WSF (1998): “SADC : No friend of the working class”

WSF (1998): “SADC : No friend of the working class”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

ecently, SADC (the Southern African Development Community) has been in the news a lot. In particular, SADC has intervened militarily in both Congo and Lesotho. SADC is a regional coalition of governments, and its members are the governments of Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SADC pretends to stand for “democracy” and “development”. But the truth is different. Many of the SADC governments, such as Swaziland and Zimbabwe, have a long history of political oppression. And all of the SADC governments are anti-worker. In October 1997, SADC issued a statement called the Windhoek Declaration. This statement said that “the private sector [is] the locomotive of economic development,” and that “business requires … a climate in which it can develop safely, freely and profitably“.

What this means is that the bosses will play the main role in the economy, and that government must keep the bosses happy.

In practical terms, the statement means policies such as GEAR: privatisation, cuts in health and education spending, cuts in public sector jobs, more VAT and PAYE, less company tax, and low wages and few labour laws to protect workers (“flexible” labour). All of these policies mean less jobs and less money for the working class.

Zimbabwe’s form of GEAR (called ESAP) has seen mass cuts in education spending (down to the level of 1980), health care (down 39% in 1994-5), and jobs (22,000 jobs lost in the public sector; 33,000 in private industry).

WSF (1998): “Lesotho: Was it revolution?”

WSF (1998): “Lesotho: Was it revolution?”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

From our correspondent on the spot

The tiny mountain state has been in the news over the past weeks following the September 22 military invasion by South African and Botswanan troops and the subsequent looting spree, which saw the centre of Maseru, reduced to a smoking ruin. The invasion took place after mass protests against a rigged election spilled over into the virtual collapse of the government and a split in the army.

WHOSE PEACE?

The invasion was widely named a “peace mission” by the bosses’ media. But SA Defence Minister Joe Modise virtually admitted at the funeral of one of the eight working class South African soldiers killed in the fighting that the operation was meant to be the first field test of the new integrated SANDF “as a fighting force”.

The claim by the Southern African Development Community (coalition of bosses governments) that the intention was to “restore democracy” (a vague term that can be used to justify almost anything) is shown up as a lie by the fact that the SA military was preparing for the invasion a full six months before the electoral crisis even began in May.

Newspapers owned by the capitalist elite – and even the SA Communist Party (SACP) – have backed the lie, claiming that “anarchy” had broken out in Lesotho. Had law and order collapsed? Had government been replaced by direct democracy and worker control?

THE PEOPLE ARMED?

Was the mutiny by rebel soldiers in the Lesotho Defence Force in the week before the invasion actually a class war in defence of democracy?

Well, the mutiny definitely had a class character. Privates and non-commissioned officers ousted the fat-cat generals, including Lt-Genl Mokhule Mosakeng, at gunpoint, first jailing them, then forcing them to flee into exile in South Africa. This was a brilliant example of direct action by the exploited. The soldiers were upset that democracy in Lesotho had been undermined by the top brass who had been bought off by the politicians, with bribes like the “gift” of farms in the Free State. In other words, poorly paid working class soldiers (27 of whom were killed by SANDF troops in the invasion) revolted against their corrupt, undemocratic bosses. The argument that the mutineers intended to seize power for a military government (thus justifying the invasion) is not true. The intention of the mutineers seems to have been to force a serious review of democratic process in Lesotho, not to stage a coup.

The unexpectedly strong resistance to the invasion showed how passionately they believed their cause was right. Unfortunately, this class war was severely crippled by the opposition parties who used the mutiny (which carries the death penalty) to prop up their own dubious claims to take power in Lesotho i.e. to be the “legitimate” exploiters of the Basotho people.

CHAOS?

Was there chaos or violence when there was no government? In other words, was the collapse of the government a bad thing?

No. Even the petit-bourgeois store owners who lost their businesses in the looting were convinced that while the government in Lesotho had in fact been paralysed since the disputed May election, the Basotho people ran the territory themselves, without any need for a parasitic elite telling them what to do. This was not libertarian socialist economics at work, however, because capitalism remained unchallenged, but the anti-political, self-organising social aspect of socialism from below was in full swing.

