Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Anarchism’s Relevance to Black and Working Class Strategy: Dispelling Ten Myths”

Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Anarchism’s Relevance to Black and Working Class Strategy: Dispelling Ten Myths,” ASR/ Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, number 76, pp. 30-34.

pdflogosmallPDF online HERE.   Full text below.

*The following is from an October 2005 presentation at a Red and Black Forum, Phambili Motsoaledi Centre, Motsoaledi, Soweto.

Anarchism and syndicalism have been major forces internationally in the struggle of the popular classes against all forms of oppression and domination. I mean here the working class, the peasantry and the poor. And by working class, I mean the term broadly: all those who rely on wages and lack power, including workers, the unemployed and their families, and I include here “blue” collar, “white” collar and “pink” collar workers, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or other division. To be working class is to be exploited, regardless of income level or skill, and dominated, regardless of job title.

Of course, most parts of the working class (and the popular classes more generally) face additional forms of oppression, notably in South Africa, the racial/national domination that affects the majority of the people. Only a bottom-up, libertarian, unified, class-based movement can really end all exploitation, domination and oppression, and no such movement can be built except on the basis of opposing all forms of oppression, including racial/ national oppression.

The left tradition has long grappled with issues of strategy, tactics and principle, and this has been the basis of many divisions: these divisions are not simply matters of sectarianism or stubbornness, since different positions have very different implications for political practice.

The anarchist tradition – in which I include syndicalism, which is a variant of anarchism, it is anarchist trade unionism – provides a coherent approach to issues of strategy, tactics and principle. It is a rich set of resources of the working class today, not least the black working class in South Africa, which remains, in important ways, not just subject to capitalist exploitation and state repression, but also racial/national oppression. South African capitalism centers on cheap black labor, and this remains in place.

But to have a discussion about anarchism’s relevance to black working class strategy in the face of ongoing capitalist restructuring, we need to dispel myths about anarchism and syndicalism, to reclaim the revolutionary coreRead More »

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Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “The Crisis Hits Home: Strategic Unionism, Anarcho-syndicalism and Rebellion,” Zabalaza Books

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, The Crisis Hits Home: Strategic Unionism, Anarcho-syndicalism and Rebellion, Zabalaza Books, Durban/ Johannesburg.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here

This is basically a pamphlet reprint of Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative,” ASR/ Anarcho-syndicalist Review, number 56, pp. 11-13: HERE. In Italian HERE.

Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War”

Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “Chimurenga! The Lessons of the Zimbabwe Liberation War,” Unrest, number 1, pp. 16-17, 23.

 

THE VICTORY OF a seemingly militant ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) in Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence elections, following a long guerrilla war (the “Chimurenga“) against White colonialism, was greeted with jubilation. Today [i.e. 1994], the hopes raised have dissipated; modern Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) is marked by continuity with colonial social and economic structures. This article examines, from a radical perspective, why the national liberation struggle failed to achieve its basic goals, and the lessons this holds for struggle today.

FAILURE OF THE GUERRILLA WAR

Land, central to the war, remains in the hands of White commercial farmers and a Black elite, whilst most Zimbabweans are condemned to a life of poverty.

Independence has brought them few benefits; wage levels are in fact those of twenty years ago; unemployment is growing; and the living standards of the urban poor, 30% of the population, are declining. An International Monetary Fund /World Bank imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) aggravates and intensifies these hardships, bringing rising prices, reduced buying power, and cuts in social services like education.

Meanwhile the politicians and State bosses award themselves pay hikes, encourage investment by the exploitative multi national corporations, and strengthen diplomatic ties with the imperialist West. The ruling class (White farmers and Black elite) sustains its power and privilege by repression. Only recently was the 25 year long State of Emergency lifted, whilst police permission is necessary for large political gatherings, strikes can be banned, the press is suppressed, and the Central Intelligence Organisation harasses dissidents.

SOME EXPLANATIONS CRITIQUED

The failure of the ZANU government to deliver is sometimes lamed on “external” factors. For example, the independence constitution, agreed upon by guerrilla leaders and the colonialists, placed strong restrictions on land reform [1].

But this explanation assumes the new regime really did want to change Zimbabwe in the interests of the masses. In fact, we will show below, nothing could be further from the truth. Others, mainly Marxists, say that the outcome results from he fact that the war was fought by peasants. Actually there is nothing inherently conservative about peasants, as peasants have played a leading role in fighting for radical aims e.g. Mexico 1911.

OUTLINE OF THE WAR

For a proper explanation let us look at what actually happened the Zimbabwe war.

Rhodesia was a White settler colony set up in 1896, which featured the rapid, State directed development of a racial capitalist system in which Whites had a monopoly of economic and political power [2] [3]. Just as all White classes were racially privileged, workers included, all Black classes ere discriminated against.

The 1950s saw struggles by Black trade unions, peasant communities, and nationalist groups for national liberation. A nationalist perspective (cross class alliance to achieve a “national” State and economy) predominated in this national liberation movement.

The response of the White State was mainly repression. ZANU, and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), the two main nationalist parties, were banned, after which they turned to armed struggle, with incursions from 1966 on. Inflexible, conspicuous, and isolated from the peasants, these early campaigns were failures [2] [4].

Change came when, in 1972, operating from a FRELIMO (Front for Liberation of Mozambique) liberated zone, ZANU’s army, ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army) began to mobilise and politicise the Black peasantry in eastern

Zimbabwe as part of its war effort. This strategy of “peoples war” created what was effectively a peasant insurrection and turned the tide against the colonial regime [2][5]. War intensified through the 1970s. From 1976, ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army), the ZAPU army, also recommenced operations, mainly in the southwest. ZIPRA did not however try mobilising the peasants [2] [6].

Under pressure from the guerrilla war, and an international isolation campaign, the regime tried on a number of occasions to negotiate an end to the war. Finally, in the 1979 Lancaster House agreement, it made its terms with ZANU and ZAPU, and a new constitution was written, and date for independence elections set.

PEOPLES POWER AND STRUGGLE IDEOLOGY

By this time, some very important developments had taken place in ZANLA zones.

