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 »


Lucien van der Walt, 1993, “The Fire Next Time: Lessons of the Los Angeles (LA) Uprising”

This was an introduction written for a pamphlet called No Justice, No Peace: An Eyewitness Account of the Los Angeles Riots, which was reprinted in two South African editions, one from Backstreet Abortions distro, one from ARM, both based in Johannesburg. Some bits hold up well.


At a meeting at the First A.M.E. Church during the first hours of the rioting, the mayor, clergy, and community leaders were booed and ignored by much of the audience. A young black woman charged the podium, and took control of the microphone. “We can’t rely on these people up here to act … I believe they have our best interests at heart, but we cannot rely on them … You know what we need to do … ” (from Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Newsmonthly June  1992. New York)

The LA uprising of 1992 was a class rebellion in the heart of capitalist America. Triggered by the acquittal of four White cops videotaped beating a black truck driver, Rodney King, the uprising spread through dozens of American cities, and even internationally: in Berlin, masked youths battled police under banners calling for the destruction of capitalism and proclaiming “LA did the right thing.” While people of many different backgrounds participated in the action, there is no doubt that poor blacks, one of the most oppressed segments of the US working class led the way. This shows that black liberation must be central to any real working class challenge to the system. By the time the military and police forces of the regime managed to put down the uprising, there had been 58 deaths (mostly black), 4,000 injuries, 12,000 arrests, 10,000 businesses destroyed and countless shops looted.

The bulk of this pamphlet provides an eyewitness account of the revolt as it happened in Los Angeles itself. A final section looks draws out some of the significance of the uprising. In this introduction we argue that this sort of rising can and should Read More »

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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].


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]


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.


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.


[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).

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.

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.


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[TALK] Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “The Political Economy of the Rhodes Industrial Action,” seminar on “Students and the Strike,” Asinimali, Rhodes University, 28 April.

Popular talk: Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “The Political Economy of the Rhodes Industrial Action,” seminar on “Students and the Strike,” Asinimali, Rhodes University, 28 April.

This talk was part of a panel arranged by the ‘Asinimali’ student group at Rhodes University, South Africa, as an unprecedented strike by staff took place at the institution. The strike drew in workers from both the National Education, Health, and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). It was unprecedented in its scale,  and in bringing together unions from different traditions, representing to a large extent different layers, which traditionally do not cooperate. NEHAWU (my union) is affiliated to the (formally Marxist) Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, and mainly represents blue collar and lower level support staff; NTEU is affiliated to the (moderate) Federation of Unions of South Africa, FEDUSA, mainly representing academics and mid-level and higher administrative staff.  The panel included NEHAWU shop-stewards, the audience were mainly students. This is a transcript of my talk.

Lucien van der Walt: – Ah, thanks everybody for coming. I just want to mention that I am a member of NEHAWU, but I am not here in an official capacity. I try to do my best in the unionm but I am just an ordinary union man, so this talk isn’t an official union position. I was just asked to give an analysis of what is going on and locate it the larger context.

The most immediate thing is that the two big unions on campus – that’s NTEU and NEHAWU – which between them represent perhaps 1000 out of 1400 staff, are engaged in an unprecedented joint programme of industrial action. So far this has really meant go-slows and pickets; and informally, it means people being absent from work and going home a bit early and so on. And you’ve probably experienced this with lecture halls being locked when you get here in the mornings, or dinners being late, and so on. But this could escalate to a protected strike.

Now this sort of joint action hasn’t really happened before and with NTEU involved, we also have a layer coming in, of lower-income secretaries, administrators and some academics. Usually NTEU and this layer is quite absent from these sorts of strikes. This time it’s involved and this means there is a wider range of people actually involved in actions than before. These are not layers that usually do industrial action.

So now what brings all of these people, these workers, these staff, together? What brings two unions that have never really worked together in a joint industrial action, who have only negotiated together, before, but now act in a joint industrial action? What brings them together?

The most immediate thing is that management did not negotiate last year with the unions at all around wage increases. So there is a lot of pent up frustration. They used the disruptions around student protests to argue that they didn’t have time and they delayed negotiations a year.

The second thing is that management has consistently – since current negotiations restarted – offered below inflation wage increases. I think its offers started off around 2% and moved up to 5%. Now what it really means is actually a wage cut. Inflation is around 7.5%, so if you get 5% you’ve lost 2.5%. And food inflation is around 11%.
So just to give a simple example, if you’re getting 4000 bucks a month, 5% will give you about 200 bucks a month. So it’s actually a wage cut because you’d actually need R300 a month just to stay where you were last year with general inflation, and R400 if it was just for food. Okay, so although it seems like a wage increase – and although management was very angry when we referred to it as a ‘wage cut’ when we called the mass meeting of academics last week – it’s a wage cut. People are not keeping up with prices.

