22 January 1998: Email from WSF requesting solidarity against repression in Zimbabwe

The Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) actively tried to build links with Zimbabwe, providing a free subscription of its paper Workers Solidarity to the library at the University of Zimbabwe (then still the site of a radical student movement), sending copies for sale at the late, lamented Grassroots  Books in Harare, and doing its best to distribute its analyses of the Zimbabwean situation to activists in Zimbabwe and in the Zim diaspora. Beyond this, it also did some solidarity work with various Zimbabwean struggles. Many people have now forgotten that the ZANU-PF/ Robert Mugabe regime was almost toppled in the late 1990s by massive student and worker protests: the nationalist myth of Mugabe as a progressive and popular radical — popular in recent years — is breaking down these days, but helped hide a history of massive repression against the povo (masses, the people), by simply writing the povo out of history while controlling the streets.

Below are two recently recovered emails — one sent by WSF to the international anarchist movement, and another to the South African left — to appeal for solidarity against the massive crackdowns that took place in early 1998:


Received: from […] 21 Jan 98 10:31:37 GMT +2:00
Return-path: <owner-organise@tao.ca>
Received: from […]
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: org: EMERGENCY-defend Zimbabwe workers


Today Robert Mugabe, the ruler of Zimbabwe, a country next to South Africa, ordered soldiers into Harare, the capital. The soldiers have been sent to crush a spotaneous general strike and rioting by the workers.

The soldiers were sent in after riot polce failed to contain the situation. The soldiers have orders to “shoot to kill” anyone disturbing “law and order”. It is possible that a full State of Emergency will be declared later today.

The workers and the poor are protesting high prices and low wages.

The press presents the struggles as “isolated looting”. But it is a mass protest movement with widespread support.

The regime says it is the work of reactionary opponents of land reform and of the government- outrageous lies by a de facto one party state which has broken every promise of land reform it has ever made since independence in 1980.

The facts show otherwise. The 3 day revolt follows on weeks of consumer boycotts in the townships by the workers. These boycotts in turn follow the succesful general strike of 9 December 1997 for lower prices. The strikers were driven off the streets by riot police that day.

I will post more background on the simmering revolt in Zimbabwe tomorrow.



An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
Workers, unite!
South Africa


Received: from […]
Return-path: <owner-debate@sunsite>[…]
22 Jan 98 09:02:55 GMT +2:00
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: Defend Zimbabwe workers and poor


For those who would like to register their protests at the clampdown on protest in Zimbabwe, there is a web page

with loads of phone, fax etc number for Zimbabwe state institutions, including at it happens a lot of the army barracks. The most relevant may be

Ministry of Public Service Labour & Social Welfare

12 TH Floor
CentralAvenue/ 4th Street
(263-4) 790871/2/

263-4) 790871/2/




Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt , 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925”

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925,” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69-96

PDF is here

ABSTRACT: In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable. A key revolutionary syndicalist current operating globally, aspiring to unite the world’s working class into a revolutionary One Big Union against capitalism, the state and economic and social inequality, the Wobblies operated in contexts characterized by white supremacy and deeply divided working classes. Yet they not only condemned racism and segregation in theory, but actively engaged in the challenging work of organizing workers of color including black Africans, African Americans, Asians, Coloureds and Latinos, against both economic exploitation and national/ racial oppression.

Although the literature on race, ethnicity, and labour in both countries is voluminous, remarkably little has been written regarding the IWW on race matters. Yet the Wobbly tradition’s impressive commitment and achievements largely unappreciated; the myth that left anti-racism started with Marxist communism in the 1920s remains pervasive. This article develops a comparative analysis of these two IWW experiences, bridging the North/South and industrialized/developing country divides in the (labor) historiography, and deepening our understanding of IWW politics and of labor, race and the left in countries with heterogeneous working classes. Given the centrality of sailors and dockers in the Wobbly movement, particular attention is paid to Philadelphia (US) and Cape Town (SA).