Here the guerrillas had set up a sophisticated system of non State grassroots decision making bodies. These “people’s committees” (hurundwende), at village, ward, and district level, provided support for the guerrillas, political mobilisation of the peasants, and civil administration [2] [5] [6]. Health, education, and other self help schemes were also sometimes initiated by the hurundwende [5]. At a separate level of mobilisation, the guerrillas used young men (mujhibas) and women (chimbwidos) secure the area, collect peasant contributions, carry messages, and (in the case of the chimbwidos) cook and clean [5].

Mujhibas and chimbwidos also organised regular, nighttime village meetings (pungwes) at which the guerrillas explained why they were fighting, and taught nationalist slogans and songs [5], thus building a culture of resistance.

THE ROAD TO LANCASTER HOUSE

The war therefore involved the creation of grassroots structures and beliefs independent of, and in opposition to, the White State. These events could have laid the basis of a new, revolutionary society of direct democracy, production for use, and distribution for need.

Why did this not occur?

The activity and further development of the hurundwende was limited by the fact that Black peasant lands were scattered amongst White areas, and thus not only quite vulnerable to attack, but unable to generate and maintain a fully operating alternative infrastructure. Furthermore, hurundwende were absent from many areas, and had no city counterparts [5][2].

Even where they did exist, no attempt was made to restructure production in a non-capitalist direction [5]. And hurundwende were also usually dominated by “respectable” local community members: rich peasants, Black businessmen, professionals [5][6]. The middle class also dominated leadership positions in ZANU, ZAPU, ZANLA and ZIPRA. Its class power was reinforced by the authoritarian structures of the guerrilla armies, which were directed by central councils situated outside Zimbabwe.

As for the ideology propagated by the guerrillas and the parties, it fell far short of a radical social critique. The nationalists aimed not to overthrow, but to establish capitalism with a Black face, an ambition reflecting the frustrations of the Black middle class leadership [1] [7].

Armed struggle was adopted as a last resort to achieve this.

Even ZANU, which in the latter stages of the war claimed to be socialist, believed that a “national democratic” stage had to take place first [1].

CONTRADICTIONS IN NATIONALISM

By 1976, a substantial opposition to this programme emerged in a number of cases amongst guerrillas, women of all ages, landless young men, and poor peasants [2] [6].

They seized empty farms, rustled White owned cattle, and vigorously participated in the hurundwende. Women challenged lobola (bride wealth), polygamy, demanded male involvement in child rearing and State provided nurseries, leadership training, better education, and guerrilla training. Guerrillas and poor peasants evicted 100s of rich peasants, occasionally attacked wealthy homesteads, and expressed increasing hostility to Black businessmen.

However, these class conscious, anti-patriarchal [i.e. anti the domination older men, over women and youth] tendencies never came to predominate in the national liberation struggle. For one thing, no alternative political programme to that of the nationalists emerged. Secondly, the Black middle class was able to contain these contradictions: they used their influence in the hurundwende to bolster patriarchy, and businessmen also set up working arrangements with the guerrillas.[6]

LANCASTER HOUSE AND BEYOND

The settlement reached at Lancaster House was not the betrayal but the climax of the nationalist programme, as it gave the Black middle class opportunities in the State, State corporations, and private sector.

Subsequently, this group moved rapidly to consolidate its position. First it incorporated the hurundwende, guerrilla forces, trade unions and women’s groups into the State and ZANU. Second repression was freely used against dissent.

Thirdly, the Black bourgeoisie “reconciled” itself with its White counterparts, buying commercial farms, assuming senior positions in private corporations, and giving the White upper class prominent positions and a large say in the running of the State.

FOR REVOLUTION: LESSONS OF STRUGGLE

At present urban workers and students, spurred by disillusionment, hardship, and SAP[neo-liberal Structural Adjustment], are at the forefront of struggle with the regime. At the same time the growing frustration of the land-hungry peasantry alarms the boss class.

The regime has sought to deal with the unrest by repression, for example, closure of the University [of Zimbabwe], and breaking up protest meetings. It has also promised to speed up the pace of land reform, a small victory, although major change is unlikely given the crisis in the ruling class this could cause.

Unfortunately, the ongoing struggle is presently tending to reformism, and many believe the solution is to simply vote ZANU out of office. This strategy is flawed. The lessons of the Zimbabwe war, for South Africa as much as for Zimbabwe, are that: struggle must aim to overthrow of capitalism and State; that national liberation needs a class perspective; that struggle needs revolutionary ideology and independent nonheirachical grassroot bodies.


REFERENCES

[1] A. Astrow, 1983, Zimbabwe: a revolution that lost its way? Chapter 6

[2] L. Cliffe, 1981, “Zimbabwe’s Political Inheritance” in C. Stoneman (ed.), Zimbabwe’s Inheritance

[3] M. Loney, Rhodesia, Chapter 3

[4] J. Saul, 1979, “Transforming the Struggle in Zimbabwe” in his State and Revolution in Eastern Africa.

[5] Cliffe, L., Mpofu, J. and B. Munslow, 1980, “Nationalist Politics in Zimbabwe” in Review of African Political Economy, no. 18

[6] D. Phimister, 1988, “The Combined and Contradictory Inheritance of the Struggle in Zimbabwe,” in C. Stoneman (ed.) Zimbabwe’s Prospects

For current developments, see Virginia Knight, May 1992, “Zimbabwe: the politics of economic reform” in Current History; as well as magazines like Southern African Political and Economic MonthlyAfrica Today, and Africa Confidential.

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Lucien van der Walt, 2004, “On Bakunin: Introduction to the South African Edition,” to “Basic Bakunin” (Zabalaza Books)

Lucien van der Walt, 2004, “On Bakunin: Introduction to the South African Edition,” in Basic Bakunin (South African edition), Zabalaza Books, Durban/ Johannesburg, no page numbers.  (Basic Bakunin, first published in the UK around 1993, can be read here).

