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).

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.

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:

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.”

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.”

“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.


[CHAPTER] van der Walt, 2019, “Syndicalism” (in ‘The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism’)

Lucien van der Want, 2019, “Syndicalism,” in Carl Levy and Matthew Adams (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism, Palgrave, pp. 249-263.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here

A survey of the core ideas, debates and historical developments in the tradition of syndicalism, taken here as anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism, including De Leonism and the IWW tradition. Contrasts syndicalism with economism, business unionism, political unionism and  ‘social movement unionism’; addresses issues of prefifuration, oligarchy, and the meaning of  ‘working class’; examines debates amongst syndicalists over state elections, political parties and a more ‘Bakuninist’ ‘dual organisationalist’ outlook, as well as over ‘boring-from-within’ versus ‘dual unionism’ versus rank-and-file syndicalism, and the issue of works councils; outlines the link between anarchism and syndicalism, and syndicalism before the 1890s; and provides a summarised world history of the current and its international networks. Overall, it disputes stereotypes and assumptions about the roots, politics and rise and fall and rise of syndicalism.

[CHAPTER] van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchism and Marxism” (in ‘The Brill Companion to Anarchist Philosophy’)

Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchism and Marxism”, in N. Jun (ed.), The
Brill Companion to Anarchist Philosophy, Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden,
pp. 505-558.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here

This paper provides an analysis of the relationship between Marxism and anarchism, developing a systematic exposition of the strategic and theoretical diffferences between the anarchist and Marxist traditions that goes beyond the Karl Marx-Mikhail Bakunin conflict in the 1870s, considering a wider range of periods, writers and debates. The focus is on the evolving tradition of classical Marxism — the main historical Marxist tradition, running from the Communist League through the pre-war German Social Democratic Party, and  from there to the Communist Parties and their Trotskyist rivals — in relation to anarchism, and on debates over historical materialism, the role of the states, the nature of class struggle, the peasantry, stages theory, and social change.  A major thrust of the argument is that anarchism’s social analysis is far richer than often recognized and that this may be illustrated through a proper exposition of the Marxism/
anarchism conflict. The paper looks at classical Marxists beyond Marx, including Marxist-Leninists, examines how strategic diffferences between the two traditions are linked to distinctive analyses of economy, society, and history, and aims to move beyond the usual “non-debate” marked by caricature, misunderstanding and sectarianism.

[VIDEO]: Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchist/ Syndicalist Perspectives on Soviets, Revolution and Workers’ Democracy in the Russian Revolution”

Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchist/ Syndicalist Perspectives on Soviets, Revolution and Workers’ Democracy in the Russian Revolution,” input on panel,  at the “1917 Russian Revolution Centenary Festival,” Newtown, Johannesburg, 10-12 November.

Note: There is a small bit missing at around 21.26 minutes (technical error) but the video continues thereafter. The Q&A session was not recorded.

[PRESS]: “1917-2017: The Russian Revolution and its Relevance Today”

Prof Lucien van der Walt

Rhodes > Latest News

1917-2017: The Russian Revolution and its Relevance Today

Date Released: Mon, 23 October 2017 10:43 +0200

By Thandi Bombi

Veteran activist Oupa Lehulere and Rhodes University’s Lucien van der Walt presented a truly revolutionary lecture during the 2017 Labour Studies Seminar Series recently.

Lehulere called his paper 1917-2017 The Russian Revolution and its Relevance Today, a revolution for the 21st century. In looking at debates and issues that came out of the revolution, it is increasingly clear what forms revolutions will take.

“We are now back to revolutions having to be resolved on the terrain of the city, back to ground zero. We have to explore how the Russians got it right as revolutions in the city are immensely complex and difficult because of the deeply intractable status of the bourgeoisie order,” he said.

The first signs of its institutional complexity were seen with the uprisings in the Arab spring, where a revolution originated and you had a mass, dense occupation of the city and difficulties with what to do with the state and with the young masses.

Lehulere explained that theoretical and practical innovation set it apart from any other revolution ensuring that it offers an array of themes that can be drawn upon for discussion, including their abolishing of the death penalty, legalisation of same sex marriages, and ensuring women had an equal chance to vote.

Lehulere went on to speak about the working-class revolution, the revolution, violence, and the peasant uprising.

Lucien van der Walt as part of his lecture on the same theme warned that, “When we speak about things such as the Russian Revolution we also need to be quite careful not to simplify things”.

“Russia was the second biggest empire in the world in those days so when we talk about the revolution it is not just about the one day, the 17th of October, when parliament was abolished and the rule of the working class and peasantry was declared on the basis of council or soviet based government,” he explained.

Van de Walt went on to explain that one part of the revolution was a massive mutiny in the armed forces where billions of soldiers and sailors started to defy orders, elect committees, create council among themselves as soviets, and rebelled.

“What we are talking about here is a rapidly moving motion that starts off very modest and escalates as parliament proves unable to resolve issues of the people. There is an attempt to create a completely different system, one run by ordinary people through assemblies and democratic discussion on the basis of creating a new society,” said van de Walt.

Van de Walt went on to speak about the South African context, explaining that while it is possible to have reforms leading to a political revolution within capitalistic framework; massive changes on the scale seen in the Russian Revolution are not possible within the framework.

This was the last lecture of the year in the series organised by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.