In short, this article seeks to correct omissions in the literature of both countries’ labor and left movements by exploring how and why the IWW did what so few other unions were willing or able to do-organize across the color line, reject working class and official racism, with both remarkable achievements (if some limitations) in its emancipatory project. In doing so, this paper recovers a history of revolutionary unionism and politics amongst workers of colour, and of their organisations, like the General Workers Union, IWW, Industrial Workers of Africa, Industrial Social League, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa. The broad anarchist tradition,including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Key words: anarchism, Bakunin, Black struggles, Cape Town, communism, colonialism, dockers, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), global labour, labor unions, Kropotkin, longshore workers, Philadelphia, race relations, sailors, strikes, South Africa, syndicalism, transnational labour, United States

Material on the ICU, from “New Nation, New History” volume 1 (1989)

The 1970s and 1980s anti-apartheid movement was marked by he explosion of an alternative press. A notable example was the mass-distribution weekly New Nation newspaper. Launched in 1986 with the backing of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference, it championed the black working class, and ran a series called “Learning Nation”: produced to assist high school learners, ths was notable for providing a radical alternative history to the apartheid narrative; it highlighted popular struggles and resistance history. Much of its content was produced by the radical History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand; other was from the prolific Labour and Community Resources Project (LACOM) of the the South African Council for Higher Education (SACHED).  In 1989, the first three years of History Workshop materials were compiled into book, New Nation, New History: it was labelled volume one, but a second volume did not appear. This book included some material on the syndicalist-influenced Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU)  in the 1920s, looking at the breakaway ICU led by A.W.G. Champion (who leaned to Zulu nationalism) and the activities of Stimela Jason Jingoes (an African traditionalist from a high-ranking lineage in Lesotho , who worked for a time as an ICU lawyer). These cases indicate the range of ideas at work in the ICU, which is better seen as a syncretic movement with an unstable mix of ideas, drawn from multiple sources and reworked in changing ways, than a syndicalist union.

Get the PDF here.

Early 1990s reading groups — and “Vrye Weekblad”

The early 1990s saw a new interest in anarchism in South Africa, one expression of which was the emergence of reading and discussion groups. Elsewhere this site collects materials from the reading groups associated with a wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM). But there was certainly some such groups in Durban. There was also reportedly a group around this time at Stellenbosch, among young Afrikaners, and evidence of interest in anarchism also emerged from Pretoria in the form of a long letter to published in the Vrye Weekblad, a liberal, anti-apartheid Afrikaans weekly newspaper (now defunct), 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), from a P.M. de Kock in Pretoria. You can get a PDF of the original text here, with the text extracted below (sourced from the https://digital.lib.sun.ac.za/)

Vrye Weekblad, 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), p. 4
PMde Kock van Pretoria skryf:
Na aanleidlng van 16 Junie dink ek onwillekeurig aan die woorde van Max Stirner:”Every state is a despotism, be
the despot one or many.” 16 Junie mag dalk die versinnebeelding van die draaipunt in Suid-Afrika se geskiedenis wees, maarwragtig, ons kan dit as dag van bevryding vier tot ons almal blou in die gesig is, maar dit sal nie die korrupte struktuur wat bo ons gestel is uit die kussings lig nie. En ook nie verhoed dat dit net weer vervang word met ‘n kabinet vol mooi, vetgevrete swart gesigte om die hele proses weer van veor af te laat begin nie.

Hier gaan dit nie vir my om swart of blank nie, dit gaan omdie idee — staat. As ek so kyk na wat die afgelope tyd in die pers verskyn het, besef ek al hoe meer dat die NP regering nou begin met’n proses van klou aan die rokspante van mag tot hy uiteindelik net met geweld daarvan afstand sal doen, en in die proses sal hy seker nog ‘n paar onskuldige mense saam neem (of eerder ‘n paar duisend).

Dis juis hierteen wat ons moet waak. Dis ‘n feit dat die ANC een of ander tyd die Uniegebou gaan betree en al die strukture, soos dit tans daar uitsien, net so sal oorneem. Maar meanwhile back at the ranch, sit ons steeds met ‘n staat.

