[ANALYSIS] + PDF: S. Byrne, W. McGregor, L. van der Walt, 2015, “Troubled SA Must Take May Day Seriously”

Troubled SA must take May Day seriously

30 Apr 2015
Sian Byrne, Warren McGregor, Lucien van der Walt
Mail and Guardian

“This is a time to embrace working-class unity and challenge the status quo of capitalist oppression.” [TEXT BELOW]


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May Day – a call to build an international movement of working class and poor people across lines of race, nation and religion for workers’ control and democracy from below, social justice and freedom from political and economic oppression – remains critical. In a country racked by anti-immigrant violence, racial and ethnic tensions, the fragmentation of the labour federation Cosatu, corporate scandals and political corruption, it is time to remember May Day’s roots and aspirations.

The day has become an institutionalised festival, yet its origins lie in powerful struggles for a united, anticapitalist, bottom-up, global justice movement, affirming the common interests of people, worldwide, against ruling elites and their divide-and-rule policies.

With the 2015 May Day set to be a showdown between South Africa’s rival union blocs, it is time to remember its roots and aims. Working-class unity is the only way to overcome problems such as class inequalities and national oppression in South Africa, a country ruled by the 1% and racked by periodic anti-immigrant violence.

Posing the problem as psychological – as in Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s claim that recent violence is “Afrophobia” driven by “self-hate” – ignores attacks on Asian foreigners and assumes a natural state of African unity. It completely ignores the role of class and capitalist systems in which divisions between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, exist within races and nations. A Zimbabwean worker, a Pakistani worker and a South African worker have more in common with each other than any of them has with the Zimbabwean, Pakistani and South African upper class.

Ruling classes pit people against one another by means of economic policies that entrench historic inequalities, political mobilisation on the basis of race and nation by parties, states, ideologues and propaganda. Suburbs that are home to the black and white middle and upper classes sleep peacefully, far from the chaos and misery that arise from these policies, whereas the working class and poor turn on each other.

South Africa’s incomplete transition out of apartheid has left deep racial inequalities and national divisions. The legacy of apartheid and segregation is visible everywhere: the black, coloured and Indian working class and poor are doubly oppressed, by race and by class; the main political parties provide no solutions, but are part of the problem.

Radical changes are needed. Those proposed by the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu) and, before it, the International Socialist League (ISL), Industrial Workers of Africa and the International Working People’s Association (IWPA) include placing power, including self-managed control of the economy, into the hands of a multiracial working class and poor majority, rather than in parliaments or corporate boardrooms.

Changing statues will not address the issues. Indeed, political mobilisation of this sort, delinked from a radical programme of working-class rule, will simply reinforce the myriad divisions – immigrant versus national, race versus race, country versus country – that are the key to the power of the 1%.

Radical changes require a dynamic labour movement with a radical project, allied to other popular sectors altogether outside the party system and the electoral arena. These positions lie at the radical roots of May Day, which began as a commemoration of and protest against the 1887 execution of four IWPA anarcho-syndicalist labour organisers from Chicago.

One of them, August Spies, declared from the scaffold: “If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labour movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery – the wage slaves – expect salvation – if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there and behind you and in front of you and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.”

Spies stressed popular self-emancipation: nonracial mass organisations to fight the state, capitalism and all forms of oppression and to establish a participatory, self-managed, democratic socialism, without state or corporate rule. This “Chicago idea” became part of the anarchist movement, especially in the Global South.

All states, all parties, were seen as betrayers of the working class, elections as futile choices between lying politicians – an insight many South Africans now accept. Even a workers’ party could not escape the logic of incorporation into a state machinery serving political and economic elites.

The IWPA practiced what it preached. IWPA militants such as the former slave Lucy Parsons, immigrants such as Spies and Samuel Fielden, and Americans such as Oscar Neebe and Albert Parsons led the main unions and working-class associations of Chicago, published radical newspapers and organised armed self-defence units. The IWPA took a leading role in a titanic 1886 general strike by black and white, immigrant and foreigner, centred on Chicago, and hence the organisation was targeted for repression. Eight IWPA militants were charged and four hanged.