[TALK]: 17/10/17 | 4:15 pm | Oupa Lehulere & Lucien van der Walt | 1917-2017: The Russian Revolution and its Relevance

The next seminar in the Labour Studies Seminar Series is presented by Oupa Lehulere and Lucien van der Walt, entitled “1917-2017: The Russian Revolution and its Relevance Today”. This will be the last seminar for 2017.

Date: Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Time: 4: 15pm

The series is run by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.

THE PAPER: The 1917 Russian Revolution shook the globe. Struggles from below shattered the second largest empire on earth, the Russian Empire. Rural movements occupied tens of millions of hectares of land, challenging feudal and capitalist relations. In cities, factory committees and workers’ councils seized control of workplaces. The monarchy fell, Parliament collapsed. National liberation struggles redrew the map. The army and navy rebelled, forming councils and helping end the apocalypse of World War One. Huge changes in social relations, politics, social policy and childcare provided unprecedented gains for women, children, LGBT people and oppressed races and nationalities. These titanic events inspired a massive surge of anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist struggles across the world, an unprecedented global strike wave, and further revolutions. Marxist, anarchist and nationalist forces competed and cooperated to establish a new order. Yet by the mid-1920s the wave was ebbing, revolution drowning.

What can we learn 100 years on? Can the ideas and practices of the different revolutionary currents teach us anything today? What is the link between national struggles and class wars? Beyond the AK47, how have Southern African liberation movements been shaped by the imprint of the Russian Revolution? Is social revolution possible or has its day passed, to be replaced by micro-struggles and reforms? The working class today is larger than ever. But is capitalism the last system standing?

Oupa Lehulere is a veteran activist in various social movements, currently based at Khanya College, a social justice and movement building institution based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has written widely on political economy and strategy, including in Debate, Karibu, Khanya and Pambazuka. He co-organises the Jozi Book Fair.

Lucien van der Walt lectures at Rhodes University, and is involved in union and working class education and movements. Books include Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940 (2010/2014, with Steve Hirsch), and Negro e Vermelho: Anarquismo e Sindicalismo Revolucionario e Pessoas de Cor na Africa Meridional nas Decadas de 1880 a 1920 (2014).


[REFERENCE]: Alan Robert Lipman, South Africa (1925-2013) (by Lucien van der Walt)

Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Alan Robert Lipman, South Africa (1925-2013),” Southern African Anarchist & Syndicalist History Archive, 27 April. Online at

Alan Robert Lipman, born 6 June 1925 to a Jewish South African family, and raised in Johannesburg and Vrede, passed away on the 27 January 2013.[1] He trained as an architect at the University of the Witwatersrand following a stint in the South African military in the Second World War.

Lipman was a rebel. A member of the radical ex-soldiers’ movement, the Springbok Legion, he joined the Communist Party of South Africa in 1948 as a university student. He was in a cell of the underground South African Communist Party in the 1950s, and was Durban editor of the SACP-linked Guardian. He played an active role in the anti-apartheid movement. He was close to African National Congress (ANC) figures like Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, and was involved in drafting the 1955 Freedom Charter, a key ANC and SACP text.Declared a “named” Communist supporter by then-Minister of Justice, C.R. Swart, Lipman’s writings were restricted, and he was prohibited from attending meetings.[2]

Lipman was also one of the few who broke with the SACP over the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. He left the party, but continued to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement, later gravitating to the National Liberation Committee / African Resistance Movement. Formed 1960, this was a mixture of leftists and radical liberals, and he was involved in its brief armed struggle.

He fled to Britain in 1963, where he worked in architecture, and then in Sociology at the University of Wales, Cardiff.[3] Disillusionment with Marxism-Leninism, and skepticism towards authoritarianism, and the influence of figures like 19th century libertarian socialist William Morris (1834-1896) moved Lipman towards an anarchist position.[2] He was actively involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and played a key role in its Welsh, then its national, leadership.[3]

Returning to South Africa in the 1990 at the request of ANC leader Walter Sisulu (released from Robben Island in 1989), he self-identified as an anarchist. He was appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of the Witwatersrand. He distanced himself from the official liberation movements, and was particularly critical of President Thabo Mbeki, champion of the ANC’s embrace of neo-liberalism and narrow nationalism.[5]

Lipman’s projects after his return included re-designing (with Henry Paine) the housing complex at the remnants of the then-closed Johannesburg municipal power station in Newtown, Johannesburg. The redesigned complex became the home of the Workers’ Library and Museum, a progressive labour service organisation,[8] which later partnered with (then merged into) the left-wing Khanya College. This work won several awards, adding to the honours he received in his venerable years.[4]

A champion of justice and equality, Lipman knew, and was respected, by many people. He remained a prolific writer and continued to engage with popular struggles, and made links to the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front.[6] He spoke, for example, at a two-day workshop held by the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front for the now-defunct Anti-Privatisation Forum, at the Orange Farm Crisis Committee headquarters, 21 May 2006.[6]

In his view: “I spent 35 years of my life supporting the liberation struggle but the ANC is now an anti-liberation movement. Now we need a real ‘People’s National Congress’ – under people’s control – to take back real liberation forward.”[6] His later work appeared regularly in the Sunday Independent and South African Institute of Architects, occasionally in the anarchist paper Zabalaza,[6] [7] and in his 2009 autobiography, On the outside looking in: colliding with apartheid and other authorities.[2]

He was survived by his wife of sixty-four years, Beata; two children and three grandchildren.[1][5]


[2] Lipman, Alan Robert. 2009. On the outside looking in: colliding with apartheid and other authorities. Johannesburg: Architect Africa Publications, pp. 102-103.