Dis tyd dat die mense wakkerskrik uit hul gemaklike slaap, die staat het homself reeds keer op keer bawys as die grootste euwel wat die mens tot nog toe kon bedink. Of dit nou ‘n demokrasie of totalitêre regime is, dit het dieselfde effek– die verslawing van die mens tot daar niks van hom oorbly nie: Die hele opset is onlogles.Wat het geword van
baslese regering, die verskaffing van net die nodige dienste aan die gemeenskap, en daarmee bedoel ek nie op nasionale vlak nie, maar bloot op plaaslike v1ak?

Dit mag dalk na emosionele dagdromery klink, maar ek dink daar moet ‘n algehele omwenteling in die menslike bastaan kom. Kyk wat het die afgelope eeu gebeur? Die staat as entiteit het toenemend mag begin verkry, juis as gevolg van die verdelings konflikte wat binne elke gemeenskap afspeel. Politieke mag is die instrument wat gebruik word om rykdom te verdeel en die staat sal voortdurend daarna streef om die struktuur van mag tot eie voordeel te manipuleer.

Die wanverspreiding van rykdom is die staat se werk, maar dan moet die volgende groep wat die regeringsbootjie kaap, nie bloot voortgaan endieselfde doen deur net in ‘n ander rigting te roel nie.

Ek sien dié proses in Suid-Afrika afspeel. Swart strewes gaan nie vervul word di edag as daar ‘n nuwe swartregering is nie. 0 nee, hulle sal verdeel en aksies loods om die people op te hef.

Maar dit sal nie gebeur nie, omdat die hele proses verkeerd is. Ons verruil dan net blanke Afrikaner bevoordeling vir swart bevoordeling. Nie dat dit die sogenaamde Afrikaner gehelp het nie, hulle is nou, juis as gevolg van dié bevoordeling, in groter kak as ooit tevore. Ons moet vergeet van die staat, en terug kom na die mense toe,  laat
die mense op grondvlak beheer oor mekaar uitoefen en verhoudings só reël.

Ek sal enige staat, of hy nou wit of swart is, tot in alle ewigheid verwerp. Laat die gesag terug kom na die individu toe, soos die Anargisme ons leer, dan sal dié land uit die as uit opstaan!

Soos Pierre-Joseph Proudhon gesê het: “Anargie is orde.”

(Brief verkort – Red)

[reference points]:”Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle” (Alfredo Bonanno)

The text below was another important influence on the position taken by the main South African anarchist groups from the 1990s on the question of national liberation struggles: critical engagement and intervention, in solidarity and in order to influence, national liberation struggles. More on this issue here. For another key text, here.

The text below is Alfredo M. Bonanno’s Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, which was first published in Anarchismo in 1976, then published in English in 1981, with an introduction  by Jean Weir, then in a South African edition in 1994 by the class-struggle wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM).

To copy from an earlier post on this text and its impact, here:

‘… the 1994 South African edition of Alfredo Bonanno’s 1977 Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle… included a South African introduction by “L.V.” and map of then-current national liberation struggles from the New Nation newspaper.

The core value of this very influential pamphlet to the class struggle ARM group was its central arguments that anarchists “refuse to participate in national liberation fronts” that unite opposing classes, but instead “participate in class fronts which may or may not be involved in national liberation struggles, “in order to “establish economic, political and social structures in the liberated territories, based on federalist and libertarian organisations.”

Effectively this meant anarchists should participate in national liberation struggles, but must oppose the nationalist politics of cross-class alliances and statism. It was compared very favourably to what was seen as the ultra-left position of groups like Britain’s Anarchist Communist Federation (ACF) in their paper Organise! for revolutionary anarchism: their position dismissed “national liberation” movements as intrinsically multi-class struggles that invariably sought merely to replace one state with another (on the ACF’s impact, also see  here).

Given South Africa’s history, this had very concrete practical implications…these were drawn out partially in the 1994 edition’s South African introduction of  three pages. Bonanno’s view that national liberation struggles could be merged with revolutionary class struggle for anarchism converged the general shift that the class struggle wing of ARM was making from ultra-left positions towards a more practical politics of immersion in the working class, of which more here.  (Other examples included the adoption of the view of the holding of non-racial elections in 1994, after years of apartheid, as a “massive victory” for the working class – notwithstanding its criticisms of capitalist elections as such: see editorial in the first issue of Workers Solidarity ).