The third thing is that we need to understand this in context of a larger crisis in South Africa, the capitalist economy of which is based on massive inequality, a mass unemployment regime and a cheap black labour system. Please bear in mind the context: South Africa’s economy is based essentially – and it remains based essentially – on cheap black labor.

Until the 1980s, this low-wage economy was reproduced through state interventions. The state would restrict black workers’ ability to unionize; the state would restrict what jobs people can do; where you could find work, and would reinforce the homeland system as a means of pushing wages down.

At the moment this cheap labor system is reproduced through the market … not through the state, but through the market. On the one side, it’s the mass unemployment system which keeps wages low. There are always people looking for jobs. On the other there is a massive pool of cheap, casual and flexible labor. And although the media keeps insisting that South African workers are too likely to strike, have too many rights that their wages are too high, the reality is that only about a quarter of workers are actually covered by wage bargaining agreements and unions.

And the unions? Although the unions are strong, and our union numbers are remarkable in that they have stayed quite stable, despite mass unemployment, the unions are actually quite a small drop in the ocean of the working class. And even being a member of a union doesn’t always mean you have high wages. Many union members are under strain, because they have low wages And being in a union doesn’t always mean you’re protected from the larger situation. We have a low-growth, low-wage, low-innovation,high unemployment economy. The worker with a job, and the union worker, is still part of the larger working class and is affected.

So we have a situation where wages in many sectors are stable at best, but sometimes declining. Employed workers support numerous unemployed family members. According to a figure from NEHAWU, each employed person in Grahamstown is supporting 40 other people. So each salary is not just a salary for that one worker to spend on an immediate, small family. It is actually supporting vast networks of other people. So its not like workers and the unemployed are separate groups, with different class interests.

So, the pressure for high wages has to be seen in this context. There is all this immense pressure on working people that is driving demands for more wages.

Meanwhile, there is also the growing confidence that the working class and working people have developed over the last few years with important strikes in mining, in post and so on. The victories and the demonstrations  of power and solidarity, and innovative forms, some non-union, have raised the temperature of the larger working class.

But now why is the university not willing to pay? Why is it trying not to pay? The simple reason is that the university is running broke; the university is running out of money, just like the rest of the state. The figures that have been provided for how close to broke the university is, well, don’t really know which ones we can trust. We get different figures in different contexts and from different people.

We can’t get accurate, direct access to the raw data, so we actually can’t crunch numbers. We’re presented with fixed numbers. And what management says in one forum – and what one person says in one forum, what another person says in another forum – actually varies a lot. So it’s like shooting at a moving target. Yes, the management sometimes stresses the financial problems, and this is used to instill a bit of climate of fear –  will we have jobs? – but there is something real under there.

The current position is that university is probably going to be short 69 million rands over the next two years. So this information we have, says management wants to cut 15 million rands this year, and around 25 million next year. And the easiest way to cut is to target wages. They are looking at other measures as well: freezing posts (for example, there’s a supposed ban on appointing contract staff now), reducing the number of permanent staff, cutting Teaching Assistant posts, and using more casual labour.

As an example, Rhodes doesn’t really do large-scale outsourcing like Wits or UCT have done; and this is why the student movement for #FeesMustFall here did not turn into #OutsourcingMustFall like at Wits. But what Rhodes does do, is reduces the number of people on permanent jobs, and increase the pool of casual people.

So I did a bit of investigation, I phoned people in kitchens’ management, as I was asking for someone I knew, looking for a job. They said that person must go on the waiting list. I asked how long the waiting list was, they said 200 people. So what happens to these 200 people? When there’s a bit of work they need done – for example graduation – they pick two or three of them, but they can’t get a permanent job without moving up the list, and that is only when permanent people go. What happens after the short job at graduation, for example? They’re gone.

So, you can still cut wages and casualise workers without outsourcing. Outsourcing and labour brokers are just methods,  we cannot and should not be fixated on them. Now, if you’re cutting wages of the permanent workers, through below-inflation raises, and you’re reducing the amount of the permanent workers, and growing the pool of  casual workers, you save money.