[3] Obituaries at



[6] Alan Lipman, 2006, “The Anti-Liberation Movements,” Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary  Anarchism, #7, at

[7] Alan Lipman, 2008, “Xenophobia, Nationalism and Greedy Bosses: An Interview with Alan Lipman,” Zabalaza: A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary  Anarchism, #9, at

[8] More on the Workers Library and Museum, and its links to the left, can be found here and here

[DISCUSSION]: Lucien van der Walt, ca. 2000, “For the Working Class, Against Bolshevism: Once more on the class nature of the Soviet Union in reply to cde Chris Malikhane”

For the working class, against Bolshevism: Once more on the class nature of the Soviet Union in reply to cde Chris Malikhane
Paper prepared by Lucien van der Walt for the Lesedi Socialist Study Group

[This paper was, in fact, never presented as Lesedi got caught up in 2000 in the struggle against the neo-liberal ‘Wits 2001’ plan at Wits University, and fell apart]

In an (as always) thoughtful and precise piece, cde C.M. has responded to my earlier paper for Lesedi, “The Soviet Mirage.” In my original paper, which proceeded from a revolutionary anarchist perspective – that socialism is the rule of the working class expressed through direct self-management of the means of production, brought about by a revolutionary stay-in strike in which the trade unions seize economic power – I argued that:

  • The Soviet Union was a state-capitalist formation, a giant capitalist corporation, “Soviet Union Inc.”;
  •  That capitalists existed in the Soviet Union with legal ownership, economic ownership and possession of the means of production, as part of the larger ruling class; conversely, the working class was separated from the means of production, and exploited through the wage system;
  •  That the roots of this capitalist dictatorship lay in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution of 1917 under Lenin and Trotsky (taking place, in other words, before Stalin assumed power in the inner-party succesion conflict by 1928);
  • That socialism must involve self-management as the actualisation of working class control of the means of production. At the centre of my argument was the imperative to examine what actually happened at the point of production.

In his reply, cde C.M. makes several key arguments:

  • That the “state-capitalist” argument presented above is inadequately materialist as it focuses on the relations of production as opposed to the forces of production;
  • That the argument fails to conceptualise a “transition period,” a “social formation” in which the base and superstructure may be disarticulated;
  • That socialism has no intrinsic relation to working class self-management; that self-management cannot, in fact, exist in the absence of adequately developed forces of production;
  • That the Soviet Union was not a capitalist corporation as it was not subject to the imperatives ofcapital accumulation, either internally, or externally in the world market.

In this paper, I will reply to these specific arguments, but for details of my original argument, cdes are referred to my “The Soviet Mirage.”Read More »

[TRANSLATION]: Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “Εξουσία – Επανάσταση – Αναρχισμός”


Εξουσία – Επανάσταση – Αναρχισμός
Το ζήτημα της ειδικής αναρχικής πολιτικής οργάν

To παρακάτω κείμενο παρουσιάζεται χωρίς τις υποσημειώσεις για την ευκολία ανάγνωσης, μιας και το κείμενο είναι αρκετά εκτενές. Οι υποσημειώσεις θα παρουσιαστούν σε μελλοντική έντυπη έκδοση του κειμένου.
Στo συγκεκριμένο κείμενο ο Lucien var der walt εξετάζει περαιτέρω τα ζητήματα που είχε αρχικά αναλύσει στο κείμενο του “Αντιεξουσία, Συμμετοχική Δημοκρατία, Επαναστατική άμυνα: Συζητώντας περί μαύρης φλόγας, επαναστατικού αναρχισμού και ιστορικού μαρξισμού”, το οποίο είχε εκδοθεί στο περιοδικό International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130, pp. 193-207 και μπορεί να βρεθεί στα αγγλικά στο Η αρχική αγγλική έκδοση αυτού του κειμένου μπορεί να βρεθεί στο <a title="; href=" list.html Μετάφραση: kostav

Αναλυτική απάντηση στις θέσεις του κειμένου “Διεθνής Σοσιαλισμός: Συζητώντας περί εξουσίας και επανάστασης στον αναρχισμό, την μαύρη φλόγα και τον ιστορικό μαρξισμό”

Μαύρη Φλόγα, συζητήσεις εντός του αναρχισμού και του συνδικαλισμού και το ζήτημα της ειδικής αναρχικής πολιτικής οργάνωσης

Έχοντας ήδη αναφερθεί στην FAI, θα απαντήσω στον ισχυρισμό του Paul, σύμφωνα με τον οποίο οι αναρχικοί αρνούνται την ανάγκη ύπαρξης μιας συγκεκριμένης πολιτικής οργάνωσης, η οποία μπορεί να παρέμβει εντός του ταξικού αγώνα. Εδώ ο Paul χρησιμοποιεί ως πηγή τον Λένιν, ο οποίος και ισχυρίζεται, πως οι αναρχικοί βασίζονται σε μια εσφαλμένη γενίκευση, σύμφωνα με την οποία οι αναρχικοί λόγω της κριτικής τους στις πρακτικές των ρεφορμιστικών πολιτικών κομμάτων προχωρούν σε μια γενικότερη απόρριψη οποιασδήποτε προσπάθειας δημιουργίας πολιτικών οργανώσεων . Τέτοιες προσπάθειες, θεωρεί (ο Λένιν), πως είναι απαραίτητες για την σύνδεση των ταξικών αγώνων και του αγώνα για ιδεολογική αποσαφήνιση και για ένα επαναστατικό σχέδιο.