Lastly: it is worth noting that the ARM class struggle militants activists were largely unaware of Bonanno’s insurrectionist anarchist line, which rejected unions and apparently, all formal organisation; this approach would have definitely been rejected, to judge from other materials the tendency published at the time.’

[reference points]: “Against Imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance” (Endless Struggle #12, 1990, Vancouver)

The text below was an important influence on the position taken by the main South African anarchist groups from the 1990s on the question of national liberation struggles: critical engagement and intervention, in solidarity and in order to influence, national liberation struggles. More on this issue here.

Against Imperialism: International Solidarity and Resistance

A Discussion on Anti-Imperialism, National Liberation Struggles, & Extending Social Struggles to an International Level of Resistance

Endless Struggle #12, Spring/Summer 1990, Vancouver, pp. 13-15, 24

PDF here, text below.

(Credit for text mark-up: SB, JF).

“It is our opinion that our failing to have any significant presence in the reality of present day struggles is largely due to complacency & lack of up to date analysis of problems in an increasingly complex social structure” (Bratach Dubh collective, intro. to Anarchism & the National Liberation Struggle, by Alfredo Bonanno)

The following article was part of a discussion on International Solidarity & Revolutionary Resistance presented at the Regional Anarchist Gathering held in Jan.26-29/90 in Vancouver, Canada.

The first half of this article is a brief introduction to the historical development of imperialism, including the rise to dominance of US capital in the global economic order. The second half discusses national liberation struggles, their contradictions & limitations, & an anarchist perspective to these struggles. It certainly isn’t definitive in total, but we hope it provides a starting point for discussion. A lot hasn’t been analysed, such as the present global economic thrust towards mobility in production, significant changes in capitalist production (i.e. technology, flexibility), & the relationship between these factors & the class struggle in the advanced capitalist countries corresponding with the national liberation struggles. It is beyond the scope of this article to fully address these, nevertheless, if anarchist or autonomist struggles are to have any impact, a complete re-assessment of our analysis & methods is necessary. Developing this means addressing ourselves to an analysis against capital- something which this article also mentions.

 Anarchists tend to reduce anarchism to mere anti-statism or opposition to authority, a superficial & all encompassing “anti-authoritarian blanket” draped over all social struggles. Instead of extending an analysis to patriarchal & capitalist exploitation, which by its nature demands an international struggle, anarchists have restricted their perspective (if at all) to the most blatant products of this: sometimes in the “life-stylist” approach by boycotting multinationals, at other times in the pursuit of “alternative economic communities”. Capitalism is acknowledged, but only as some kind of background setting with no specific structures or conditions. When the Economic Summit of the G-7 (the seven leading industrial countries consisting of the US, Canada, Japan, W. Germany, Britain, France & Italy) was held in Toronto in June /88, the movements lack of anti-capitalist analysis was clear: “Protesting the 7 leaders is somewhat of a red herring, seeing as it’s not just these 7 who are the problem, but all leaders & capitalism itself” (from Ecomedia Toronto, our emphasis). In this, the world economic order, dominated primarily by US capitalism, & its structures the IMF & World Bank, in which the G7 maintain dominant positions, is reduced to a problem of “leaders” & “capitalism” remains as something lurking in the background. The article continues on, making the point of resistance a question of who controls the streets rather than one of who maintains the levels of exploitation: “But many anarchists came out to support the days actions because the issue turned from one of protesting the leaders to… reclaiming the streets of our city, which have been blocked off for us for the length of the Summit”.

This is a reflection of the fact that most anarchists don’t see various social struggles (ecological, anti-sexism, anti-racism) as having a basis in class struggle. But this isn’t to say that these social struggles are irrelevant or secondary to the class struggle, as some Marxists (as well as some anarchists) do, but rather the opposite: these social struggles make up the basis of the class struggle. In the minds of those who delegate these social struggles to a secondary position it is commonly argued that capital Continue reading

A few notes on the question of national liberation struggle in 1990s South African anarchism and syndicalism

One of the key issues that the re-emergent anarchist and syndicalist current in South Africa in the early 1990s had to face was the fact of national liberation struggle against apartheid. This was no “pure” class struggle. How should it relate? Two views were present in the English-speaking anarchist milieu of the time, then dominated by US and UK publications.