ON BAKUNIN: INTRODUCTION TO THE SOUTH AFRICAN EDITION (2004)
Lucien van der Walt

This pamphlet provides an excellent introduction to the ideas of Mikhail Bakunin, the “founder” of libertarian socialism (anarcho-syndicalism). Two new sections have been added to this pamphlet. On this page, we provide a short outline of the life of Mikhail Bakunin. We have also added a discussion of Bakunin’s profound positions on the fight against imperialism and racism, and the fight against women’s oppression. This discussion may be found at the end of the booklet.

We do not see Bakunin as a god who never made mistakes. Of course he was not perfect. He was a man, but a man who gave his all for the struggle of the oppressed, a revolutionary hero who deserves our admiration and respect. From Bakunin, we can learn much about revolutionary activism. We can learn even more about the ideas needed to win the age-old fight between exploiter and exploited. between worker and peasant, on the one hand, and boss and ruler on the other.

The greatest honor we can do his memory is to fight today and always for human freedom and workers liberation.

THE LIFE OF BAKUNIN
Born in 1814 in Russia, Bakunin quickly developed a burning hatred of oppression. In his 20s, he became involved in radical democratic circles. At this time he developed a theory of which saw freedom being achieved through a general rising of the masses, linked to revolutions in the colonies.

He was involved in the revolutionary rising in 1848- in Paris, France: and the revolts of the subject peoples of Eastern Europe.

For this he was persecuted, hounded by the rich and powerful. Captured, he was sentenced to death twice.

However, the Russian government demanded his extradition, and so he was jailed for 6 years without trial in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Release from jail was followed by exile in Siberia.

In 1861, Bakunin escaped. He spent the next 3 years in the fight for Polish independence.

But at this time, he began to realize that formal national independence — the creation of an independent government — was not an adequate guarantee for the liberation of the working and poor masses.

Instead, the fight against imperialism had to be linked to the fight for a real socialism — socialism under the control of workers — libertarian socialism created from below, sweeping aside the bosses’ governments and capitalism through worker-peasant revolution.

In 1868, Bakunin joined the (First) International Workingmen’s Association. This was a federation of workers organizations, parties and trade unions.

Bakunin soon came to exercise a profound influence on most of the sections, notably those in south Europe and Latin America.

Bakunin’s politics of socialism from below soon brought him into conflict with Karl Marx, another well-known figure in the International. Karl Marx argued that socialism had to come from above- the workers must try to use the government to bring about socialism and must run candidates in elections.

Bakunin disagreed. He looked forward to the replacement of the bosses’ State by free federations of free workers.

Falling to defeat Bakunin through democratic methods, the Marxist minority resorted to a campaign of disgraceful lies and slanders At two unconstitutional congresses, “packed” with Marxist delegates from nonexistent organizations, Marx managed to expel Bakunin and change the aims of the International to suit his own aims.

At the next conference- a genuine, representative conference – the delegates overturned Marx’s decisions and rejected the charges against Bakunin. In fact. Bakunin’s political positions were accepted.

Because Marx refused to accept this democratic, majority decision, the International split in practice.

Worn out by a lifetime of struggle, Bakunin died prematurely in 1873. His legacy, however, is enormous. As the “founder” of libertarian socialism (anarchism/ syndicalism), Bakunin’s ideas would influence generations of revolutionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

His writings and ideas are as relevant today as ever. His warning that socialism from above would degenerate into oppression and exploitation, his profound insights on the tasks of the workers movement, his points on the struggle against imperialism and women’s oppression — all of these are as important and true as ever.

Additional notes:

BAKUNIN ON ANTI-RACISM
Mikhail Bakunin was a lifelong opponent of national oppression and racism. Bakunin stated that there must be a “recognition of human rights and dignity in every man, of whatever race or colour:· For Bakunin, the task was to fight for “the triumph of equality … political, economic, and social equality, through the abolition of all possible privileges .. for all persons on earth, without regard to colour, nationality, or sex.”

BAKUNIN ON ANTI-IMPERIALISM
An opponent of oppression and the centralized State, Bakunin was a fighter against imperialism.

For Bakunin anti-colonial revolt was inevitable and desirable. Bakunin doubted whether what he termed “imperialist Europe” could keep the subject peoples in bondage: “Two- thirds of humanity. 800 million Asiatics asleep in their servitude will necessarily awaken and begin to move. But in what direction and to what end?”

Bakunin declared “strong sympathy for any national uprising against any form of oppression,” stating that every people “has the right to be itself … no one is entitled to impose its costume, its customs, its languages and its laws”.

However, national liberation ought to be achieved “as much in the economic as in the political interests of the masses”. If the anti-colonial struggle is hi-jacked to “set up a powerful State” or if “it is carried out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a privileged class” it will become a retrogressive, disastrous, counterrevolutionary movement”.

Consequently, the independence movement requires that “all faith in any divine or human authority must be eradicated among the masses” and that the struggle against colonialism becomes an internationalist social revolution against the State and the class system.

In other words, the struggle against imperialism must not be sidetracked into replacing foreign bosses with local bosses. Instead, the struggle against imperialism must be linked to the struggle to overthrow all bosses and create international socialism.

The vehicle of that struggle could not be the State, the “graveyard” of humanity. The vehicle of the struggle would be workers mass action, not confined to one country only, but spread across all borders and uniting all workers. For Bakunin, “the homeland of the worker … is … the great federation of the workers of the whole world, m the struggle against bourgeois capital.”

BAKUNIN ON WOMEN’S FREEDOM
“In the eyes of the law,” Bakunin noted, “even the best educated, talented, intelligent woman is inferior to even the most ignorant man.” Women are not given equal opportunities with men.”

For the poor underprivileged women, said Bakunin, there is the threat of “hunger and cold”, and the threat of sexual assault and prostitution.

Even within the family, women are too often the “slaves of their husbands, and their children are “deprived of a decent education,” condemned to a brutish life of servitude and degradation.”

Instead of this, “equal rights must belong to both men and women” (Bakunin). Women must be economically independent, “free to forge their own way of life.”
This requires united workers struggle against the bosses. As Bakunin put it:

Oppressed women! Your cause is indissolubly tied to the common cause of all the exploited workers — men and women!