Κατ’ αρχήν, θα πρέπει να διευκρινιστεί ότι οι αναρχικοί και οι συνδικαλιστές δεν είναι “με κανέναν τρόπο αντίθετοι στον πολιτικό αγώνα”, αλλά απλώς διευκρινίζουν πως ο αγώνας αυτός “πρέπει να έχει την μορφή της άμεσης δράσης” με επίκεντρο τα συνδικάτα. Ποτέ δεν αρνήθηκαν τους πολιτικούς αγώνες, όπως τους αγώνες ενάντια στις πολιτικές του κράτους προς τις κοινωνικές και πολιτικές ελευθερίες. Αρνήθηκαν την “πολιτική δράση” υπό την συγκεκριμένη έννοια της χρήσης πολιτικών κομμάτων και του κρατικού μηχανισμού για την χειραφέτηση. Στη θέση της “πολιτικής δράσης”, τόνισαν και πρότειναν την αυτενέργεια και τον αγώνα από τα κάτω ενάντια στην άρχουσα τάξη. Η πρακτική των πολιτικών κομμάτων ήταν αναποτελεσματική, και προκαλούσε διαφθορά καθώς και ιδεολογική σύγχυση. Οι “λαοί οφείλουν να έχουν όλα τα πολιτικά δικαιώματα και προνόμια” που απολαμβάνουν “όχι κάτω από την καλή θέληση των κυβερνήσεών τους, αλλά μέσα από τις δικές τους δυνάμεις”.

Όλοι οι αναρχικοί και οι συνδικαλιστές τονίζουν την σημασία των επαναστατικών ιδεών ως βάση για ένα Read More »

[SPEECH]: Lucien van der Walt, 1996, “What’s ‘Left’? Is There An Alternative To Capitalism Today?”

Lucien van der Walt, 1996, “What’s  “Left”? Is There an Alternative to Capitalism Today?,” talk given at a public meeting hosted by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 22 August 1996.

Comrades, the starting point of this talk today is that we need an alternative to capitalism. We need an alternative to capitalism.

Capitalism: A Disaster for the Majority of the World’s Population

Capitalism has repeatedly failed the majority of the world’s population. According to recent reports:

*358 billionaires have more assets than the combined incomes of countries home to 45% of the world’s people.
*the richest 20% of the world’s population gets 85% of the world’s income. 30 years ago, the richest 20% only got 70% of  the world’s income,

Capitalism has failed the majority of our people too:

*50,000 mainly White commercial farmers own nearly 99% of all private farming land in Africa
*5% of the population owns 88% of all personal wealth.
* 70% of the population lives below the breadline

This is what capitalism is all about — a profit system  in which the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. And capitalism is also the major cause of problems like racism. Capitalism in South Africa was and is built on the super- exploitation of the African working-class. As if this isn’t bad enough, Read More »

[ANALYSIS]: Lucien van der Walt, 2000, “In a Neoliberal World: Is Nationalisation a Route to Socialism?” (Lesedi presentation)

Lucien van der Walt, 19 August 2000, “In a Neoliberal World: Is Nationalisation a Route to Socialism?” (Lesedi Socialist Study Group, Wits University, Johannesburg).

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here. Text below.

Lesedi paper - in a neoliberal world is nationalisation a route to socialism 19 August 2000

Is nationalisation a route to socialism?

Paper by Lucien van der Walt (revised after presentation)

Lesedi Socialist Study Group, Johannesburg

19 August 2000

Nationalisation – state-control of industries- is often seen on the left as a form of progress. This argument can take both a strong and a weak form.

For social democrats, state control of an industry providing a key good or service represents a form of de-commodification i.e. that is, the release of this good or service from the logic of competitive commodity production. In other words, the argument is that the extension of government control has led to a rollback of the market. This is the “weak” form the argument.

The “strong” form of the argument – one much in currency amongst the Marxists of the Second International, as well as the tradition of vanguardism which developed into variants of Leninism, Stalinism and Trotskyism- nationalisation represents a basis for further socialist advance– either as a tactic or as a strategy that directly creates of bridgehead of socialist workers power, the genesis of a socialist state.

As a tactic, a call for “nationalisation under workers’ control” is seen by orthodox Trotskyites as a transitional demand- a call that will appeal to workers of varying layers of political understanding, but which cannot, however, be realised under capitalism. It is, in other words, a demand that sounds viable under capitalism, but which in fact cannot be realised without the destruction of capitalism.

As a strategy, a call for nationalisation holds that nationalised companies are no longer actually capitalist because they are subject to planned production and the democratic popular will. In other words, state control is seen to represent, in and of itself, an attack on capitalism, as inherently inimical to capitalism. Full nationalisation, by this logic, equals state control of the economy, which equals socialism.