But now, why is there a shortfall in university finances? Well, one reason – and this is the one management actually like to speak about – is that there have been unexpected costs over previous years. These include a rise in electricity prices. The bad water situation in the town, the failings of the municipality, forced the university to spend millions on water tankers, and other water-security measures. Because the municipality was in a mess, nothing due to university, but able to sink the university. They also spent a whole lot of money on security last year during the protests, as you know: all the “bouncers” that were brought in, all the security cameras that are everywhere; legal fees – they had a legal case against academics around – and there’s a case around an interdict the university sought; there are prosecutions against students, all of these things.

But these immediate problems, important as they are, are not the real cause. The real cause is that government is giving universities less money every year. Essentially the state subsidizes some university costs. There is a formula, providing universities grants per student and per research output., varying according to first year, second year, masters, PhD, and field, for example more to natural science than, say, Drama.

But even with that situation, the subsidy the state provides is falling. Its been falling since the mid-1980s. Right now, around 40c of every rand this university spends comes from the state. And 30 years ago, around 80c out of every rand spent would have come from the government. Now it’s 40c. Half is gone.

So this means that universities tried to find ways to raise more money, and cut costs. One way is to increase student numbers, to make up for the lost money, they keep trying to grow. If each student earns less subsidy, have more students. They keep trying to increase research outputs. But this is not enough. So they keep raising student fees. Every student, fee-paying  or not, is subsidized, but its not enough. And there is a limit on how high you can go with fees. I think we reached the tipping point there about two years ago: students revolted, which is part of what #FeesMustFall is about.

They have not just been reducing staff, and casualising, but also running down infrastructure. I always like to use this room, this venue, as an example. That water leak causing damp there, has been there for many years, we’re quite familiar with it, almost like a good friend. And if you look at the room’s furniture, the styles, the old green curtains, this is all stuff bought more 25 years ago.

If you look around in any venue and building, you’ll see some the crumbling infrastructure. So that’s also how they have been deferring the  money problem. Just not keeping up with maintenance.

But this all raises the question of why the the state doesn’t give more money to the universities? Why is it cutting as well?

There are two big things happening, and here is where we see how capitalism fits in. The first, really important issue I want to stress here is that the state is running out of money as well. It’s under a lot of fiscal pressure.

Essentially, growth rates in the world capitalist economy has been low for the last 40 years. The whole world is actually in a huge financial mess. That means governments do not get enough money. Taxes are not enough, loans are more expensive. From the 1970s, there was an onset of a massive capitalist crisis. There was a second shock 2007/2008 with a global financial crisis. So that means they’re trying to spend less, because they have less

The second really important issue is that the dominant political and economic elite – the ruling classes in different countries around the The second world – are using the crisis. It’s not fully that they’re going broke, but carrying on like they did before the 1970s. They are using the crisis to dramatically restructure society, opening a new phase of capitalism. What they’re doing is what we call neo-liberalism; and that is a about free trade, flexible labour, privatisation, and spending less and charging more.

For universities this is expressed in spending less, charging more. It is also based on the idea that, as elsewhere, the elite should centralize power and should commercialize and privatize everything that it possibly can. Resolving the crisis through neo-liberalism is about trying to impose the logic of profitability and centralised power on all areas of social life, about doing more with less, whether that is harder work for lower wages, or worse services for higher prices, or whatever. It can mean removing trade barriers, for example,m it can also mean re-imagining the university as a corporation, as “University Inc.,” as a “market university” where you can only really have a course because it makes money; not because it’s valuable. Where you can only do research because it’s “relevant,” and “relevance” can means useful for business or government. There is no space here for history or science that does not have direct use to the ruling class right now.

So, around the world the effects we see in the era of neo-liberalism – it is not just a theory, a policy, it is an era,  a phase of capitalism – is an upwards redistribution of wealth and power. Around the world, what’s actually happening despite all the talk about rights and opportunities, is that money and power are moving up to economic and political elites.

In South Africa, of course, there has always been an unequal society under tributary, semi-feudal and capitalist modes of production, but what we’re seeing here is an increase in inequality. examples, the richest three South Africans have assets equal to the incomes of the poorest 26 ) million. Richest 3, poorest 26 million. That’s worse than it was in the 1980s, and the 1980s were kak, a crime against humanity.

What we have is an ongoing problem and measures that reproduce some of the worse of the past.

While ordinary working class and poor people get pushed down, and get told there is no money, accumulation is taking place for the elite, systematically through states and through corporations, including by what we often call corruption. Inequality is not an aberration, an ill society, or corruption of a basically good system, its the nature of the system, not a crime against it, but its very heart: ruling class elites accumulating wealth and power at our expense.