Parasites (bosses] of both sexes! You are doomed to disappear.

Lucien van der Walt, 2003,”Introduction” to new edition of Bonnano, “Anarcism and the National Liberation Struggle”

Lucien van der Walt, 2003, “Introduction to the Second Edition,” in A.M. Bonanno, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle (South African edition), Zabalaza Books, Durban/ Johannesburg, pp. XXX. 

Introduction to the Second South African Edition (2003)

by Lucien van der Walt

The ongoing struggle in Palestine is only the most obvious of a number of national liberation struggles taking place worldwide. In northern Ireland, in the Basque country in Spain, in the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Turkey, in Kosovo, large popular movements for national liberation exist.

For revolutionary anarchists, such movements are of more than mere intellectual interest. The aim of revolutionary anarchism is to create, through a social revolution, a world based on social and economic equality and self-management of the workplace and the community.

Therefore, no anarchist revolutionary can turn a blind eye to the question of the national liberation struggle. National liberation struggles are a social struggle against domination, a struggle founded on the demand of oppressed nationalities against discrimination and persecution, and for equality and self-determination.

What is National Liberation?

In short, these struggles are struggles against the domination of one people by another. They are struggles centred on questions of equal language and cultural rights and recognition of local cultures. They are struggles for political and social equality. They are struggles for equal access to resources, to welfare, to jobs, all jobs, to land. Above all, they are struggles which address concerns specific to an oppressed nationality, and they are struggles which centre on a particular territory, fought by the distinct and oppressed nationality which lives in that territory under conditions of oppression and domination. As national liberation struggles grow and gather strength, they became mass movements, drawing in people from across the class and social spectrum in the oppressed nationality.

To take one example. The Palestinian people have been fighting since the 1940s for a return to lands taken by the Israeli state, for a removal of Israeli army forces from Palestinian areas, for equal wages and access to jobs with Israelis, for free political activity and the right to choose their own destiny, and not to exist as slaves, as subalterns, as subordinates, to the Israeli’s. And this struggle has drawn in a great many people from the working class and peasantry.

Because we oppose national oppression, because national liberation struggles draw in millions of working class and poor people, millions of peasant farmers, because we cannot stand silently by whilst blood is spilt in struggles for equality, we cannot stand aside.

Mikhail Bakunin, the great anarchist revolutionary of the 1860s and 1870s, a lifelong advocate of the right to self-determination of oppressed nationalities declared “strong sympathy for any national uprising against any form of oppression,” for every people “has the right to be itself… no one is entitled to impose its costume, its customs, its languages and its laws.” It was “shameful,” Bakunin added, to ignore national liberation struggles, for it meant, in practice, siding with States and empires that practice imperialism or national oppression.

How do we relate to National Liberation Struggles?

The question, however, is HOW the revolutionary anarchist movement relates to national liberation movements. Much confusion arises on this issue. And it is here that this important pamphlet by our comrade Alfredo Bonanno, who today languishes in an Italian jail for his revolutionary activities, is invaluable, an indispensable guide.

Two false approaches

There are two mistaken views on the national liberation struggle that exist in sections of the anarchist movement. The first is a left-wing view; the second, rather more right-wing.

Some anarchist comrades take the left-wing view. They have argued that anarchism is internationalist, because it aims at an international revolution, an entirely new world. Therefore, these comrades argue, we cannot confine our attention to the Irish Catholics, or the Basques, or the Kurds, or the Palestinians. Some have even argued that taking sides in national liberation struggles will divide the working class and peasantry. These issues, they say, are best ignored; they do not “really” matter anyway. What is important is the class struggle.

The left-wing view has some good points. It underlines the anarchist commitment to internationalism. It points to the importance of the class struggle.

Where this view is mistaken is when it assumes, when it claims, that internationalism and the class struggle stand in contradiction to national liberation struggles. A real internationalism, a living internationalism is one that stands in concrete solidarity with the working class and peasantry the world over. And what does this mean, if not solidarity with the working class and peasantry of oppressed nationalities in their struggles for national liberation?

It is equally mistaken to see national questions as separate to the class struggle. The class struggle is the struggle of ordinary people to take control of their lives, to resist exploitation and domination. The class struggle necessarily, therefore, encompasses struggles against national oppression.

The right-wing view in the anarchist movement on the issue of national liberation is one that holds that anarchists should uncritically support national liberation struggles. In practice, this means that comrades remain absolutely silent about the problems with some of the groups involved in these struggles. For many of these comrades, any current in the national liberation struggle that seems “militant” or calls itself “revolutionary” should be given a blank cheque of anarchist support.

These comrades, in short, refuse to engage politically with national liberation movements, and excuse this by saying it would be “oppressive” to do so.

The great mistake of the right-wing approach is its refusal to recognise that national liberation struggles are complex and contradictory: like the trade union movement, the national liberation struggles are made up of many different and contradictory political currents, some progressive, some reactionary.

Class Struggle and National Liberation

Sometimes these different political currents even exist in the same organisations. On the one side, there are progressive currents that fight for the working class and peasantry, that struggle to expand the realm of freedom, that struggle for a better life through direct action. On the other side, there are reactionary currents that love capitalism, hate democracy, love dictatorship, hate trade unions, and love only the most reactionary aspects of the oppressed nationality’s culture: the elements that hate free thought, hate women, hate human rights.

Precisely because national oppression affects everyone in an oppressed nationality, the class struggle takes place WITHIN national liberation struggles. The oppressed working class and peasantry fight for national liberation as part of the broader struggle for freedom and equality. The oppressed middle class and capitalist class struggle only to establish their own rule: they hate the capitalists of the oppressing nationality for limiting their scope to exploit “their own” people. These two different sets of classes, the masses and the elite, share no fundamental interests or aims; even the culture of the nationality takes radically different forms for the masses, and for the elite.

Nationalism versus National Liberation

What these reactionary currents all share is the ideology of nationalism: the ideology that maintains that class struggle is irrelevant, that oppressed workers and peasants must join hands with their “own” exploiters and aspirant exploiters, to establish a national capitalism and national State. Their aim is “national independence,” meaning that “local” capitalists will replace “foreign” capitalists, “local” generals the “foreign” generals, “local” government officials the “foreign” officials.