In commemoration, the Socialist International, formed by anarchists, Marxists and others in 1889, launched May Day as a global day of action – in effect, it was to be a global general strike to build global labour unity.

May Day in South Africa started in the 1890s, among immigrant European workers. Early Witwatersrand events were whites-only affairs, ignoring the reality that the state felt no particular loyalty to white workers: more than 20 were shot down in the 1913 general strike, and martial law was used to suppress workers’ uprisings in 1914 and 1922.

An alternative May Day tradition emerged in 1904 from Cape Town, where local unions and the anarchist-led Social Democratic Federation (SDF) brought coloured and white workers together. The syndicalist ISL, formed in 1915, and Industrial Workers of Africa, formed in 1917, resolved to organise black workers, fight pass laws and secure complete equality through “one big union” fighting against segregation, capitalism and the state: the “Chicago idea” on the Highveld.

In 1917, the ISL organised a joint May Day rally in Johannesburg with the Transvaal Native Congress – the first local May Day with African speakers, including the ANC’s secretary general of the time, Horatio Mbelle. The Communist Party of South Africa, as it was then, continued the SDF-ISL tradition of May Day with a series of nonracial rallies to oppose race and class oppression. In 1922, the communist party demanded May Day become a paid public holiday, a demand taken up by the syndicalist-influenced black and coloured Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa.

Massive May Days were held from the 1920s onwards, but the tradition withered under apartheid repression. May Day was revived by the South African Congress of Trade Unions in the 1950s and by the new unions of the 1970s. By the mid-1980s, May Day was again a day of mass action, as pushed by Fosatu and then Cosatu.

But, if the tragic origins of May Day are still commemorated today, its grander aspirations remain unfulfilled. The enormous power of a united working class remains shackled.

Labour-led organisations achieved surprising victories in difficult and divided contexts. These movements provide a resource base for ideas and strategies. By specifically organising among immigrants and by focusing on issues that disproportionately affected some groups of workers (racial oppression, for example), they built working-class counter-power, counterculture and solidarity.

This is a far cry from the situation today. The Cosatu labour movement has not succeeded in addressing its internal divisions. Indeed, its alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party has led to numerous splits, from the attack on figures opposed to President Jacob Zuma, such as then-president Willie Madisha, by Zwelinzima Vavi in 2007, to the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) from Cosatu on the flimsiest grounds.

Within South Africa’s borders, ANC-driven neoliberal policies such as the Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy and the National Development Plan have deepened poverty and inequality, creating a breeding ground for tensions on all sides. Regionally, South Africa is an imperialist power, deploying its superior economic power and military and political muscle across the continent, alongside the expansion of private and state-owned corporations in Africa.

South African military actions in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2013 onwards are protecting ANC-linked businesses. South African silence on corrupt candidates in fraudulent elections (the DRC in 2001, Nigeria in 2007, Zimbabwe in 2011) is governed by crude ruling-class interests.

This cannot be separated from South African contempt for fellow Africans and attitudes to the rest of Africa.

Numsa’s return to a radical project, with some roots in Fosatu, its break with the tripartite alliance and its formation of a United Front revives the original spirit of the movements and struggles that made May Day. Let us hope Numsa carries forward the radical spirit of May Day by way of bottom-up, participatory trade unions at a distance from Parliament, capitalism and the state. May Day needs to be linked back to its radical roots, its one-time internationalism and the vision of an inclusive socialism from below.

