minority stakeholders through the elitist BEE programme that benefits primarily ANC top brass and cronies. Just a fortnight ago a list of South Africa’s 100 richest people was published and as expected only 14 of those are black, and the gap between the combined wealth of richest whites and the richest blacks is as wide as the Nile river.

Latest research shows us that white households earn 6 times more than their black counterparts and 3.5 times above the average national household income. A land audit conducted by the state itself last year revealed that local and foreign whites share ownership and control of 80% South Africa’s land, in a country in which whites constitute less than 15% of the total population. Rhetoric and propaganda aside, however one looks at it, if one is sane and honest, South Africa remains a white supremacist anti-black society in which opulence remains white and poverty and misery is still black.

Class analysis, therefore, cannot and must not be misused to conceal and misdiagnose consciously or unconsciously the real nature of the enduring exploitation and oppression of the black majority and the reasons behind it, two decades into democracy. Black people remain poor because they are black and whites – the biggest beneficiaries of the democratic era, economically – keep consolidating their wealth because of their whiteness. Black Africans are the only group in South Africa whose net wealth has taken a downward trend during democracy. This happened in spite of the billions amassed by the Motsepes of our society and millions earned by the uninspiring and uncultured petty black bourgeoisie in the corporate sector.

For EFF to be a true champion of the poor, as it ought to be, it must be brutally honest with our people no matter the political implications. We must follow in the footsteps of Lenin, Cabral and Biko and be uncompromising and unflinching when it comes to espousing the ills that we plan to eradicate from our society. DM



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