The political system, the system of parliament, has always been a pretense; it’s not a real democracy because the voters do not really control what goes on at all. It’s become increasingly obviously hollow, as all the political parties are more and more, the same. More and more people are disenchanted with that system. More and more people feel there’s no real choice. So as real ideas and options disappear, as the left fails to make headway, party politics dominates and becomes more about personalities, factions and media sound-bites, quotes and tweets, a circus. Donald Trump is an example of that, but we can see it everywhere in the world.

This is linked to a systematic ruling class drive to disorganize, demoralize and confuse the popular classes, the ordinary people around the world. There are various ways which this is done: casualisation, mass unemployment; the promotion of divisions, for example, like between nationals and foreigners; (inaudible) stratified work forces, and patronage, buying off layers of working class by moving them into the middle and upper class layers.

There is a massive intellectual and political assault, through ideas like nationalism, post-modernism, liberalism in the American sense, crude identity politics.

We haven’t entered a world free of work, or a world of choices, and rights, but a world in which mass unemployment is the norm, not a post-work world, but a planet of slums based on sustained mass unemployment, where every division in the popular classes is amplified, whether by the populists like Trump, or the liberals like Clinton, or the “think tanks” and funders that promote nonsense like post-modernism.

These measures are required because mass unemployment keeps wages down, divisions split the popular classes, and a destruction of left traditions and science cripples the possibility of creating a new and better society.

Now, in closing, let’s bring it back to our university. If we look at the university, we can see these things playing out; the crisis is transferred downwards; the university is short of money, but there is no real discussion of how money is distributed within the university. For example, we have a dispute centred on wages, but management salaries are not actually under discussion or even negotiated. Negotiations cover grades 1 to 17: senior or top management is outside of this entirely.

And while cooks an cleaners are told to eat less, this is in the context of an increasingly unequal university. If we look at the university like this there’s a lot of interesting facts that are publicly available. Research output by academics – which of course is also made possible by the work of support and other staff – has doubled, doubling subsidy income for research. From 2004-2014, the amount of articles published doubled! But wages for most staff have stagnated or declined in real terms. In the best years, we get 7 % means your wage hasn’t actually changed. In some years, like this one. it actually reverses. And, as for academics, this university pays less than any other research university in the country.

But at the same time salaries for the upper layer, top management, has grown. So the top people at Rhodes, the VC and DVCs, get an average salary of 2.1 million a year. For comparison, in 2015, the State President Jacob Zuma earned R2.62 million (excluding benefits). The  middle later gets around R450,000 a year. Support staff average in some calculations 190 000 a year. These are averages: there’s a lot of people in those layers that get much lower incomes.

So when I talk about the pain going downwards and the rewards going upwards, I mean exactly that. You’re telling workers, some of whom are getting R4000 a month to take a wage cut for the university; and at the same time management salaries have increased at an awful rate. Another example: a a Dean at the university used to be paid an ordinary academic salary plus a stipend; nowadays the average salary of a dean is over a million rands. In 2014, the salary of this town was just a bit over R700,000 including most allowances.

So when we talk about crisis, financial problems, policies … its never a simple thing in which an objective crisis which affects everybody equally, and is neutral. Crisis and problems are expressed in conflict, and are transferred downwards to the masses in a class system, by elites that make the decisions, without it being really discussed or debated and without taking the pain themselves. Whether VC, DVC, Presidnet or Mayor, the powerful make the calls and look after their interests.

In this situation – crisis, neo-liberalism, class struggles – universities around the country are gutting the remnants of democratic decision-making. These were usually for more senior academics, admittedly, not everyone at all, but these have often been removed. We have it here too. Decision-making is moving upwards, and jobs and costs are cut everywhere except for managers: this is often called managerialism. So we do have structures like faculty boards which give people a say; union people sit in Senate, like professors, which supposedly gives them a say; the SRC sits there.

But many key choices are not made in Senate, which had become more like a report-back session, on what has already been decided. An example I can give is that a progressive colleague of ours has repeatedly asked how much has management spent on security cameras, on “bouncers,” on legal fees. they have been effectively refused an answer. This is for a year now. So we seem to be participating, just as with voting for parliament,  we’re not really, Real decisions are made elsewhere or in ways that we can’t affect without struggling from outside. So it’s a very hollow system.

And just to close here: the past continues. If we talk about 5% across the board wage increase, we’re actually talking about someone at two million will get R50,000 more, and we’re talking about a situation where a person at the bottom, getting R4000 a month, or  R48,000 a year, will get just R2,400 more. And because the workers at the bottom are generally black and Coloured and cheap, this reproduces the racialised cheap labor system we spoke about, the colonial wage, if you like, the apartheid wage gap, for the black working class.