Sian Byrne is doing doctoral studies at Rhodes University. Warren McGregor works for the Global Labour University and is a postgraduate at Wits University. Lucien van der Walt lectures in sociology and labour history at Rhodes

REFERENCE [+PDF] Nicole Ulrich, Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Simons, Ray Alexander (1913-2004”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest

Nicole Ulrich and Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Simons, Ray Alexander (1913-2004)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, pp. 3039–3040

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Simons, Ray Alexander (1913 – 2004)

Nicole Ulrich and Lucien van der Walt

p. 3039

Ray Alexander Simons was born Rachel Esther Alexandrowitch in Latvia in 1913. She was drawn to communism at an early age and became involved in Latvia’s underground communist movement in her teens. Alexander left for South Africa in 1929. The exact reasons for the family’s emigration are not very clear, but the oppressive atmosphere of anti-Semitism and political repression doubtless played a role. The decision was a fortunate one, for Latvia became a fascist state in 1934, and the Nazi occupation of 1941–4 led to large-scale massacres of Jews, including Alexander’s two half-sisters and their families.

Alexander remained dedicated to the communist cause and joined the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) within a week of her arrival. Trade unionism occupied most of her activism. She was involved in a wide range of unions, usually amongst African and Colored workers, and contributed to a regular column on trade union affairs in the Guardian, a paper affiliated to the CPSA. Alexander is perhaps best known for leading the Food and Canning Workers’ Union (FCWU), which she helped establish in 1941. In 1955 the FCWU affiliated to the South African Congress of Trade Unions

p. 3040

(SACTU), which was linked to the CPSA (reconstituted as the underground South African Communist Party, SACP, in 1953), and the African National Congress (ANC), from its inception.

Intent on ridding the union movement of radical ideas, the apartheid government banned and harassed communist trade unionists and Alexander was served with the first of a series of banning orders in 1953. In spite of such restrictions, Alexander continued to participate in political campaigns and was involved in the establishment of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) in 1954. Alexander participated in drawing up the Women’s Charter and planning the 1956 Women’s March to Parliament (but was unable to attend due to her banning orders).

Despite her backbreaking political and trade union work, Alexander was married twice and raised three children. She had, however, the support of a very tender marriage with Jack Simons, a radical lecturer at the University of Cape Town that lasted for 54 years (until Simons’s death in 1995). Growing repression compelled Alexander and Simons to leave South Africa in 1965 for Zambia, where they lived for most of their 25-year exile.

Alexander and Simons were among the first whites to become members of the ANC and they continued their activism whilst abroad. In the late 1960s Alexander co-authored Class and Colour in South Africa, 1850 –1950, the definitive but not altogether reliable CPSA/SACP version of struggle history in South Africa, with her husband. She also participated in the exiled section of SACTU, contributed to the Communist Party’s journal, the African Communist, and attended International Labor Organization conferences. She remained a staunch and uncritical supporter of the Soviet Union throughout her life. Alexander and Simons returned to South Africa in 1990, after the legalization of the ANC and SACP. She died on September 12, 2004 at the age of 91. Her lifelong loyalty and enormous contribution to the workers’ struggle and the national liberation struggle was recognized by the ANC’s National Executive Committee, which awarded her the ANC’s highest honor of Isithwalandwe (literally translated it means “the one who wears the plumes of the rare bird”).

SEE ALSO [in this encyclopedia]:Communist Party of South Africa, 1921– 1950; South Africa, African Nationalism and the ANC

References and Suggested Readings

Alexander, P. (2000) Workers, War and the Origins of Apartheid: Labour and Politics in South Africa. Cape Town: David Philip.

Meli, F. (1988) South Africa Belongs to Us: A History of the ANC. Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe Publishing House.

Simons, J. & Simons, R. (1969/1983) Class and Colour in South Africa, 1850–1950. London: International Defense and Aid Fund.

Simons, R. (2004) All My Life and All My Strength. Johannesburg: STE Publishers.

South African History Online website (n.d.) Rachel Esther Alexandrowitch. Available at http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/people/alexander-r.htm (downloaded November 1, 2006).

Sparg, M., Schreiner, J., & Ansell, G. (Eds.) (2001) Comrade Jack: The Political Lectures and Diary of Jack Simons. Johannesburg: STE.

