Mandela’s Legacy


Mandela’s Legacy

“As far as the political representatives of labour are concerned, the issue is not simply that of personal failure or yielding to the temptations and rewards of their privileged position when they are in office. It is much more serious than that. The trouble is that when as heads or Ministers of governments they are supposed to be able to politically control the system they do nothing of the kind. For they operate within the political domain apriori prejudged in capital’s favour by the existing power structures of its mode of social metabolic production. Without radically challenging and materially dislodging capital’s deeply entrenched structures and mode of social metabolic control, capitulation to the power of capital is only a matter of time; as a rule almost managing to outpace the speed of light. Whether we think of Ramsay MacDonald and Bettino Craxi or Felipe Gonzales and Francois Mitterand – and even long imprisoned Nelson Mandela, the newly-found champion of the South African arms industry[1] – the story is always depressingly the same. Often even the wishful anticipation of the ‘realistic and responsible role’ which is supposed to be appropriate to an expected future high ministerial position is enough to produce the most astonishing somersaults” [Istvan Meszaros. Beyond Capital, p.731]

……..Tsipras (Syriza in Greece) and, if elected, Corbyn (British Labour Party)…….

[1] ‘President Mandela delivered an important boost to South Africa’s expanding multimillion-pound arms industry yesterday by publicly giving it his personal blessing for the first time. …His public endorsement was welcomed by South Africa’s arms manufacturers, who believe his support will help them to secure future deals. Abba Omar, speaking for Armscor, the state arms industry, said: “The President has for the first time unequivocally given his backing to the arms industry. It cannot be stressed how important his seal of approval is to us” ‘

[Inigo Gilmore, ‘Mandela applauds South Africa’s rising arms trade’, The Times, 23 November 1994.] [Note in Meszaros, Ibid, p.865]

If we take a visit to the working class townships in South Africa today we will observe, more or less, the same levels of poverty, deprivation and destitution which we witnessed in Apartheid South Africa. In this “post-apartheid” “freedom” and state of “national liberation” in South Africa, the book by Bob Myers – Is this what we fought for? – readily comes to mind.

Of course, Mandela was a progressive figure in the history of the struggle for emancipation and it would be absurd to deny that. But what he articulated, once in power, was the acceptance of the dominance of the root relation of the “status quo” i.e. the rule of capital. The struggle led by Mandela and the ANC served to realise democratic rights within the conditions of the capitalist order. The state power of capital within South Africa was able to concede and accommodate the demands of the ANC leadership.

The anti-communist SACP (South African Communist Party) made peace with the capital order many years ago. Mandela’s membership of the central committee of the SACP (which, as part of UWS, tortured and executed its own revolutionary socialist militants in its camps in Angola) was merely a formality. The leadership of the SACP is now part of government in South Africa which is ably performing its services for transnational capital as we recently saw in the bloody massacre of striking miners. To refer to the SACP or Mandela as “communist” is more than a mockery of the word.

The struggle against the apartheid regime by the ANC leadership was never a socialist struggle. It always had a limited, national bourgeois class character regardless of all the “revolutionary” and “liberation” bluster that animated it. Mandela, educated as a lawyer, was, essentially, a bourgeois liberal nationalist and he died as one in praise of the capitalist order. The rule of capital with a reactionary white supremacist mask was replaced with its uninterrupted rule by a black “democratic” bourgeois nationalist one. The chairs have been re-arranged but the master remains at the head of the table. This is not to deny that a move forward has taken place; however, it is one which is simultaneously a return to the old but at a higher stage under altered conditions.The conditions are now more favourable for the proletariat but the old enemy remains to be vanquished. The rule of capital now presents itself in altered form.

Instructive, of course, was the process whereby the bourgeois nationalist leadership of a grass-roots movement for emancipation dressed itself up in the garb of revolutionary rhetoric and socialist phraseology. Today, the leadership of the ANC is the personification of the interests of transnational capital in South Africa. And if workers strike, they run the risk of being machine-gunned by the “armed bodies of men” of its state power.

Mandela was praised and feted by the global representatives of capital. Here, in Britain, when Mandela died, the reporters of the capitalist broadcasting media were almost weeping into their microphones and falling over themselves to suggest political beatification. It was almost as nauseating as the praise they gave for Thatcher at her state funeral. A revolutionary criticism of the ANC reveals its origins and the historic trajectory it has taken as a bourgeois nationalist movement clothing itself in the language of socialism. It has ended up as capital’s best friend on the continent of Africa.

We need to look at the dynamics of any struggle with the eye of a revolutionary critique and not with that of a shallow contemplative rationalism. Only in this way can we work within such proletarian struggles as communists and be of service in moving them in a socialist direction. All struggles contain their different and contradictory possibilities. The struggle against apartheid was no different in this respect. There was nothing pre-ordained about the trajectory taken by the struggle in South Africa. But from the very beginning, the SACP’s/ ANC’s outlook was not communist and this conditioned the actual development of the struggle. But not in a mechanically deterministic way, of course.

The struggle did not unfold according to a pre-ordained historical template but the tendency was towards the realisation of a bourgeois democratic regime in which capital remained the dominant social relation of production and distribution. The ANC and the SACP were the agents of capital in this struggle albeit in a black nationalist form. All the apologetics of the ANC today cannot refute this historical truth. On this basis, they politically and most cynically justify the oppression and misery in South Africa today. But humanity creates its own conditions of existence and in the course of changing the conditions which confront it, simultaneously changes itself. History is a process. Not a pre-ordained fait accompli. The proletariat in South Africa has not made its final demands or spoken its last word.

Recently, we have observed a breach open up in the traditional relationship between organised labour and the ANC/SACP in South Africa. The declaration by NUMSA is calling for the creation of a ‘Movement for Socialism’ and a clear move away from the pro-capital position of the ANC and the SACP both in government.

Of particular interest is the following demand in the declaration for a United Front

“Establish a new United Front.

NUMSA will lead in the establishment of a new United Front that will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the UDF of the 1980s. The task of this front will be to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and to be an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies such as the NDP. For this to happen our members and shop stewards must be active on all fronts and in all struggles against neoliberal policies, whether these policies are being implemented in the workplace or in communities.”

[full text of declaration at NUMSA website:

This demand is interesting because implicit within it appears to be the beginnings of a gravitation towards a ‘Social Union’ South African style. At least, one in potentio.

more on ‘Social Unions’ at:

In a rather unsubtle, indirect response to this recent declaration and initiative by NUMSA, the SACP responded with the following attack…

“As the SACP we are calling on our people to be more vigilant of the one enemy in many colours. We must always identify, expose and reject a wolf in a sheep skin, no matter how many times it may attempt to convince us that it is a sheep. The wolf must never be allowed to be in our flock, for it has no other intention but to taste blood”.

“One enemy in many colours, etc…”? The irony of such a statement is breathtaking. It comes from a party which professes to articulate the class interests of the proletariat in South Africa but has readily taken over from Apartheid in the administration of the functions of the state power of capital in the interests of capital itself. Joining its friends in the ANC as an errand boy for capital in Africa.

full text at :

We might be tempted to say that you can’t teach the Stalinist grandma to suck eggs. Or an old Stalinist dog new tricks. And we note, with consternation, how many times the Stalinist wolf has tried to convince us that it is truly the socialist or Marxist sheep. It is responsible for a river of proletarian and real communist blood running all the way from Lenin’s funeral right up to the ANC/SACP torture camps of its militants in Angola.

Shaun May

June 2014