In her criticism of my article on South Africa (“ANC and the working class”, Solidarity 263) Jayne Edwards notes that I think the ANC had no choice but to govern in the name of capital because the movement was not yet ripe, and points to the misuse of an Engels quote from 1850.
I do broadly agree with her analysis, but perhaps there are nuances here.
In the original version of the article, I point to the fact that it was Neville Alexander who originally used Engels quote to understand what was happening in South Africa from 1994.
I accept that Jayne is absolutely correct that the key question is the fact that the advocates of independent working class politics weren’t strong enough to develop the political organisations needed — a mass workers’ party.
But I would still contend that there was no real possibility of either a mass workers’ party or any kind of transition to socialism in 1994.
The complete ideological elimination of “African socialism” in Congo, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere as a consequence of putschism, tribalism, and Stalinist imperialist intervention meant the discrediting of an indigenous, Africanist road to socialism. Any movement towards that would have been profoundly resisted by the armed ranks of the apartheid state backed by international capital. Anything even smacking of independent workers’ power would have been smashed.
However the collapse of the East European regimes made possible a space in which the vague “social democratisation” of the ANC could perpetuate and make more effective the rule of capital in South Africa.
In 1994 the masses weren’t faced with a choice between independent working-class politics on the one hand and the SACP/ANC on the other.
Neither was the question of a socialist or capitalist road raised within the SACP/ANC itself.
Formally the question of working-class power was central to what would become the government of the tripartite alliance — in its congresses and constitutions — but the genetics of the component parts precluded it ever becoming a reality.
We haven’t underestimated the impact of Stalinism on the SACP/ANC, and Baruch Hirson did great work uncovering the kleptocracy and murder of working-class militants at the hands of the ANC in exile with which the leadership was complicit. What we do underestimate is the fact that the joint Stalinisation/social democratisation of the ANC for decades had eliminated any real chance of workers’ struggles in South Africa culminating in working-class representation.
The independent left was totally marginalised in 1994 and lost its bearings completely afterwards. It had little impact on the South African working class and has little impact now There was no embryonic workers’ party in South Africa — although there are now more calls for this post-Marikana.
The collapse of the prestige if not the full political power of the ANC might now signify a new period of ripeness for working class politics that wasn’t present in 1994, we’ll have to see. But we have to recognise the sheer catastrophe of twentieth century Stalinism and its impact on eliminating the whole possibility of workers’ power in South Africa in the late 80s and early 90s.
The question then becomes how the “extreme party” itself creates, through long preparation, the conditions for the advancement of an alien class rather than one emerging too early on the stage of history.