REFERENCE [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, 2010, “Andrews, William Henry “Bill” (1870–1950)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest ONLINE EDITION

Lucien van der Walt, 2010, “Andrews, William Henry “Bill” (1870–1950)”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, ONLINE EDITION


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TEXT below

Cite this article: van der Walt, Lucien. “Andrews, William Henry “Bill” (1870–1950).” The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest. Ness, Immanuel (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2009. Blackwell Reference Online. 05 February 2011 <http://www.revolutionprotestencyclopedia.com/subscriber/tocnode? id=g9781405184649_yr2010_chunk_g97814051846491671>

Andrews, William Henry “Bill” (1870–1950)

Lucien van der Walt

Born in Suffolk, England, in 1870, Andrews became a prominent South African union leader, syndicalist, and communist. He was trained as a fitter and joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) in 1890. In 1893 he arrived in South Africa. In appearance the epitome of the respectable English craftsman, and a charismatic figure, Andrews worked in the Read more of this post

REFERENCE [+PDF] Nicole Ulrich, Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “South Africa, labor movement”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest

Nicole Ulrich and Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “South Africa, labor movement”, International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest, Blackwell, New York, pp. 3090-3099

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South Africa, labor movement

Nicole Ulrich and Lucien van der Walt

p. 3090

The union movement in twentieth-century South Africa operated in a context in which capitalist relations were built upon relations of colonial domination. The persistent use of state power against labor movements, heavy-handed intervention in the supply and control of labor, and close linkages between the state apparatus and private business help explain the persistent tendency of the labor movement to break out of the bounds of bread-and-butter issues, and fight battles around civil and political rights.

Even avowedly economistic unions that drew a sharp distinction between workplace issues and “politics” were affected, while other union traditions engaged politics in various ways. These ranged from a minority revolutionary syndicalist tradition, which saw One Big Union as the vehicle for civil and political struggles, to the more dominant tradition, political unionism, in which unions allied themselves with left-wing parties and/or nationalist movements and involved themselves in struggles over civil and political rights.

Unions in the Mining Era

The social formation of South Africa has always been deeply Read more of this post

[JOURNAL in translation] [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt, Michael Schmidt, 2014, “Proudhon, Marx in anarhistična družbena analiza”, in “Časopisa za kritiko znanosti…”

Lucien van der Walt in Michael Schmidt, 2014, “Proudhon, Marx in anarhistična družbena analiza”, Časopisa za kritiko znanosti, Časopis za kritiko znanosti (Casopis za kritiko znanosti)volume XLII, number 257,pp. 159-192.

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Slovenian abstractCROP COVER van der Walt, Schmidt - Proudhon, Marx in anarhisticna družbena analiza

Na šišjo anarhistično tradiciio sta močno vplivala tako Proudhon kot Marx, vendar ie anarhizem storil vse, da se izonede terminizmu, teleološkim pogledom na igodovino, ekdnomskemu redukcionizmu in funkcioalistični perspektivi, pišeta v pričujočem prevodu avtorja besedila. Ključni elementi anarhistične družbene analize so v besedilu podali shematsko. Anarhistična analiza v svoji najbolj sofisticirani obliki sloni na ideji, da je razred ključna značilnost sodobne družbe; zato mora biti razredna analiza kljurza razumevanje druibe. Obenem zelo resno bbranava ideje, motive in dejanja in zavrača monistične modele družbe. Z zavrnhijo ekonomskega determinizma in poudarjanjem pomena subjektivitete analiza ne nadomesti ene oblike determinizma z drugo.

Ključne besede: marksizem, anarhizem, razred, ekonomija, zgodovina, napredek, država

English abstract
“Proudhon, Marx and Anarchist Social Analysis”
Schmidt’s and van der Walt’s text is taken from their book “Black Flame”, which was published by AK Press in 2009. For the present edition of the “Journal for the Critique of Science”, third chapter was translated. The broad anarchist tradition was profoundlyinfluenced by both Proudon and Marx, but did its bestto eschew determinism, teleological views of history, economic reductionism, and functionalism. The key elements of an anarchist social analysis in the text have emerged in a schematic form. Anarchist analysis, in its most sophisticated form, centres on the notion that class is a principal feature of modern society and thus that class analysis must be key to understanding society. At the same time, it takes ideas, motives and actions seriously, and avoids monistic models of society. In rejecting economic determinism and stressing the importance of subjectivity, this analysis does not replace one form of determinism with another.