Nationalism is a reactionary current in the national liberation struggle, a reactionary current that simply cannot deliver any meaningful freedom for the working class and peasantry of the oppressed nationality. Nationalism is a reactionary current that sacrifices the masses on the altar of the elite.

As Bakunin said, national liberation must be achieved “as much in the economic as in the political interests of the masses.” If the struggle is taken over by “ambitious intent to set up a powerful State” and “carried out without the people,” it will become hijacked by the “privileged class” and degenerate into a “retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement.”

The ANC in South Africa is a perfect example. Established in 1912 by the African middle class, the ANC has always aimed at nothing more than the expansion of the African capitalist class. Whenever the African working class has sought to transform the ANC into a vehicle for its own specific demands, as it managed to do, to some extent, with the UDF, the trade union, and the civic struggles of the 1980s, the ANC leadership has fought back to silence and sideline the demands of the working class.

The ANC leadership has used the trade unions to pursue its sectional, and elitist agenda. The results are perfectly clear: the ANC leadership has betrayed every one of the demands of the African working class and contracted an unholy marriage with the big mine-owners, factory bosses and farmers. It implements the neo-liberal GEAR policy that has led to millions of job losses, to millions of evictions and cut-offs, to a wave of subcontracting and casualisation, breaking every promise it made to African working class people in 1994. Yet it still calls on African workers to vote for it.

There can be no common ground with such reactionary currents.

Social Revolution or National “Independence”?

The role of anarchists in national liberation struggles is clear.

Anarchists support struggles against national oppression, just as anarchists support struggles against the oppression of women, just as anarchists oppose capitalist wars. Anarchists support struggles for more political and economic and social rights: even small victories are important because they increase the scope for working class and peasant self-activity, and because they inspire further, and greater struggles. And anarchists support the dismantling of empires and of dictatorial States.

Anarchists even defend the right of oppressed nationalities to establish their own States if they wish. We do not agree that this is the correct approach, but people have the right to mistakes without being locked in jail, without being shot down, without being butchered in the streets.

We do not, therefore, ignore national liberation struggles, but see these as an important site of struggle for the working class and peasantry. However, our real aim is revolution, always revolution. Our main struggle is class struggle, always class struggle. And our aim is international change, always international. The key issue is the struggle for social and economic equality, and the struggle for self-management.

Therefore, our aim is to win national liberation movements to the struggle for social revolution, not the fraud of “political independence.” It is capitalism and the State which create national oppression. No one country can be “free” in a capitalist world.

For the people of Palestine, freedom from Israel will not mean freedom from external domination, for an “independent” Palestinian state will still be dominated by larger States and giant corporations from outside its borders, economically, politically, culturally. It will inevitably be, at best, a junior partner of powerful forces from outside, and will not therefore truly be independent.

And the “independent” State will inevitably be the tool of Palestinian capitalists, who will prove no more generous to their own working class and peasantry than the Israelis were. National oppression itself may disappear, in that the Israeli tanks and laws will be withdrawn, but exploitation, poverty and class rule will remain. And the new State will itself practice national oppression against its own internal national minorities.

What else does South Africa after 1994 show but that the country remains dominated from outside by the United States and by the multi-nationals, by the World Bank and by the World Trade Organisation, while the African majority of the working class languishes in the hell of poverty and the jail of unemployment whilst the African capitalist class gorges itself at the trough with its close friends, big White business?

Participation for Transformation

From this basis, it is simply not good enough to write blank cheques to any and every current that exists in actual national liberation struggles, and to exist as nothing other than charity organisations, operating on the sidelines as fundraisers for any and every current that manifests in a national liberation struggle.

Instead, anarchists must PARTICIPATE in national liberation struggles, and reshape them into revolutionary movements. We participate on the side of the oppressed classes, and we fight the domination of nationalism.

As Bonanno says here, anarchists “refuse to participate in national liberation fronts” that try to submerge the struggles of the working class and peasantry for the malignant purposes of local elites. Instead, anarchists “participate in class fronts which may or may not be involved in national liberation struggles.” Sometimes this will mean allying on a temporary basis with currents who do not agree with us, sometimes even with nationalists, on specific issues and campaign, but we remain politically independent – always. And we fight for anarchism – always.

The aim is to foster the class struggle, to develop it in the direction of self-management and revolution, to defend the independence of the working class and peasantry, to develop a social RUPTURE with nationalism, with capitalism and the State, AND with the local elites. In practice, this means anarchists must participate in the more progressive currents in the national liberation struggle to transform them in a revolutionary direction. No blank cheques here: rather, a political struggle to promote class struggle, combat nationalism, and foster social revolution.

The “anarchist project concerning the national liberation struggle is very clear: it must not go towards constituting an ‘intermediate stage’ towards the social revolution through the formation of new national States.” Instead, writes Bonanno, “The struggle must spread to establish economic, political and social structures in the liberated territories, based on federalist and libertarian organisations.”

A New World

And as part of this struggle, anarchists aim to promote alliances and unity with working classes and peasantries in other nationalities, in other countries, in ALL other nationalities and countries, including those of the oppressing nation. The anarchists aim at uniting class struggle internationally.

This means striving, without sacrificing the struggle for national liberation, to UNITE Palestinian and Israeli workers and peasants, Catholic and Protestant workers in Ireland, Kurdish workers and peasants with their Turkish and Iraqi class brothers and sisters. All working class people and peasants share a common interest in improving their economic and social conditions, in extending their political rights, in ending capitalism, in abolishing the State.

Our approach to the national liberation struggle, therefore, is part of a broader struggle for an extension of freedom for all. We do not promote ethnic and racial conflict, we struggle for the general extension of rights and freedoms and self-management. We struggle for universal principles, and we will not shy away from criticising the political currents, and cultural practices that contradict those principles. We support only what is progressive, democratic and socialist in a given culture: nothing more, nothing less.