Nor should it be assumed that all radical comrades who argue along these lines assume that the State undertaking the nationalisation must be “socialist” or a “workers state” i.e. a class State of the proletariat. On the contrary, one readily finds comrades who argue that even a State sector under capitalism – e.g. Eskom- is in fact not inherently capitalist.

The political implication is obvious: more nationalisation = more socialism. Concomitantly: privatisation should be opposed because nationalisation is a step towards socialism.


My critique of these types of arguments centres on two main areas: the relationship between State control and socialism; and the usefulness of demanding nationalisation as a tactic.

Firstly, I argue that State control is in direct contradiction to socialism. State control of industries – even total State control of industry – represents a variant of capitalism and in no way gives the working class real control of the means of production, although it may, admittedly, be associated in some instances with improved working conditions.

I am not going to deal with the question as one of “nationalisation under workers’ control.” Not at all. No country –and no revolution- has ever nationalised anything in order to place it under workers’ control. Hence, this slogan is absurd.

But it is important to explain the basis for this absurdity. This is that State control represents a control of the means of production that is at odds with workers’ control of the means of production. Workers, certainly, do not control a capitalist state.

The state is a centralized, hierarchical organization of power that centralizes power in the hands of a small elite of state managers, who control the military, the state departments, the state companies, the state universities and the like; it includes the parliamentarians, as well as the unelected managers and key officials who run the state. This state elite is, in turn, allied to the private capitalists, whose power is also based on highly centralized top-down structures: the corporations, including the banks.

These two groups jointly the represent the ruling class – the ruling class cannot be reduced to capitalists, but the capitalists are a wing of the ruling class. The power of this ruling class depends upon class-based relations of production, centred on elite control of the means of production relations of domination, centred on elite control of the means of domination and coercion.

The state managers and capitalists are objectively allied against the working class, because their interests are

Largely convergent (although secondary contradictions do exist, which can become a crisis in some circumstances); it is because this exploiting and dominating minority rules over the great majority that power is centralized – only in this way can the minority rule the elite.

In some circumstances, the state may nationalise productive property; in some cases, it may privatize. It depends primarily on whether these measures advance ruling class interests, expressed in the growth of profits from exploitation, and power over people and territory. Concretely, these interests are expressed in the expansion of the economy and of the state power.

In no circumstances is a nationalised industry any less based on exploitation and top-down decisions than a private company. This is because in no circumstances are ruling class interests compatible with self-management.

Thus, nationalised industry cannot be said to represent an extension of the power of workers. Rather, it represents an different way of managing ruling class interests – and the state inherently represents that class’s interests.

If the balance of forces is such that such nationalisation takes place in a context in which the working class is on the offensive, it is possible that such nationalisation may be associated with improved conditions. But by the same token, high levels of working class struggle can also lead to improved conditions in a private company. It is the power of the masses relative to the bosses and politicians that leads to improved conditions, not the existence of state or private ownership.

Nationalisation under capitalism is done in the interests of capitalism and the state. There is no way that a capitalist state would attack the fundamental interests of the ruling class i.e. the class interests embodied in minority economic power and ownership, and embodied in minority political power and ownership.

Capitalist State’s have nationalised or established State industries in a variety of situations – ranging from nationalisation in war time (the German “war economy” of WW 1), the establishment of ISCOR in 1927 in SA, the nationalisation of the mines in war-devastated post-1945 Britain, the nationalisation of banks in military-ruled South Korea in the 1960s, nationalisation of foreign industry in an explicitly capitalist Mexico or Zambia etc. etc.

But in each case, the aim was to benefit the bosses and politicians, either by providing cheap inputs (e.g. cheap ISCOR steel, cheap Korean state loans) or to bail out a crisis-ridden “strategic” industry (e.g. British coal), or to promote the economic reach of a weak local ruling class(e.g. Mexico, Zambia).

As such, nationalisation does not represent workers’ control but capitalist control. All that nationalisation means is that a company is transferred from the hands of the small elite that run the economy to the hands of the small elite that run the State. It has got nothing to do with real workers control of industry.

In addition, the bosses (because they control the State and the economy) are generally able to block the nationalisation of any company that they wish to keep private. Generally speaking, States only nationalise crisis- ridden companies, or those that they can buy by paying compensation, or those that are in some sense strategic.

Finally, any nationalised company still has to operate inside the larger capitalist economy and will thus be forced to operate in a similar way to private companies. The only State assets which form a partial exception to this rule are social services (e.g. education), and “strategic” industries (e.g. the military), which the State feels are vital, but which cannot be provided on a commercial basis or by the market because they are not profitable enough. Even so, their management by State is done in support of capitalism and the state, rather than in opposition to capitalism and the state.


What if the State is explicitly anti-capitalist, a so-called workers’ State that will create socialism, some comrades will argue? Again, this is a contradiction in terms. The idea here is fundamentally idealistic, and oblivious to class power, expressed in state and corporations: it is class power and interests, not promises and rhetoric, that determine what a State does.

Likewise, a new political form, such as a “workers state” – conceding for the moment that this is a useful term, which it is not – does not remove class rule, but it is, rhetoric aside an instrument of minority class rule i.e. a red bourgeoisie. Further, such industries as may be taken over by such a State – a State with revolutionary credentials- will not be under workers’ control.

Now, what of Trotsky’s claim that state property is somehow different to, is somehow post-capitalist, because legal title rests not individual hands, but in state hands?