The fact is that for six months, there was no effective governance in Lesotho – yet there was very little chaos or disruption. The violent backlash in the last days of September was in direct response to the foreign military operation to suppress Basotho civil initiative and protect South African economic interests in Lesotho.

CLASS WAR?

Was there a class war or grassroots political reason for the rioting and looting?

Well, the rioting seems to have begun because the SANDF invaded the palace grounds, a place viewed as a sanctuary by many Basotho. The rioting was heavily influenced by this cultural mistake by the SANDF, and by political opportunists who fanned the flames. But there was a lot of genuine street opposition to foreign military powers intervening in the workings of Lesotho society, no matter how troubled. The looting was largely “opportunistic”, not class- conscious: help yourself to a new TV while you can. But in a country where even the aid organisations admit the poor benefit hardly at all from the millions pouring into state coffers, it is hardly surprising that the poor will seize what capitalism denies them.

The world’s workers build the entire global economy and all its products. They must seize these products, but more importantly, also take over the means of production which make the goods (the factories etc). Only this will allow a systematic and permanent social change, as opposed to a bit of “affirmative shopping”. This is what the Basotho resisters failed to do, concentrating on selfish short term gains.

The class aspect was notably lacking in that many of the looters were themselves middle class. Also, the political, rather than economic (or class) nature of the redistribution of wealth was evidenced in the way petit-bourgeois shops were targeted (for their goods), and government offices were torched (for the symbolism of trashing the ruling party), but the really big exploiters like the banks, the United Nations, European Union and the US embassy all remained untouched.

ARMED CRIMINALS?

What about the LDF rebels arming “criminals”? Was it a criminal revolt?

Well those who seek true democracy under the global fascist oligarchy known as capitalism know they will be criminalised and demonised by that exploiting elite. So what? If true people’s power is constrained by chains of law, then the people become illegalists as a matter of course. It is our right to fight, no matter what the bosses say! Faced with armoured troop carriers, the mutinous soldiers handed out assault rifles to youths that helped attack the invaders. This showed the working class defending its right to settle local issues locally, a basic libertarian socialist principle. It also broke down the traditional state barriers in which soldiers in a standing army defend privilege against the uprisings of the poor. In Lesotho, the mutineers adopted the direct-action tactic of arming the poor against invading states. In the end it fell short of the libertarian socialist concept of autonomous working class militia, i.e.: the people armed. But it has armed a broad spectrum of Lesotho’s workers and poor. They will be a lot harder to defeat in future than a few thousand soldiers in their barracks were this time around.

REFORM OR REVOLUTION?

What about the real revolutionary project: the construction of a directly democratic society managed by councils of workers and the poor?

Here the water is very muddy. Unlike the Albanian revolt of 1997, when the Western powers invaded to prevent the people achieving grassroots democracy through this sort of initiative, there is not much evidence in Lesotho of the libertarian socialist principle of building the new in the burnt-out shell of the old.

It is notable that virtually the only printed and broadcast views from outside the government came from the opportunist opposition parties, not from the rebel soldiers, the armed populace, or the “criminal” redistributors. This is the in-built bias of capitalist media, which speaks in the garbled lies of the elite and tries to prevent working people from discovering the true nature of such events.

But one area in which democratic construction was evident was among the mutineers, whose delegates angered Modise by telling him (after he called them treasonous and threatened them with force shortly before the invasion) that they could not make decisions themselves, but would have to consult the entire mutineer force first.

This is the principle of participatory democracy. And Modise hated it! Modise also betrayed his class position through his anger at having to deal with corporals who told him in no uncertain terms what they thought of his version of “restoring democracy”.