So if we want to understand the crisis here we need to look beyond management’s argument that this is just a sudden crisis that came out of nowhere, or the idea that ]we’re all sharing the pain, or that everything will be all right, we just need to be quiet, and make sacrifices.

I believe the only honest conclusion we can draw here is that unless people resist, things will get worse. If workers lose on this round, the next round in the middle of the year will be worse. If some departments are closed, other departments will be closed later. If people are pressurized to buckle now, they surely will be pressured later.

And academics who think this is just going to happen to secretaries and gardeners are very much mistaken. Very much mistaken. This will come all the way through.

Thank you very much. The next comrade is starting now.


[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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[CHAPTER] van der Walt, 2017, “‘All Workers regardless of Craft, Race or Colour’: The First Wave of IWW Activity and Influence in South Africa”

Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “‘All Workers regardless of Craft, Race or Colour’: The First Wave of IWW Activity and Influence in South Africa”, in Peter Cole, David Struthers and Kenyon Zimmer (eds.), Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW, Pluto Press, London/ University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 271-287.

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Outline:  The Industrial Workers of the World Read More »

[3-DAY SCHOOL with UPM]: 7-9/11/2018: “Autonomy, Land, Self-Management: Alternatives & the Russian and Spanish Revolutions”

Co-designed and co-faciliated a three-day workshop with the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) in the Eastern Cape, with Leroy Maisiri and Ayanda Kota. The venue was the Bantu Stephen Biko Student Union Building, at Rhodes University, Grahamstown/ Makhanda; the dates were 7-9 November 2018, and the topic was “Autonomy, Land, Self-Management: Alternatives & the Russian and Spanish Revolutions” Attended by 45 people from the UPM in Grahamstown/ Makhanda and Peddie, and members of the local waste-pickers collective.

[ANALYSIS] van der Walt, 2018, “From Union Renewal to a Self-Managed Society: Towards an Anarcho-Syndicalist Project” (South African Labour Bulletin)