This is abstract and inaccurate.

First, legal title is only one aspect of capitalist ownership; that ownership of the means of production also involves actual “economic ownership” (control over the flow of investments into production i.e. what is produced) and possession (control over the production process i.e. how things are produced).

Second, legal title can assume a range of forms – including rules of promotion in the bureaucracies governing the means of production- and that therefore, to the extent that such rules existed, a form of legal ownership existed i.e. laws governed who entitled a group, a ruling class, to assume exclusionary control of the means of production. Economic ownership of state industries is vested in a bureaucracy, and this rests in turn on specific legal procedures and rights i.e. on a specific form of legal title, a legal form that is nonetheless class-exclusive.

Hence, to the extent that the State controls the industries, the working class does not insofar as nationalisation always involves the alienation of the working class from legal, economic and possessive ownership.


Secondly, I argue that the use of “nationalisation” as a demand that will supposedly radicalize or conscientise workers – that is, as a tactic – is a contradiction in terms. Given that nationalisation is not a socialist project, convincing workers that this step is indeed socialist can only serve to confuse workers. After all, why call for – and campaign around- a demand that cannot work?

Now, some comrades may argue that demanding that the capitalist state “nationalise industry under workers’ control” will help to “expose” capitalism and the Capitalist State. In other words, these comrades are raising the call for nationalisation because it is popular, but are doing so quite cynically, as they themselves do not believe that nationalisation under workers control is possible under capitalism.

The idea is that workers will become mobilised, militant etc. around this slogan, and then they will come up against the hard reality that capitalism is not going to “nationalise under workers’ control” – and then suddenly see the system for what it is, and use that militant energy to adopt a really revolutionary strategy, such as seizing factories.

This is the idea of a “transitional demand,” associated with Trotskyism.

This is an immensely cynical strategy, in which the idea is to force workers to confront capitalism in its true form by leading them to make demands that capitalism cannot possibly fulfil.

It fails on two counts. One, its spends its energy on convincing workers to act in a way that the “revolutionaries” know cannot work, rather than using that same energy on something viable.

Two, it will demoralise the working class rather than further radicalise them as it will lead to massive confusion- certainly, workers are unlikely to turn to the now unveiled “real” revolutionary counsels of precisely the revolutionary party or group that so misadvised them in the first place.

In other words, not only is very little achieved by selling workers some serious misinformation, but such a tactic is hardly likely to raise the credibility of the misinforming group of revolutionaries.


So far, I have argued that an analysis of the class nature of society must, proceed from an analysis of the base. And the relations of production play a crucial role in dividing one mode of production from another, for there can be continuity between two modes of production in terms of the forces of production, but certainly not in terms of relations of production. Both capitalism and socialism, for example, will involve modern industrial technique, but will nonetheless be distinguishable as modes of production due to different relations of production.

The nature of the relations of production is, obviously, expressed in the pattern of ownership of the means of production. That is precisely why a definitive feature of socialism is the self-management of the means of production by the working class. Self-management is the purest expression of working class ownership of the means of production, legally, economically, and in terms of possession. If another group of people legally owned the means of production, and decided what was to be produced and how, then it would be absurd to speak of socialism.

Thus, the relations of production will be based on participatory democracy i.e. self-management and participatory planning. Equally, it is only through self-management that the relations of domination will be democratised i.e. power will not be abolished, but decentred to all, in that the means of administration and coercion will be fused with the people, not monopolized by an elite i.e. self-management and participatory planning.

In concrete terms, this means a federated, global system of worker and community councils, mandated delegates, and participatory planning of the economy and society to meet human needs, including a sustainable environment, and biodiversity, and the end of all forms of social and economic oppression in a universal human community.

This mighty task can only be implemented by a popular class movement at the base: and the key class movements based on class interest and class struggle, in particular, trade unions, in alliance with working class community formations.

These are the organisations to create a real, free, socialism, from below, not parties that invoke the hostile State power through the flawed and counter-productive programme of nationalisation!

[ANALYSIS]: Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “Self-Managed Class-Struggle Alternatives to Neo-liberalism, Nationalisation, Elections,” ‘Global Labour Column’

arntz09Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “Self-Managed Class-Struggle Alternatives to Neo-liberalism, Nationalisation, Elections,” Global Labour Column, Number 213, October 2015

Text below.



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Introduction by Global Labour Column (GLC) editors: “In this week’s article, van der Walt expresses pessimism against statist Left policies as an alternative to neoliberalism. He advocates a working class Left approach that is freed of the failed statist past and rooted in historical anti-statist, libertarian Left traditions. He argues that statist Leftism is weakened by past crisis and current powerlessness, hence his call for a rebooted Left politics that must centre on self-managed class-struggle and universalism, rejecting notions that nationalisation or political parties can result in fundamental change. Van der Walt discusses, as an example, the bottom-up collectivisation of the anarchist/syndicalist Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939, and its strategic implications. Lucien van der Walt is Professor of Industrial Sociology at Rhodes University, South Africa, works on labour and left history and theory, and is involved in union and working class education and movements. We encourage you to make comments at the end of the article on the website. Till the next column. The GLC editors, Nicolas and Mbuso.”

STARTS: The 1970s-plus rise of neo-liberal policies profoundly destabilised Left currents that sought social change through the state. Old statist roads – the social democratic Keynesian welfare state (KWS), Marxist central planning as exemplified by the Soviet Union (USSR), and post-colonial nationalist import-substitution-industrialisation (ISI) – had some achievements.