So, was there the replacement of government by workers power in Lesotho? The answer is that yes, in several quarters, especially among the mutineers, such principles were tactically (if not consciously) upheld. But it does not

matter what terms are used. What matters is whether real tactics and strategies destroy exploitation, empower the oppressed and give every worker and poor person direct political, social and economic control over their lives. When all is said and done, the state was peacefully immobilised for half a year and there was a great deal of direct action, participatory democracy and class-consciousness.

But there was also a crucial failure to address capitalism as a source of oppression, and a tendency to allow opportunistic party politics to shape the civil struggle

The revolt may have been crushed. But its spirit hasn’t – and the political landscape in Lesotho has changed irrevocably. Ties have been forged between workers, soldiers and rural people that did not exist before. Many of these people are now heavily armed.

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

Ordinary Nigerian people took to the streets in celebration on June 8 after hearing that murderous dictator General Sani Abacha, 54, had died of a heart attack. Abacha’s death brought to an end a four-year iron-fisted reign that saw the hanging in 1995 of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who had dared to speak out against the oppression of the workers and the poor by wealthy western oil drilling companies exploiting Nigeria.

ABIOLA

But Abacha was swiftly replaced by Nigeria’s ninth military dictator, Abdusalam Abubakar, a career soldier trained in the United States and Britain like so many Third World strongmen, who immediately ordered seven days of national mourning for Abacha. Abubakar then appeased the regime’s critics by releasing several jailed unionists and activists. Then on July 7, Social Democratic Party leader Chief Moshood Abiola, 60, who was jailed after apparently winning the 1993 presidential election, conveniently died of a heart attack during a visit by American officials. Abiola was no angel: a multimillionaire shipping tycoon who used his military friends to try for the presidency, he boasted four wives and 19 girlfriends and was widely believed to have stolen millions intended to upgrade Nigeria’s telephone system. Supporters of the corrupt Nigerian state claimed that Abiola was the only leader able to unite a country deeply divided between the largely Christian Yoruba and the mostly Muslim Hausa. But Nigeria does not need more robber-baron leaders. It needs a strong workers movement to organise, rise up and throw off the yoke of capitalist-sponsored terrorist dictatorship.

GOVERNMENTS LIE – PEOPLE DIE

At the Organisation for African Unity summit in Burkina Faso shortly after the dictator’s death, his cronies who oppress other African countries underlined exactly what they had in mind with their vision of an “African Renaissance” when they paid their respects to the man who ordered the detention without trial of pro-democracy activists, jailed newspaper editors for reporting the truth, and whose police shot dead at least 10 workers dead during May Day celebrations earlier this year.

The Nigerian regime earlier this year tried to whitewash its image by sending armed forces to Sierra Leone on the West Coast to oust another military junta and install United States- approved “democracy” (i.e. protection of western mining interests).

ABUSES OF THE NIGERIAN DICTATORSHIP

Abacha the Butcher was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by his sipporters, but the opposition United Action for Democracy – an umbrella of 26 human rights and pro-democracy groups in Nigeria – strongly opposed this stupid suggestion. The UAD listed Abacha’s crimes as:

1. The arrest and detention without trial of Abiola.
2. The arrest and secret military trials of pro-democracy activists.
3. The hangings of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni activists.
4. The closing of newspapers and secret military trials of journalists for “plotting to overthrow the state”.
5. The banning of some unions and the detention of union leaders following a strike in the oil industry to protest the political crisis.
6. The expulsion of student activists and the imposition of military- appointed administrators in the universities.
7. The death in prison of ousted General Shehu Musa Yar’adua and the sentencing to death of other opponents.
8. The overruling of the courts and the law by the army.
9. The promotion of conflict between tribes and between the Muslim north and Christian south.
10. The plundering of national resources and the collapse of social services due to officially tolerated corruption.

Amnesty International notes that there are “scores of prisoners held in life-threatening conditions in Nigeria’s jails” and has urged Abubaker to release Nigeria’s 250-plus prisoners of conscience – those jailed simply for their beliefs like so many South Africans were under apartheid.