Lucien van der Walt 2018, “From Union Renewal to a Self-Managed Society: Towards an Anarcho-Syndicalist Project,” ‘South African Labour Bulletin,’ 42 (1): 27-30.
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**In this article, Lucien van der Walt argues that trade union renewal is essential but should not be reduced to democratising structures or new recruitment methods. Renewal should centre on a bottom-up movement based on the direct action of workers as a precondition for radical redistribution of power and wealth to workers, community assemblies and councils in a self-managed, egalitarian order based on participatory planning and distribution by need. It must be rooted in an anarcho-syndicalist understanding that unions can profoundly change society.
Trade union renewal is high on the agenda in many countries, but we need to think carefully about why we want it. Union renewal is a profoundly political and ideological issue.We need to have a clear understanding of how we got into the current mess where many unions are bureaucratic, inefficient and struggle to respond to urgent issues. We need to think carefully about what we want to achieve, not just in terms of how we organise – but what we aim at in the long run.
We need to have some theory about what unions can be, and should be . If we have to ask the question of why we should revitalise or expand unions, we have to decide what we want from unions in the first place. We also need to tackle the issues of the relationship between unions and political parties – and whether workers and unions benefit from workers’ parties that aim at state power.
Speaking of union ‘renewal’ often assumes we had a working model in the past, and that there is one specific way unions can and should work.
But what we can and should achieve is not obvious.It’s not a simple technical question about which structures work. It’s not a simple question of democratising unions.What is the aim of having a well-organised or democratic union in the first place? There are many choices to be made, even if we have democratic unions. Should unions be business unions, basically dealing with wages and conditions? Or run by experts as service organisations, similar to insurance firms? Or be aiming at something more?
The reality is that unions are always intrinsically political.Their very existence raises questions around power, around class, and around identity and how we build it. Unions are never neutral. Even if when a union calls itself non­-political, that is itself a politicai position, based on a theory.
Unions emerge as a response to a system that is intrinsically unable to satisfy the needs of the great majority of the working class.They provide a key place for solidarity among ordinary people in a very alienating society. Unions are not disappearing, and neither is the working class. Other than faith­-based organisations, trade unions are the largest and most resilient popular organisations.
People speak of a crisis of unionism, but we need to be careful about how we measure that.*There is no proper database of unionism worldwide, but every indication is that unions, overall, remain quite stable in terms of numbers, and viewed globally, are even expanding*. This reflects the fact that proletarianisation is accelerating: despite certain fashionable theories, class is not gone; class divides are deepening, the working dass – those dependent on wages but lacking control -is now the biggest class on earth.
Unions persist precisely because capitalism and the state are simply unable to incorporate or co-opt the working class. Their very existence reflects the fact that society is riven with deep, stark contradictions. Even the most undemocratic, politically problematic union can only survive to the extent that it represents workers’ interests, no matter how limited a way, and the reality of irreconcilable class antagonisms.
None of this invalidates arguments that unions have often been undemocratic or sectional in that they reflect and even reinforce divisions between workers -by union, by skill, by industry, by country, between employed and unemployed, and between different federations -or often ended up dealing only with immediate issues around wages rather than the larger challenges in society.
But the question is: is this inevitable? Pessimistic approaches think so, e.g. Robert Michels’ iron Iaw of oligarchy’, in which all mass movements get captured by small full-time self-seeking leaderships. He believed union democracy would die as unions developed.V.I. Lenin believed that unions were sectional, reflecting and reinforcing divisions between workers. Arguing that unions were normally stuck at the level of dealing with immediate issues like wages: they bargained over the terms of exploitation, rather than ended it.They focused on reforms -reformism -and ‘economistic’ concerns. That full­time union bureaucracies emerged to run the bargaining and held back anything -including workers -that threatened it.
But this is all very one-sided, as a more ‘optimistic’ analysis shows. There are many examples of union bureaucracies being challenged from below, especially through rank-and-file movements of ordinary members.The whole notion of union renewal assumes precisely that such challenge and reform is possible.There is no link between union size and levels of democracy: some of the most democratic unions in South Africa in the 1980s were massive unions like those in the so-called ‘workerist’ Federation of SA Trade Unions (FOSATU) movement, and some of the least democratic were small conservative business unions.And unions have repeatedly proved to be key sites of class consciousness and radical politics.
And, moving beyond the ‘optimistic’ analysis, to an anarchist/ syndicalist analysis, it is also possible to show many examples of mass unions that have maintained democratic systems, the best being the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Spain. This was a radical union that, in the 1930s, carne dose to two million members, yet rested on a very decentralised structure and had a tiny full-time staff. It systematically overcame sectional divisions among workers, participated in land, community and youth struggles, and opposed colonialism.
Contrary to Lenin’s view that unions, left to themselves, were inevitably stuck at the level of so-called ‘trade union consciousness; the CNT systematically promoted revolutionary ideas and actions, organised a workers’ army, and, in 1936, helped place most of the land and industry in Spain under the direct control of ordinary people, changing daily life and creating a working-class democracy.
So what Michels and Lenin were talking about were tendencies -but they ignored the counter-tendencies for democracy, and the obvious evidence that unions could achieve revolutionary changes without party tutelage or state support.
Michels’ so-called ‘iron law’ rests on the assumption that top­down centralisation and full-time bureaucracy are the most efficient, technically necessary, inevitable measures available, and that oligarchies emerge from this process. The same idea is present in studies that suggest that unions ‘mature’ over time, becoming more moderate, professionalised and conservative.
But undemocratic, top-down unions, run by officials, are actually very ineffective, and often fairly lifeless. They struggle to respond to changes, they place the interests of the officials over the interests of their members, and their leaders are prone to co-optation by governments, businesses and political parties.
Centralism, Rudolph Rocker noted in his book, “Anarcho-syndicalism,” “turns over the affairs of everybody in a lump to a small minority, is always attended by barren official routine and … crushes individual conviction, kills all personal initiative by lifeless discipline and bureaucratic ossification.”
That is precisely what the current push for union renewal shows: the future of unions lies in unions becoming more democratic, more member-driven, more decentralised and more flexible.
The argument for centralism and bureaucracy is an ideological one, a deliberate choice (as the CNT’s counter-example shows) that arises from a false theory, reinforced by the destruction of democratic checks-­and-balances, the immersion of union leaderships in political parties and states, and the ‘Moses syndrome’: the idea that the masses need to be led by a few great leaders, and the ambitions of those who hope to become the Moses.