But all had, on the eve of neo-liberalism, entered economic and political crises, and inherent flaws. The subsequent neo-liberal victory entailed more than shifts in ideas and policies. These were part of a deeper shift in capitalism that reflected and reinforced the historic failure of statist roads. To follow the old routes today, whether through new Left parties, or efforts to win state elites to defunct policies, is futile.

What is needed is a working class Left approach freed of the failed statist past, resolutely opposed to capitalist and nationalist solutions, and rooted in historical anti-statist, libertarian Left traditions. While the Left remains statist, it is crippled by past crisis and current powerlessness, under intellectual and political siege.

What might this rebooted Left politics involve? It must centre on self-managed class-struggle and universalism, rejecting notions that nationalisation or political parties (or localised projects/ struggles without a clear strategy of radical rupture), can enable fundamental change. As an example, this article discusses the bottom-up collectivisation of the anarchist/syndicalist Spanish Revolution, 1936-1939, and its strategic implications.

Sequence, statism, struggles

It was not neo-liberalism that destroyed the KWS, USSR-type Marxist regimes and ISI. Their failure *preceded and was a precondition* for neo-liberal victory. These systems were wracked by mounting economic problems (stagflation, industrial decline and balance of payment crises, respectively), and popular disaffection (exemplified by the global 1968 revolts).

The implosion of the KWS’s “first world,” Marxism’s “second world,” and ISI’s “third world” arose from deeper processes. Besides massive class revolts, there was a global economic crisis, ongoing globalisation of capital structures, and changing geo-political conditions.

Neo-liberal inequities should not generate nostalgia. The KWS never removed class or other inequality, and involved a massive bureaucratisation of society. USSR-type systems were exploitative state-capitalisms. ISI relied on cheap labour, and labour-repressive regimes.

Nationalisation, used in all three, never ended the fundamental division into classes of order-givers/order-takers, exploiters/ exploited. Hopes of “nationalisation under workers’ control” were illusions.

Neo-liberalism as phase

Neo-liberalism was initially one of several ruling class responses to the 1970s’ implosion. States, regardless of ideology, were waging class war to re-establish profits and power, revealing their true character: institutions of ruling class domination, helmed by economic and political elites.

Neo-liberalism’s striking success, compared to rivals, led to its rapid spread.

This was no post-modern nor post-industrial era, but globalised classic capitalism, akin to the 1870s-1920s’. Economic liberalism once again corresponded to state and capital structures, and immediate ruling class needs.

Working class crisis

Why did the working class and peasantry not use the 1970s to pose systemic alternatives? Because failed statist models dominated Left opinions and organisations. People were trapped between the old i.e. the dying “three worlds,” the new i.e. neoliberalism, and the empty alternatives: the radical Right or the society’s fracture into competing identities.

It is impossible to return to the KWS, USSR or ISI models, out-of-sync with global realities. Variants of neo-liberalism now provide the empty choices of mainstream “politics.”

Historically, elections have rarely led to major policy changes – this is truest today. Where Left parties win elections, e.g. France, 1981, Greece, 2015, they find it impossible to halt neoliberalism.

Left disillusion, falling expectations and millenarianism

Disillusion sees Left aspirations retreating from ambitious change. This is exemplified by mainstream Marxism – Communism – morphing into social democracy (e.g. Kerala) and neo-liberalism (e.g. China), and by “third world” nationalism morphing into crude chauvinism plus neo-liberalism.

Today’s social democratic and nationalist proposals are extremely modest: tinkering with state welfare, Tobin taxes, trade barriers, nationalisation, more “diversity” in management etc.

When adopted by states, these proposals get welded onto neo-liberal capitalism: welfare and tax reforms become pro-capital, nationalisation bails out corporations, “diverse” managers prove equally exploitative etc.

Reforms remain possible, but not on a scale ending neoliberalism. For example, post-apartheid South Africa has managed to expand its state welfare system. But this provides no long-term unemployment coverage, is means-tested and minimalist, with e.g. $30 monthly child support grants for the poorest. Further expansion is blocked by elite accumulation, and future fiscal sustainability is questionable.

Left desperation leads to millenarianism, like “redwashing” Dilma’s Brazil, Li’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Putin’s Russia, and Maduro’s Venezuela, or euphoria over empty spectacles, like Obama’s election.

Progressive projects and theory are also under siege from irrationalist post-modernism and crude identity-based mobilisation – all backed by Establishment forces, despite their rebellious image.

Something missing

Big revolts keep emerging, but without a universalistic, radical Left project, they falter, as with the “Arab Spring.” The only currents shaking the current order are the radical Right, including religious fundamentalists – none offering anything but a graveyard peace.

Unless realistic, appealing, organised Left alternatives are presented, the working class will remain able to *disrupt* neo-liberalism, but unable to transcend it – or will veer Rightwards.

One current hopes alternative institutions, like cooperatives, lead to socialism. Another dismisses decisive mass confrontation with the existing order, on a systematic programme, as “dogmatic” an unnecessary. “Revolution” gets redefined as building “spaces” of daily resistance. Modest acts like skipping work get construed as assaults on capitalism. With “revolution” no longer a desired or decisive rupture – only daily life – larger strategy and theory get dismissed.