BIG INTERNATIONAL COMPANIES SUPPORT NIGERIAN DICTATORSHIP

Nigeria’s military dictatorships have all drawn strength from the international oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Mobil whose operations earn the country 80% of its national budget (about R51,5-billion a year). The wealth of the dictators and of the American, British and French oil companies is directly derived from the continued class inequality of the Nigerian social economy.

Despite all their rhetoric about democracy, the big capitalist powers like the USA are desperate to ensure that this oil exploitation does not falter, and so have never taken up the obvious weapon of sanctions to force the army to quit. It would be all so easy, but the profits are just too fat and the capitalists fear that the power vacuum created by the removal of a strongman will cause the country to split in half. The US, which imports half of Nigeria’s oil production, has not banned the sale of arms to Nigeria’s fascist military either: profits before people is their motto.

Abacha’s corrupt regime allowed Nigeria’s once vibrant agricultural sector to decay. What was once the world’s biggest palm oil industry has collapsed. Cocoa output halved since the 1960s, rubber production has fallen.

Abacha’s legacy has is a country pinched between demands by the capitalist overlord International Monetary Fund that Nigeria slash its already threadbare social services and public sector- which will lead to more popular unrest – and the threat of a coup by fat-cat army officers terrified of any challenge to their power and looting of the country.

REAL DEMOCRACY FOR NIGERIA NOW!

This is the country that Abubakar takes control of. He has signalled his readiness to comply with the US’s and European Union’s insistence that there be “a genuine transition to civilian rule” by October 1.Of course, what the US and the EU really want is a civilian ruler installed in Nigeria to prevent the world’s seventh-largest oil export industry from being disrupted by those who want an end to oppression. They don’t care that the oil industry is the main exploiter of poor and working class Nigerians. The Western capitalist governments want democracy in name only: continued rule of the chiefs, military brass and company bosses – not real control of Nigeria’s assets by the Nigerian workers. And already, the local strongmen and robber barons have been scrambling to create new “democratic” political parties.

In August, Abubakar flew to South Africa where he was honoured at a state dinner. But his change from military uniform to a flowing white robe for the cameras should not fool anyone. He is no angel and his backers remain the brutish armed forces and the capitalist exploiters.

We support a move from military government to parliamentary rule. This will create better conditions for the working class and peasants to organise for further struggle.

In the end, however, only free socialism (anarcho-syndicalism) can redistribute wealth and power in Nigeria- and across the world. The solution is not a “good” government but workers power.

WORKERS: WHAT YOU CAN DO

WORKERS OF SOUTH AFRICA! We cannot allow the tragedy befalling our fellow workers in Nigeria to continue! We cannot stand by and ignore our comrades’ pain, we cannot be silent.

IN YOUR COMMUNITIES: Support Nigerians who are genuine refugees of oppression against attacks by police. The cops are oppressing these visitors on behalf of the ruling class, falsely blaming all Nigerian immigrants for our country’s problems.

IN YOUR UNIONS: Tell your shop stewards, your leaders: “We demand justice for Nigeria. We boycotts of Shell and Mobil until Abubakar’s regime is toppled and democracy comes to Nigeria!”

OUR COMRADES: THE AWARENESS LEAGUE OF NIGERIA

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with 104 million people, has only had 10 years of civilian rule since independence from Britain in 1960. It is hardly surprising that here we find the biggest anarcho-syndicalist organisation in Africa: the Awareness League. From its roots as a radical student’s group, the League has become directly involved in the Nigerian workers’ struggle, and now has more than 1000 members across Nigeria.

Some members are rotting in Nigeria’s inhumane prisons. Others have written a book, African Anarchism- the history of a movement, that clearly shows a way out of Africa’s sad, battered love affair with brutal military dictatorships, cruel capitalism and so-called “socialist” exploitation: libertarian socialism. The League is an affiliate of the International Workers’ Association, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation formed to fight capitalism through revolutionary trade union activism worldwide.