For real autonomy and self-determination can only take place in a free world, in a world where there are no States, corporations, multi-national or otherwise, no World Banks, no World Trade Organisations.

The new world will recognise and celebrate cultural identity. The new world will allocate international resources equitably to remove poverty and under-development. The new world will unite all nationalities in a single world federation, without sacrificing cultural difference and distinction.

In such a world, based on libertarian communism, national oppression will disappear, social and economic equality will be real, and humankind will be united as never before, with the great and oppressed masses oppressed no more, but now, and forever, the architects of human destiny.

Lucien van der Walt, 1994 “Introduction” to Alfredo Bonnano’s “Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle”

This first appeared as Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “Introduction to the South African Edition,” in Alfredo Bonanno, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, ARM, Johannesburg, South African edition. The text below is the slightly revised version from the 2019 3rd South African edition, which is available in full HERE.

TO CITE: Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Introduction to the 1994 South African Edition (revised),” Alfredo Bonanno, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, Zabalaza Books, Johannesburg, third South African edition,  pp. 4-6.

Introduction to the 1994 South African Edition (Revised)

by Lucien van der Walt

This pamphlet represents an attempt to develop an anarchist internationalist stance on the ever present and ever controversial issue of the national liberation struggle (NLS), and, more broadly, the “national question” itself. We can broadly understand the NLS to mean a struggle against a relationship of exploitation and domination involving a NATIONAL group. Such a struggle is of obvious importance to us as anarchists, because we are opposed to all oppression, and believe that it must be ended by revolutionary action.

The topics covered by Bonanno range from internal colonialism, imperialism, class identity, to incisive critiques of certain Marxist positions on this issue. However, two main arguments are made in this text. Firstly, he argues that only revolution, based on libertarian and federalist structures, can make possible the free association of human groups, thereby solving the national question.

Secondly, and far more importantly for our purposes, Bonanno makes the case that anarchists should fully support national liberation struggles (i.e. against imperialism and internal colonialism) insofar as they are the struggles of the oppressed classes (workers and peasants) themselves. This is because different classes within the oppressed nation have different interests and therefore also end goals within the NLS. That of the national aspirant capitalist-cum-politician class is to exploit and dominate their compatriots. This is obviously no solution at all for the oppressed classes.

What Bonanno is pointing to is that NLS can assume a variety of forms: ranging from revolutionary class struggle against oppression, aiming at the institution of an anarchist society, to a nationalist (class alliance) form, typically concerned with forming a national state. This may be the division of an existing state into several new ones (as in Czechoslovakia), or the reshaping of an old state into a new form (as in South Africa), but whatever the form of the new state its function is that of all states: to serve ruling class interests.

As it stands, the pamphlet has only one real problem. Although Bonanno repeatedly refers to “exploitation”, no mention whatsoever is to be found of “domination”. Yet as anarchists, we are not merely opposed to “exploitation” but [unequal – editor] power relations themselves. It is precisely this that distinguishes us from other socialists, and it is precisely for this reason that we favour federalist and libertarian forms of organisation.

But the pamphlet is still clearly highly relevant to South Africa. Firstly, Black people have long been engaged in what might be conceptualised as a national liberation struggle against post–colonial white settlerism or “colonialism of a special type” (i.e. South Africa, although independent, retains within itself the features of White colonialism). Secondly, since the end of the Second World War at least, nationalism has the primary form taken by resistance to Apartheid–Capitalism (see O’Meara in M.T. Murray (editor) South African Capitalism and Black Political Opposition, esp. pp. 389 – 392). Nationalism is exemplified in the politics of the African National Congress (ANC), Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and even the South African Communist Party (SACP); the SACP believes that a “national democratic revolution” must be achieved before class revolution can take place. (Previously, Black nationalism was largely confined to Black intellectuals and petty businessmen).

And finally the importance of a class perspective on national struggle and nationalism is increasingly obvious as the country moves, by means of the “reform” period, into a situation where the majority of Black people are left out of the “new South Africa”, whilst at the same time a small elite of Black mangers, politicians, businessmen, professionals, and skilled, often unionised Black (male) workers are absorbed into the barely changed structures of State and capital i.e. the White ruling class (see Morris, February 1993, in Work in Progress, no.87, pp. 6 – 9). This is a clear case of class interests and divisions shattering the “nation”. It might be worth noting that the White nation is also fracturing in class lines as the White upper classes withdraw from White workers the privileges (e.g. job reservation, high wages) that used to buy the acquiescence of the latter…

What follows is an attempt to extend Bonanno’s analysis to the problems of building a revolutionary anarchist movement. Theoretical clarity is an essential part of this task (see Bratach Dubh Preface in this pamphlet). So let us examine the relationship between nationalism and class carefully.

We must recognise two factors. Firstly, as anarchists we must recognise that national oppression (like racism, sexism etc.) means that specific sections or fractions within the oppressed classes are doubly oppressed: both because of their class position and as a nationality. Three points follow. First, this means that within the oppressed classes (which are multi-national) certain groups are subject to relations of [national – editor] oppression. Second, because national oppression has its own independent reality (from class oppression etc.) and is obviously not confined to any one class, it (like other non-class oppressions e.g. race etc.) can and does provide the basis for cross class alliances class (which are not in the long term interests of all [oppressed – editor] classes). Third, it means that the unity of the oppressed classes cannot be assumed: that they may be easily and deeply divided.

Secondly we must not be blind to the fact that nationalism really does give people in the oppressed classes something. “This ‘something’ is identity, pride, a feeling of community and solidarity and of course physical self-defence” in the face of very real oppression (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 50, 156 – 7). And nationalism (called “ethnicity”) can provide a very effective principle of organising for sectional gains and material benefits for members of all classes involved (see N. Chazan et. al., Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa, Chapter 3; also Nelson Kasfir, in Kohli (editor), State and Development in the Third World). In South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism was not only supported by White Afrikaner farmers, traders, professionals, and financiers, but also by White workers because it successfully addressed their poverty, oppression as Afrikaners (most semi- and unskilled Whites were Afrikaners) and very real fears of Black competition in the job market etc. (see L. Callinicos, 1993, A Place in the City, pp. 110 – 131, esp. pp. 120 – 123).