An economistic and reformist unionism is always better than no unionism at all. Of course bargaining around wages and rights is valuable, and there is not much else, besides unions, that has succeeded in these roles.
But it deals with the symptoms of, and it simply responds to, what the capitalist system and the state do. And since the problems facing the global working class – unemployment, poverty, low wages, insecurity, racism, war, gender oppression and so on – are deeply linked to capitalism and the state, real change means tackling the system itself. If you have headaches all the time, it’s not a good idea to live on headache pills; you need to find out what is wrong and get a cure.
*Capitalist corporations and the state apparatus are extractive systems that centralise power and wealth in the hands of small elites, are profoundly undemocratic, produce and distribute for profit and power, are prone to instability, and marked by war, imperialism and hatred*. Removing poverty and inequality, and ending class exploitation, requires their negation by placing productive resources and real control in the hands of ordinary people -a bottom-up society based on participatory planning, common onwership, global community and distribution by need.
So, if unions emerge as part of the class struggle, reflect class divisions, and can certainly (as the CNT showed) make radical changes in society, can they help develop the cure that society needs? And if so, how? And what would that cure entail?
The dismissal of unions by many self-described radicals today is not shared by the ruling classes: the bosses and politicians.They are well aware that unions can make dramatic, revolutionary changes. This is precisely why labour law is designed to contain unions, limit their scope and activities, and tie them into lengthy official procedures -and why every effort is made to weaken, corrupt and destroy unions.
Lenin, too, never denied that unions could play a role in a transition to socialism. His argument was, rather, that unions could become revolutionary, only if led by a revolutionary workers party aiming at state power.
But this vanguardist politics -the party first, the union as ‘transmission belt’ for party instructions -still rested on a profound underestimation of the potential of unions. It also rested upon a fatal overestimation of the value of so-called workers parties. Subordination to a party that aims at state power political unionism – centralises unions, replaces workers’ control of the unions with party control; it leaves politics and transformation to the party; rather than overcome reformism and economism, it inevitably promotes it.
The history of workers’ political parties, whether reformist labour parties, or revolutionary communist parties, and of nationalist parties, as forces for popular emancipation, is absolutely dismal. Rather than bring workers to power, they have repeatedly betrayed, broken, corrupted, divided and repressed workers’ movements like unions. The fall of the African National Congress (ANC) is nothing exceptional.
The problem is not that these parties have the wrong programme, or bad leaders – as those who insist on trying to rerun the failed project also claim -but the fact that transformation by the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority cannot come through the state.
The state is a centralised, undemocratic structure that entrenches minority class rule; rather than change the state, the parties are changed by the state, their leaders co-opted into the ruling class and its agendas. Simply put: elections and dictators are not the solution.
Unions can certainly contribute to a new, better society in which there is a massive redistribution of power and wealth to the popular classes, including the workers and the poor. But as Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution in 1917-where a labour-repressive dictatorial Tsarist regime was simply replaced with a labour-repressive dictatorial Marxist regime -shows, real change must take place in a way that does not just replace one elite with another.
This means rejecting the party form and the capture of state power, in favour of mass movements that can transfer power directly to the people. Bottom-up participatory trade unions are the most efficient, the most creative, the most innovative and the most responsive types of union.
*We need to move from the idea that unions must be centralised, and also from the idea that unions’ future lies in servicing members*. A radical union movement of this sort defends its members, and fights for daily improvements. lt’s a participative model where the members are the union, not customers, and where union leadership is essentially about facilitating a bottom-up unionism. The important thing is accumulating organisational power and promoting popular consciousness to contribute to a society where ordinary people are in charge.
But they can also prefigure and then help create a radical change in society, by developing the ideas and structures that can lay the basis for a new social order. To place power and wealth in the hands of ordinary people requires, not a state, not a party, but a system of worker and community assemblies and councils in a self­managed, egalitarian order based on participatory planning, common ownership and distribution by need.
This was precisely what was shown in the Spanish revolution by the CNT. After decades of failed land reform, corrupt government, chasms of poverty and inequality, and the failure of the parties, the CNT – with its popular allies, and providing direction to rival unions – undertook one of the most profound revolutions in history. And the bottom-up CNT structures formed the core of the new society.
We need to move beyond the idea that unions are just needed in conflicts, to thinking about how unions can provide a space for collective action, class identity, unity across divides of race, ethnicity, and country, and self-activity. The core of a counter-hegemonic project is the development of popular capacities and escalating demands. This requires creativity and innovation. There is no reason why union investment funds cannot be redirected into organising drives, an alternative mass media, and the basis of union-run clinics, recreational facilities and schools. Along with this is the need for much more branch control of union funds.
*This is not a crude workerism, but a revolutionary class politics that is solidarity based, egalitarian, is anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-sexist ­opposed to all forms of oppression. Not a party-led political unionism, but a profoundly revolutionary unionism. It means taking a lead in fighting against oppression, for the emancipation of women, against war and empire, and for freedom for all. This is not new: it’s the core of old left traditions like anarcho­syndicalism.*
Many challenges unions face are linked to capitalist restructuring, but we need to also be very clear about states. Unionists commonly speak of capitalism as the main problem, but it’s not the only one unions face.
lt is clear from African and Latin American experiences that *states* wreak havoc. They are the largest employers and they actively aim to capture union leaderships. Rather than corporatist bodies and parties in government helping unions, these enable the state to exert control over unions.
In place of parties, it makes more sense for unions to be part of a *revolutionary front of the oppressed classes, based on community, youth and other formations, aiming at deep change, and to also expand beyond traditional constituencies into organising the unemployed and so-called self-employed.* The muscle of unions at the point of production can aid the rest of the front, and the front can aid unions through, for example, consumer boycotts.
Ali of this requires serious reform in the unions – reform that will inevitably be resisted by parts of the union bureaucracy, and definitely by the political parties. It must, therefore, rest upon a rank-and-file movement to change the unions from below -a movement in all the unions -into part of a working class counter-power, armed with clear ideas and a programme.
**Lucien van der Walt is Professor at Rhodes University, and has long been involved in the working-class movement. This article is based on an input at the at the FES – Trade Union Competence Centre conference in October 2017 themed, ‘Challenges for Trade Unions in Sub-Sabaran Africa: the members are the union, aren’t they?’