WSF (1998): “Zambia : ‘Democratic’ politicians get fat as bosses starve the workers”

WSF (1998): “Zambia : ‘Democratic’ politicians get fat as bosses starve the workers”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

In 1991, there were elections in Zambia. But this so-called “democracy” is a sham that covers self-enrichment at the expense of working class Zambians who have found themselves tipped from the frying pan into the fire.

After seven years of privatisation, layoffs, government and local and foreign exploitation, 86 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and the country appears to be near collapse.

CRISIS

Between Independence from Britain in 1964, and the 1991 elections, Zambia was under the rule of Kenneth Kuanda, whose State-led economic policies helped destroy the agricultural sector: peasants got low food prices, and so, stopped farming and flooded the cities. The economy was also based almost entirely on the State-owned copper mines. So when world copper prices collapsed in the mid-1970s, Zambia never recovered. Instead, it became dependent on loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The loans however were given on condition that government cut food subsidies, privatise, cut public sector jobs, and cut health and education spending.

KUANDA

Although there was a lot of government control of the economy, this did not make the country socialist, because socialism means workers control of the economy- not a government elite. Kuanda was against workers unity, and stated that “class consciousness is one of the biggest dangers in Zambia”. Under Kuanda, class inequality was high. In Zambia in 1974, the top 5% got 35% of national income. By 1983, the top 5% got 50% of national income (J. Hanlon, Apartheid’s Second Front).

CHILUBA

But all the country’s ills cannot be blamed on past policies. The post-1991 government- headed by the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) – is also to blame. Led by Frederick Chiluba, former general secretary of the Zambian Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the MMD rode to power on a wave of worker demands for an end to one-party rule and protection against IMF austerity programmes.

TRAITOR

But Chiluba betrayed this mandate and speeded up the liberalisation of the economy. The cost of basic foodstuffs rocketed: mielie meal went up seven times between 1991 and 1996. In the same period, the value of money declined by 325 percent. Job losses escalated under Chiluba’s privatisation programme, which, critics argue, has seen some viable state-owned concerns shut down and the others sold at fire-sale rates.

MINES

Rusty, outdated equipment and silence characterise the once vibrant Copperbelt pits run by the government-run Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM). Multinationals like Anglo-American, who sold the mines to the government in 1970, are waiting patiently in the wings for ZCCM’s price to fall through the floor.

This should all sound a warning bell to South African workers who put their trust in the elites, whether they are so-called black empowerment bosses, politicians or even some union leaders. Those at the top always serve their own class interest, never the working people.

ZCTU

Now ZCTU is in a state of confusion because those that they elected to power have become the main source of their pain. The predicament they have put themselves in by relying on a greedy elite for salvation is the same problem facing COSATU.

SOUTH AFRICA

South African business is moving in to buy up the cheap, privatised, Zambian economy. Shoprite now owns the country’s biggest supermarket chain (and workers are allegedly strip-searched if anything goes missing); and white South African right-wing farmers have bought up extensive farmlands in the north, some importing nasty habits like sjambokking workers or pouring acid on them.

As always, these liberal economic policies have only benefited a tiny elite which lives in luxury compounds bristling with satellite dishes and secluded behind three-metre concrete walls topped with electric fencing. These compounds are designed to protect local and foreign oppressors from the popular revolt that they know will one day be visited on them for the damage they have done.

ASINIMALI

Outside those walls, Zambia is dying: the University of Zambia and Allied Workers’ Union said it had buried five members in two weeks, all from malnutrition-related problems. “We eat perhaps once a day, sometimes once every two days, and drink water in between,” one shop steward said. They had still not been paid their salaries for the previous month and there is every indication the university will be forced to close in 1999 because of a lack of funds.

Zambia owes over R44-billion to foreign governments, the IMF, the World Bank and others. Foreign reserves held by the national Bank of Zambia have fallen more than R756-million since December – to the lowest point in six years – largely due to servicing this debt.

The democratic credentials of the new government are doubtful. Freedom is stifled by a law, which renders any organised group of citizens, even chess clubs, illegal unless licensed by the state and scrutinised at least yearly by police.