Keywords: maxism, anarchism, class, economics, history, progress, state

[AUDIO]: Lucien van der Walt, 28 November 2014, “The Relevance of Makhan Singh for Labour Today,” at “Paying Living Wages: A Reality or Mirage?,” colloquium, Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KRC) Consortium, Nairobi, Kenya

AUDIO: Lucien van der Walt, 28 November 2014, “The Relevance of Makhan Singh for Labour Today,” at “Paying Living Wages: A Reality or Mirage?,”  colloquium, Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KRC) Consortium, Venue: Panafric  Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya, 27-28 November 2014.

MAKHAN SINGH was founder of the Kenyan trade unions, and influenced by the revolutionary Ghadar Party, and through it, the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); he was later involved in the Communist Party of India. Champion of non-racial workers unity, socialism, anti-colonialism, he was persecuted by the British Empire, and marginalised by the post-colonial, anti-worker, Jomo Kenyatta regime. More about this working class here

[Analysis in translation] [+PDF] Michael Schmidt e Lucien van der Walt, 2014, “Apresentando Chama Negra”, in Corrêa, etal, “Teoria e História do Anarquismo”

Michael Schmidt e Lucien van der Walt, 2014, “Apresentando Chama Negra”, in Felipe Corrêa, Rafael Viana da Silva e Alessandro Soares da Silva (Orgs.), Teoria e História do Anarquismo, Editora Prismas, Curitiba, pp. 63-103. Selection from our book, Black Flame: The revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism (2009, AK Press). Published in translation in new Brazilian book on anarchist history and theory. Link below is for the chapter only, not the whole book. UPDATE: text is below the PDF image.

pdflogosmall Get the PDF herefelipecorreateoriaehistoriaanarquismo

Prefácio ao livro “Bandeira Negra: rediscutindo o anarquismo”, de Felipe Corrêa, publicado em 2014 pela Editora Prismas, na Coleção Estudos do Anarquismo.

Desde seu nascimento, nos anos 1860, o anarquismo (e incluímos aqui seus ramos, o anarco-sindicalismo e o sindicalismo revolucionário) teve um enorme papel nas lutas pela emancipação da mulher, das raças e nacionalidades oprimidas, da classe trabalhadora em sentido amplo e do campesinato. Não seria um exagero afirmar que grande parte da história da esquerda, dos movimentos de trabalhadores, do anti-imperialismo e do feminismo não pode ser compreendida sem que este papel seja reconhecido. Nas memoráveis palavras de Benedict Anderson (2006, p. 54), este movimento constituiu uma imensa “força gravitacional”, frequentemente, um “elemento preponderante na esquerda radical, internacionalista e autoconsciente” e “o principal veículo de oposição global ao capitalismo industrial, à autocracia, ao latifundiarismo e ao imperialismo” no começo do século XX.

As repetidas declarações sobre a morte do anarquismo foram consistentemente refutadas em diversas circunstâncias. Uma década atrás, com o enorme crescimento de um movimento global de protestos, um artigo do New York Times observou, com surpresa, que “nada reanimou o anarquismo mais do Read more of this post

[Analysis in translation] [+PDF] Lucien van der Walt e Michael Schmidt, 2014, “Prefácio”, to Felipe Corrêa, “Bandeira Negra: Rediscutindo o Anarquismo”

Lucien van der Walt e Michael Schmidt, 2014, “Prefácio”, in Felipe Corrêa, Bandeira Negra: Rediscutindo o Anarquismo, Editora Prismas, Curitiba, pp. 15-40.

Preface to the excellent new Brazilian book on anarchism, by Felipe Corrêa. In Brazilian Portuguese. Link below is for the preface only, not the whole book.


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