[PRESS]: Lucien van der Walt argues that rightist claims of “white genocide” in SA are”a lie”

From The Citizen, here

White genocide is ‘a lie’, ‘threat simply doesn’t exist’

 16 March 2018, by Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

Minority rights group AfriForum’s Ian Cameron cautions against the use of the term ‘white genocide’ as it can deligitimise a just cause.

The notion of “white genocide” is a lie, white South African farmers are not being oppressed and Australia’s reaction to widespread panic about land is based on propaganda around these issues, a South African sociologist says.

But other experts argue that recent political rhetoric has helped legitimise the fears of white rural communities.

A series of articles and videos about attacks on white farmers, mainly published by the Daily Telegraph in Australia, stoked a growing perception in that country that white South African farmers were the target of racially motivated persecution.

It culminated this week in Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton proposing a plan to make it easier for white farmers to attain Australian visas in order to seek refuge from violence in this country.

South Africa’s department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) condemned Dutton’s proposals, saying this level of panic was misplaced and misinformed, and implied a threat that “simply does not exist”.

Rhodes University sociologist Professor Lucien van der Walt agreed.

“They sadly show how much of the rest of the world simply does not bother to pay attention to facts when it comes to South Africa,” said Van der Walt.

“Mainstream media plays a role in the way it frames the issues, in its endless narrative of crisis and collapse in South Africa and provides a very skewed view of major controversies.”

Available statistics also fail to support the notion that farm murders amounted to either a white genocide or racially motivated crimes.

The great majority of whites were not farmers, said Van der Walt, but urban dwellers. At the end of apartheid in 1994, estimates placed the number of white farmers between 60 000 to 100 000 out of a population of around 5 million white people.

“The related claim that white farmers are being killed in large numbers is a profound misrepresentation. As an occupational group, white farmers have been victims of a significant level of violent crime.

“However, many victims of violent crime on farms are black and coloured farmworkers. Black farmers have also suffered. The figures usually provided by people who argue there is a white genocide conflate all rural killings with murders of white farmers, leading to major exaggerations.”

Minority rights group AfriForum’s Ian Cameron blames political rhetoric for the concerns that white farmers were being targeted. He considers the Australian government’s reaction an indictment of the South African government and its apparent inaction on the issue.

“Dirco is completely out of their depth on rural issues after they said that this is not a serious problem, which simply isn’t true,” Cameron said.

He says there have already been 98 farm attacks this year, though the figure may be higher since some attacks may not have been reported as such.

“So, instead of government criticising these figures and the organisations, they should be trying to stop farm attacks, they should be asking how they can make sure we start assisting people in rural areas.”

Cameron says he does not blame people who use the term “white genocide” to describe the plight of the white farming community, but cautioned against its use.

“We have to be careful of the terminology we are using because it has the potential of delegitimising or damaging the credibility of a just cause.”

The Institute for Security Studies agrees that white farmers have legitimate cause for concern, the institution’s Johan Burger told eNCA yesterday, but qualified that violent crime in farming communities went beyond just race.

“The number of farm attacks has been a problem for many years in this country.

“In terms of these attacks and the killings on farms, it was recognised by former president Nelson Mandela around that era in 1997, which started the process of creating mechanisms to increase security for farms and it’s not just about white farmers.”