COLLAPSE?

All the indications are that Zambia faces imminent collapse: state executions started up again last year after a break of seven years; the state-owned media diverts attention from the gloomy economy by covering the trial of a handful of plotters involved in a pitiful coup attempt last year. Although there is war in next-door “Democratic” Republic of Congo, and in Angola, the Zambian army does not even have diesel for its armoured cars, and many people are not even sure if the air force still exists. If war comes, it will be a bloody battle for Zambia’s minerals. It is the common people in dusty townships like Kalinga-linga who will suffer. Only resistance to the elites who rule the region and to their wars is a way forward.

WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

WSF (1998): “Zimbabwe: ‘This is Class War'”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

“You can remove leaders, but not the cause. This is class warfare, between the haves and the have-nots”
Morgan Tsvangirai, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, December 1997.

…in the cities…

90% of Zimbabwe’s 1,2 million workers supported a general strike on March 3 and 4. The general strike was called to fight the anti-worker policies of the Mugabe regime. The strike was called to demand the removal of an increase in VAT of 2.5% as well as a special 5% tax called the “development levy”. About 60% of workers wages are eaten by tax. VAT is 17,5%. The strike was called by the 400,000-strong Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). ZCTU is the national union federation. The ZCTU was originally based mostly in the private sector. But the powerful Public Servants Association is now a member of ZCTU.

The regime is trying desperately to defeat the ZCTU. Two days after the March 1998 strike, the ZCTU’s Bulawayo offices were burned down. Before the strike President Mugabe threatened the trade unions: “we have many degrees in violence”. Worker militants report that they live in fear of their lives, and are being watched by the police. Officials in the Ministry of Public Services, Labour and Social Affairs have been ordered to work out a way to “delegalise” the ZCTU.

At the May Day rally, enthusiastic workers unions threatened a 5-day general strike to back up their demands. They also called for a R590 minimum wage. The strike was called off after government made last minute promises to drop the taxes. However, government is certain to push up prices on basic goods. In January 1998, this resulted in 3 days of food riots. Similar events are certain to recur.

… and on the land …

Meanwhile rural workers and peasants are also turning to mass action. For nearly 20 years the government has been making and breaking promises to redistribute land.

In mid-June hundreds of peasants occupied 4 white-owned farms in the Marondera area of Mashonaland East. The occupiers denounced the government’s broken promises on land redistribution. Land invasions also took place in the Nyamandlovu district north of Bulawayo. About 800 landless peasants and former liberation war guerrillas vowed not to move until the government allocated land for resettlement. The crowd was mainly made up of women. In both cases, government officials convinced demonstrators to withdraw, by promising that the latest empty land reform promises would be made reality.

Meanwhile riot police were called out to deal with striking farm workers in late July. The workers were demanding a 50% wage rise to cope with the rapidly rising cost of living, and blockaded a road east of Harare. Meanwhile the politicians are lining their nests. Mugabe, for example, spent R2,2 million of a housing fund for the poor on a giant 30-room mansion for his wife in 1996. This year he is having a new, 24 room, mansion built- at the cost of R1 million.

STOP PRESS:

As we go to press, riots have broken out in Zimbabwe over a 67% increase in the price of petrol. This has led to massive hikes in bus fares. Troops have been sent out to quell resistance in the working-class townships around Harare and Chitungwiza. Rioters have attacked shops, busses and cars. Although price increases are a central issue, there is also boiling anger at Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war.

The ZCTU has withdrawn from all negotiations, and is considering its options. History shows that a workers movement taking industrial action will have the most impact. Community revolts are easily smashed by cops and soldiers. It is at the workplace that the working class has the might to break governments and overthrow bosses. Only the class struggle of the workers and the peasants can solve the land question, and end the suffering and oppression of the workers. Politicians are a bunch of crooks- nowhere is this truer than in Zimbabwe.

WE SALUTE THE ZIMBABWEAN MASSES.