One was purism, which basically rejected all national liberation struggles as basically “capitalist” since they generally got controlled by elite classes, and often ended up with capitalist outcomes — witness almost all cases of decolonisation in Africa. This line of argument would stress failings, and ignore aspects that did not fit the analysis; national liberation would be conflated with  nationalism, which is a multi-class movement aiming at state power.  Often the argument would become one of presenting a given national liberation movement as just as bad as the oppressor it fought. Impressive aspects of these struggles, like massive rebellions in 1980s South Africa, were — when noted — set up as something distinct from — and threatened by — the national liberation struggle and the nationalists, rather than seen as part of the complexity and class contradictions in national liberation movements.

This line was evident in the Anarchist Communist Federation in the UK,  in its paper, Organise!, which was read locally: it was completely against imperialism, but it also consistently rejected the main form that anti-imperialism then took, national liberation movements, as capitalist. But the fact that a movement might end up in capitalism surely does not prove that is its inevitable outcome; and a move from a capitalism based on overt imperial rule, white supremacy and anti-black racism (like British Kenya) to a capitalism with an independent state that rejected these, was no small thing, even if “capitalism” continued. Thus, the issue of how to engage with reforms and non-anarchist movements arose. This  posed the question of daily practice: where would the forces against capitalism emerge? How might daily work by anarchists — beyond statements — concretely contribute to anti-capitalism and the building of a specific anarchist current and for an anarchist revolution?

The other common approach was uncritical support, or liquidationism, where (some) national liberation movements were endorsed without real reservations. This was evident in Arm the Spirit (North America), which mainly consisted of news about various armed Marxist-Leninist and nationalist groups, usually the most radical; and Love and Rage (USA), which tended to celebrate various movements, and individuals, and endorse or absorb some of their views. Thus, when a global revival of interest in African-American radical, Malcolm X, ensued with the 1992 film Malcolm X (Spike Lee, with Denzel Washington etc.),  Love and Rage confined itself to a short article praising X’s militancy and refusal to compromise. No real discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of his politics, his strategy, was provided; nor of what anarchism might contribute to the question of black liberation in the US, beyond being militant.

So, where the purist approach tended to highlight failings, and set up a neat boundary between the masses and the national liberation movement and the nationalists, this more celebratory approach had at least the value of recognising the attraction of national liberation movements, their often heroic actions, and their attraction for many people. implicitly, it was also a recognition that anarchists were often outside of these struggles. But beyond this, there was not much in the way of critical evaluation: while the purist approach tended to one-sided and often misleading polemic, this approach tended to fairly superficial engagement and limited commentary and analysis. Again, the question of how daily work by anarchists — beyond statements — would concretely contribute to anti-capitalism and the building of a specific anarchist current and the possibility of an anarchist revolution was left vague.

A third approach — critical engagement and intervention in national liberation struggles — was adopted by the class-struggle current in the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) and its successor, Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), forebears of today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF).  This argued that national liberation movements were progressive, in comparison to imperialist or colonial forces; that they were contested by different classes, and should not be read off elite agendas; that while nationalism, seen as the class project of local elites in te oppressed group e.g. the emergent black bourgeoisie and state elite under apartheid, would certainly lead to statist and capitalist outcomes that would frustrate the mass of the nationality, it was also possible to build class-struggle, revolutionary currents within national liberation movements that would potentially lead to more radical outcomes closer to anarchism; and that, therefore, it was important that anarchists participate in national liberation struggles, as a distinct current, cooperating in actions where possible, even with nationalists, rather than engaging in purism, and resolutely putting forward their own positions, including a serious critique of nationalist and other rival positions, rather than liquidation.

There is no doubt that this third approach was influenced by a body of thinking on these issues, including the rediscovery of the earlier South African anarchist and syndicalist tradition, like the Industrial Workers of Africa and the International Socialist League, as well as by texts in the Canadian paper, Endless Struggle [link to follow], and the Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonanno’s Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle [link to follow]. Some of these texts will be posted soon.