So, how do these points bear on anarchism? If we are to forge an effective and successful movement, we must, firstly recognise that the movement must be based on the oppressed classes. But we must recognise and challenge oppression within the class by specific and systematic work across all working class organisations (e.g. actively fighting racist attitudes), and by championing demands and struggles that unite the workers and the poor against the oppression that all share (e.g. low wages) and that also specifically fight the extra oppression that some face (e.g. fighting racist pay gaps, discriminatory housing and services etc.). We need to link a range of popular organisations into a broader revolutionary mass movement – a revolutionary front of the oppressed classes, that fights all oppression, but steers clear of cross-class alliances with elites – involving “many different groups and individuals… They will have different experiences and approaches and each will be good at different things” but will communicate and co-operate with one another (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 135-6). Federalist structures are ideally suited to this task.

At the same time we must strive to unite the oppressed classes, (guarding against the selfish manipulation of division by the bosses and the ambitious), to fight in their own class interests i.e. for the overthrow of the ruling class. Thirdly, we must combat the solidarity etc., given by nationalism with class identity, pride, community, solidarity, history, culture and achievements (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 50).

Finally, our role as revolutionaries. Our aim is to build a revolutionary and libertarian worker-peasant movement, (based on the oppressed classes, BUT recognising oppression and struggle within the class), which will strive to increase the militancy of struggles, to build a culture of revolution, and to build a situation of counter power, of peoples power.

In this way we can make the revolution!!!

Forward to a society based on direct democracy, not power, and need not greed!!!


 

 

Lucien van der Walt, 1998, “The Life of Bakunin”

Lucien van der Walt, 1998, “The Life of Bakunin,” Internal Bulletin of the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) of South Africa, number 2, March/April 1998, pp. 11-13, republished as “The Life of Bakunin: Anti-imperialism, Anti-capitalism, Anti-statism,” Anarkismo, 1 June 2014, HERE , which is copied below .

Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1873) can be seen as the founder of libertarian socialism (anarcho-syndicalism). His ideas are our ideas. Like him, we believe in free socialism from below, in revolutionary trade unionism, women’s freedom, an end to national oppression, and a free socialist society based on grassroots worker and community councils.

As we wrote in the introduction to our  booklet Basic Bakunin

“We do not see Bakunin as a god who never made mistakes. Of course he was not perfect.”

“He was a man, but a man who gave his all for the struggle of the oppressed, a revolutionary hero who deserves our admiration and respect.”

“From Bakunin, we can learn much about revolutionary activism. We can learn even more about the ideas needed to win the age-old fight between exploiter and exploited, between worker and peasant, on the one hand, and boss and ruler on the other.”

“The greatest honor we can do his memory is to fight today and always for human freedom and workers liberation.”

Born in 1814 in Russia, Bakunin quickly developed a burning hatred of oppression. In his 20s, he became involved in radical democratic circles.

At this time he developed a theory of which saw freedom being achieved through a general rising of the working masses, linked to revolutions in the colonies.

He was involved in the revolutionary rising in 1848- in Paris, France; and the revolts of the subject peoples of Eastern Europe.

For this he was persecuted, hounded by the rich and powerful. Captured, he was sentenced to death twice.

However, the Russian government demanded his extradition, and so he was jailed for 6 years without trial in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Release from jail was followed by exile in Siberia.

In 1861, Bakunin escaped. He spent the next 3 years in the fight for Polish independence.

But at this time, he began to realize that formal national independence -the creation of an independent government- was not an adequate guarantee for the liberation of the working and poor masses.

Instead, the fight against imperialism had to be linked to the fight for a real socialism- socialism under the control of the workers- libertarian socialism created from below, sweeping aside the bosses’ governments and capitalism through worker-peasant revolution.

In 1868, Bakunin joined the (First) International Workingmen’s Association. This was a federation of workers organizations, parties and trade unions.

Bakunin soon came to exercise a profound influence on most of the sections, notably those in south Europe and Latin America.

Bakunin’s politics of socialism from below soon brought him into conflict with Karl Marx, another well-known figure in the International.

Karl Marx argued that socialism had to come from above-the workers must try to use the government to bring about socialism, and run candidates in elections.

Bakunin disagreed. He looked forward to the replacement of the bosses’ State by free federations of free workers. Bakunin warned that any attempt to impose socialism from above through a dictatorial government would lead to a “red bureaucracy”, a new “aristocracy” who would step into the shoes of the bosses and oppress the workers. Bakunin has been proven right by the disaster in the Soviet Union.

Failing to defeat Bakunin through democratic methods, the Marxist minority resorted to a campaign of disgraceful lies and slanders. At two unconstitutional congresses, “packed” with Marxist delegates from non- existent organizations, Marx managed to expel Bakunin and change the aims of the International to his aims.

At the next conference- a genuine, representative conference- the delegates overturned Marx’s decisions and rejected the charges against Bakunin. In fact, Bakunin’s political positions were accepted. Because Marx refused to accept this democratic, majority decision, the International split in practice.

Worn out by a lifetime of struggle, Bakunin died prematurely in 1873. His legacy, however, is enormous. As the “founder” of libertarian socialism(anarchism/ syndicalism), Bakunin’s ideas would influence generations of revolutionaries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. His writings and ideas are as relevant today as ever.

His warning that socialism from above would degenerate into oppression and exploitation, his profound insights on the tasks of the workers movement, his points on the struggle against imperialism and women’s oppression-all of these are as important and true as ever.

(LV)

Related Link: http://saasha.net/

[ANALYSIS]: Lucien van der Walt, 2008, “Επαναστατημενη Ισπανια Και Αναρχοσυνδικαλισμος,” Νυκτεγερσια

Lucien van der Walt, 2008, “Επαναστατημενη Ισπανια Και Αναρχοσυνδικαλισμος [Revolutionary Spain and Anarcho-syndicalism],” Νυκτεγερσια, issue 1, pp. 48-55. 