Compared to top-down statist and party politics, any stress on building local, democratic relations must be welcomed.

But notions that capitalism, neo-liberal or not, can be slowly, peacefully “exited” or “cracked” through cooperatives, local projects and daily choices are flawed.

Collectives, class-struggle, self-management

The existing order rests upon centralised institutions of exploitation and coercion, states and corporations, not popular consent.

It’s not possible to carve out alternative economies on any substantial scale, involving more than a minority, because ruling classes *already* monopolise key resources.

A truly different order requires real revolution, not small battles, but a final conflict. States and corporations will not go gently; their survival rests on violence and enclosure. Changing the world is not possible without a rationalist strategy and theory that addresses these realities.

Means of administration, coercion and production can only come under collective ownership, and democratic control, through collectivisation and self–management, undertaken from below, by the *popular classes.* Not through states and nationalisation, as the “three worlds” proved, nor through building localised projects or daily resistance as end goals.

This requires accumulating popular *power*: building capacity through universalist, independent, democratic, mass organisations, forged in direct *class-struggles* – and winning these to creating a global, libertarian, stateless socialism, including a realistic appreciation of the tasks. Only as *part* of such a project can co-operatives, projects and daily choices aid revolution.

Building revolutionary counter-power and counter-culture requires rejecting notions that theory is “dogma,” plans “authoritarian” etc. Today’s capitalism is sufficiently similar to earlier incarnations that historic working class experiences and theory – especially the libertarian Left’s – remain valuable.

For example, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement, centred by the 1930s on the 2-million-strong National Confederation of Labour (CNT), promoted self-reliance, self-activity, and revolutionary collectivisation. A bottom-up, well-organised yet decentralised union, with a minuscule full-time staff, its influence was even greater than its enrolled membership.

CNT had mass bases in manufacturing, services and mines, but also significant bases in neighbourhoods and villages, plus close links to anarchist youth, women’s, unemployed, rent-strike and propaganda groups, soldiers’ and sailors’ cells. It published dozens of newspapers, including mass-circulation dailies, radio, film, books and leaflets.

In 1936, CNT led the defeat of a military coup by the radical Right. CNT structures then implemented sweeping collectivisation, drawing in other unions. 2 million workers were involved in urban collectives, including 3,000 Catalonian enterprises e.g. public transport, shipping, power, water, engineering, auto, mines, cement, textiles, hospitals. Two-thirds of farmland underwent collectivisation, involving 5-7 million.

The core economy came under efficient worker/peasant self-management through assemblies and committees; capitalist relations were abolished; daily life, including gender relations, changed for millions; production was democratically co-ordinated at industry and regional levels. Power was relocated from state and capital to collectives, congresses and militias.

This was not nationalisation, but *collectivisation,* prepared by decades of patient work. Revolution emerged directly from established mass organisations involved in daily struggles – not spontaneously, nor from cooperatives, nor from the margins.

The CNT had a comprehensive revolutionary programme, including military defence, economic planning, and internationalisation.

This was, however, stalled in an effort to maximise Left unity against the resurgent Right. The cost of unity was suspending the programme, leaving the revolution isolated, collectivisation incomplete. But the CNT’s “allies” turned on it, precipitating the Right’s 1939 victory.


However, the emancipatory aspects of Spain’s Left revolution show self-management as essential weapon in class-struggle, nucleus of a new, better society. The revolution failed by stopping midway, not through excessive ambition.

A renewed Left requires, not nostalgia, nor post-modernism, nor crude identity-based politics, but an overarching vision of a new society, realistic strategy, a working class/peasant focus, and a universalist, modernist outlook. It requires unifying multiple sites and struggles into mass movements, consolidated into democratic organisations, and developing capacities and ideas to defeat *and* supplant ruling classes.

Daily struggles must prefigure the new world, but prefiguration is not enough: radical, systemic change is essential. There is much to learn from historic Left traditions, not least anarchism/syndicalism, and the CNT.


Lucien van der Walt is Professor of Industrial Sociology at Rhodes University, South Africa, works on labour and left history and theory, and is involved in union and working class education and movements.

[TRANSLATION]: Lucien van der Walt, 2015, “Contrapoder, Democracia Participativa e Defesa Revolucionária: debatendo ‘Black Flame’, anarquismo revolucionário e marxismo histórico”

itha-historia1Translation into Brazilian Portuguese of Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism,” International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130 , pp. 193-207, which is here.


Lucien van der Walt. “Contrapoder, Democracia Participativa e Defesa Revolucionária: debatendo Black Flame, anarquismo revolucionário e marxismo histórico”

Source: IATH – Instituto de Teoria e História Anarquist/ IATH – Institute for Anarchist Theory and History (Brazil)

Este texto constitui uma síntese da resposta às críticas do anarquismo realizadas na revista International Socialism; ele foi publicado na edição de número 130 desta mesma revista, visando aprofundar o debate sobre o anarquismo e o sindicalismo de intenção revolucionária (ou apenas “sindicalismo”, conforme tradução deste texto). Respondendo aos críticos marxistas, van der Walt passa por questões como luta armada, democracia, organização política e Revolução Russa, além de evidenciar similaridades e diferenças entre o anarquismo e outras correntes socialistas, especialmente as variantes históricas do bolchevismo.

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