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[SPEECH] Lucien van der Walt, 2000, “From the South: For Another Future through Social Resistance,” May Day mass meeting, Paris

Popular talk: Lucien van der Walt, 2000, “From the South: For Another Future through Social Resistance,” speech at May Day mass meeting, Le Autre Futur union congress, Paris, France.

These are what I have from a speech I gave at a May Day mass meeting in Paris, France, in 2000. The mass meeting was the closing even for a summit of anarchist/ syndicalist unions and groups, entitled Autre Futur and organised by the National Confederation of Labour (CNT)-Vignolles, then the largest syndicalist union in France. I was there with the Bikisha Media Collective, of Johannesburg. The meeting was followed by a 5,000-strong anarchist/syndicalist bloc in the main May Day march. The notes may not be entirely complete.

SPEECH: We live in a period of class war. Not a class war we started. It is a class war from above, it is a class war waged on our class, the working class, it is a class war from above by corporations and states.

Capitalist globalisation, the neo-liberal offensive, these open up the abyss before us. Now, more than ever before, we face a single enemy. Now, more than ever, working class solidarity, internationalism, direct action, free agreement … These are our VITAL weapons against capitalism

It does not matter if you are Asian, African. European, American. We are one class of people, with one class interest. We musty get together, unite, as workers.

Internationalism, solidarity, these are not just SLOGANS, they are weapons, tools for struggle, tools for survival. Internationalism, solidarity, these are not just NECESSITIES … more and more we are making this [these?] REALITY.

The capitalist offensive must be met with a workers’ offensive. We must not turn a sharp blade into an instrument of dull wood.  We must not leave anarcho-syndicalism to gather dust. We must use it as a vital key to unlock another future, future through social resistance.

Anarcho-syndicalism is the answer to the capitalist new world order!

Anarcho-syndicalism is the answer to the capitalist new world order!

 

[TALK] Lucien van der Walt, 2005, “Reclaiming Anarchism’s Relevance to Black Working Class Battles: Dispelling Myths”

Popular talk: Lucien van der Walt, 2005, “Reclaiming Anarchism’s Relevance to Black Working Class Battles: Dispelling Myths,” Red and Black Forum, Phambili Motsoaledi Centre, Motsoaledi, Soweto, 1 October.

Anarchism and syndicalism have been major forces internationally in the struggle against all forms of oppression and domination by the popular classes. I mean here there the working class, the peasantry and the poor. And by working class, I mean the term broadly: all those who rely on wages, and lack power, including workers, the unemployed, and their families, and I include here “blue” collar, “white” collar and “pink” collar workers, and I include working class people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or other division. To be working class is to be exploited, regardless of income level or skill, and dominated, regardless of job title.

Of course, most parts of the working class (and the popular classes more generally) face additional forms of oppression, most notably in South Africa, the racial/ national domination that affects the majority of the people. Only a bottom-up, libertarian, unified, class-based movement can really end all exploitation, domination and oppression, and no such movement can be built except on the basis of opposing all forms of oppression, including racial/ national oppression.

The left tradition has long grappled with issues of strategy, tactics and principle, and this has been the basis of many divisions: these divisions are not simply matters of sectarianism or stubbornness, since different positions have very different implications for political practice.

 The anarchist tradition – in which I include syndicalism, which is a variant form of anarchism, or, more precisely, anarchist trade unionism – provides a coherent approach to issues of strategy, tactics and principle. It is a rich set of resources of the working class today, not least the black working class in South Africa, which remains, in important ways, not just subject to capitalist exploitation and state repression, but also racial/ national oppression. South African capitalism centres on cheap black labour, and this remains in place.

But to have a discussion about anarchism’s relevance to black working class strategy in the face of ongoing capitalist restructuring, we need to dispel myths about anarchism (and syndicalism) to reclaim the revolutionary core of the anarchist tradition.

Let’s deal with a few myths, one by one, because unless we do this, we will be hard pressed to see what anarchism has to do with our struggle and people here in southern Africa:

Myths about anarchism # 1: anarchism means chaos, revolt against technology or anyone doing whatever they like with no consequence.

Anarchism is, instead, a form of libertarian socialism that opposes social and economic hierarchy and inequality- and, specifically, capitalism and landlordism, as well as the StateRead More »

[ANALYSIS] Byrne, Chinguwo, McGregor, & van der Walt, 2018,”Why May Day Matters to Malawi: History with anarchist roots”

Sian Byrne, Paliani Chinguwo, Warren McGregor, and Lucien van der Walt, 30 April 2018,”Why May Day matters to Malawi: History with anarchist roots,” As it Happens News (Malawi), online at http://www.aihnews.com/why-may-day-matters-to-malawi/

 

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When we celebrate May Day we rarely reflect on why it is a public holiday in Malawi or elsewhere. Sian Byrne, Paliani Chinguwo, Warren McGregor, and Lucien van der Walt tell of the powerful struggles that lie behind its existence, and the organisations that created it and kept its meaning alive.

May Day, international workers day, started as a global general strike commemorating five anarchist labour organisers executed in 1887 in the USA. Mounting the scaffold, August Spies declared:

‘if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor 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.’

Anarchist* roots

May Day’s roots in the revolutionary workers’ movement are often forgotten. It arose from the anarchist movement – anarchism is often misunderstood. Anarchists like Spies wanted society to be run by the ordinary workers and farmers, not capitalists or state officials. In place of the masses being ruled and exploited from above, society and workplaces should be run through people’s councils and assemblies, based on participatory democracy and self-management.

Anarchism was a global mass movement from the 1870s, including in the USA. Its stress on struggle from below for a radically democratic socialist society appealed to the oppressed in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas.

The 1880s USA looked like China today: massive factories, Read More »

[CHAPTER] van der Walt, 2018, “Préface” (to Guillaume Rey, ‘Afriques Anarchistes: Introduction à l’Histoire des Anarchismes Africains’)

Lucien van der Walt, 2018, “Préface,” to Guillaume Rey, Afriques Anarchistes: Introduction à l’Histoire des Anarchismes Africains, Paris, L’Hartamann, pp. 9-26.

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