Payn, “NUMSA and the ‘United Front Against Neoliberalism’” (2014)

NUMSA and the ‘United Front Against Neoliberalism’

By Jonathan Payn

Part 1 in a series of four articles on the concept and history of the United Front

This article first appeared in Workers World News

The resolution adopted by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to form a ‘United Front against neoliberalism’ – as well as its decision not to endorse the ANC in the elections – represents an interesting development in the political landscape, one which activists should look at carefully and engage.  Due to the language used by the media, the Left, NUMSA’s critics and even NUMSA itself much confusion surrounds the debate – leaving many questions: Is the ‘United Front’ an organisation or attempt to build a new labour federation or political party? Is it an attempt to revive the 1980s United Democratic Front (UDF)? Why NUMSA’s sudden interest in community struggles?

This series, of which this article is the first, aims to clarify these and other questions by looking at the proposal and history of united fronts locally and internationally to clarify key issues and draw lessons that activists can use when engaging the pros and cons of NUMSA’s United Front proposal and if and how they think it should be developed.

NUMSA: The United Front is a weapon for uniting the working class.

Global capitalist crisis and a stalled revolution

To understand NUMSA’s decision to break with the ANC and SACP, and the potential its call for a united front could offer for building a working class-based alternative to the ANC-led Alliance and its neoliberal policies, activists must contextualise these decisions and unpack what NUMSA understands by the United Front.

NUMSA has noted that, twenty years after the democratic transition, the majority-black working class has not experienced meaningful improvements in its conditions. At the same time, however, a small black elite has become super wealthy. In South Africa NUMSA has noted that the neoliberal restructuring, implemented by the ANC government and supported by its Alliance partners, has been aimed at benefiting the capitalist class and has resulted in the increased dominance of finance capital, in massive job losses and increased poverty and inequality.

‘A weapon for uniting the working class’

NUMSA claims not to see the United Front as a new organisation or party but a mechanism “to mobilise the working class in all their formations into a United Front against neoliberalism”. Whereas NUMSA sees the Alliance as “simply a mechanism for mobilising a vote for the ANC”, it envisions the United Front as a “mobilising tool to organise and coordinate working class struggles”.

The United Front is also not about building a new labour federation as NUMSA is calling on COSATU to join it in breaking with the Alliance and building a new movement. Nor is it an attempt to simply revive the UDF. Rather, it is “a way to join other organisations in action, in the trenches”, through sharing common struggles.

NUMSA says that “better working conditions are inseparable from the working class community struggles for transportation, sanitation, water, electricity and shelter” and that it wants to break down the barriers that exist between worker and community struggles. The two pillars on which its United Front would stand are gaining community support for NUMSA campaigns and building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor wherever and whenever they take place”.

‘NUMSA is part of the community, and NOT the community’

For many community activists the question then is why now, after ignoring community struggles for so long, does NUMSA claim to want to support them? Moreover, why does NUMSA think it should lead this unification process? After all, community activists long ago identified the ANC’s neoliberal character.

Despite the fact that its members come from the communities NUMSA has not supported community struggles in recent years. Yet now it seems NUMSA wants to support community struggles and lead them in building a united front. While it might have a role to play, some community activists feel NUMSA cannot legitimately take the lead in uniting community struggles.

Instead they feel NUMSA should focus on building unity with other unions before approaching communities. Similarly, communities should first work together to unite their own struggles from the bottom up; a process that is already underway in parts of the country.

Only once community struggles are united and coordinated from below, by the activists involved, can they feel confident in uniting community and worker struggles without fear of bigger, more resourced organisations like NUMSA imposing themselves on them.

Conclusion

A good thing about the United Front is that it accommodates ideological differences in order to build the unity of working class formations in struggle. However, Communist Parties have historically engaged in united fronts to create unity in action in struggles against the onslaught of capitalism, but also with the aim of winning over the majority – who mostly (but not exclusively as there were other revolutionary currents) supported reformist social democratic parties – involved in these struggles to their programme and lead as a Party. When engaging the NUMSA United Front proposal, then, it is important to ask whether or not NUMSA also sees the United Front as a tactic to win what it has sometimes unfortunately described as leaderless and unorganised community struggles to its perspectives and to ensure they accept its leadership in struggles.

Community activists across the country have, despite scepticism, responded positively to NUMSA’s call by supporting the 19 March actions against the Youth Wage Subsidy.

Will NUMSA reciprocate by putting its resources and capacity at the service of building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor “wherever and whenever they take place”?

The possibility of NUMSA playing any relevant role in fostering working class unity depends on the answer to this question.

Advertisements

Payn, “United Working Class Action and the Workers’ Council Movement in Germany, 1920-1923” (2014)

United Working Class Action and the Workers’ Council Movement in Germany, 1920-1923

Jonathan Payn

First published in issue 88 of Workers World News

Part 4 in a series of articles on the concept and history of united fronts.

A “revolutionary alternative from below” that was not quite to be but holds pertinent lessons for movements today.

In 1919, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) organised the suppression of workers that, together with soldiers, had overthrown the German imperial government in the 1918-1919 German Revolution and brought an end to the First World War. The SPD restored capitalist and state power but, despite being brutally repressed by the SPD, the German working class continued to struggle against the government until 1923.

Right-wing forces also wanted to oust the SPD-led government, recapture direct state control and reverse the results of the Revolution.

United action against the Kapp Putsch

In March, 1920, right-wing military forces occupied Germany’s capital, Berlin, under the leadership of Wolfgang Kapp and the SPD-led government fled. All left parties, excluding the KPD (German Communist Party), called for a general strike to counter the coup and defend democracy. Soon, the strike had spread across the country.

Continue reading

Payn, “Anti-militarist United Fronts and Italy’s ‘Red week’, 1914” (2014)

Anti-militarist United Fronts and Italy’s “Red Week”, 1914

Jonathan Payn

First published in issue 87 of Workers World News

Part 2 in a series of articles on the concept and history of the United Front.

The United Front tactic – aimed at uniting masses of workers in action and winning Communist leadership for the working class – was adopted as policy by the Communist International (Comintern) in 1921 and will be discussed later in this series. However, there are important examples of working class unity in action which predate Comintern policy and bear relevance to the united fronts discussion. One often-cited example is the united front to defend the gains of the February Revolution from a military coup in Russia in 1917, which will be discussed in the next article in this series.

Before looking at this, however, there is another example of proletarian unity in action – that didn’t seek to win Communist leadership – which warrants attention; that of a revolutionary worker-peasant alliance. This conception of united front action found expression in Italy’s anti-militarist “red blocs” and it is to these that we now turn.

Prelude to Rebellion
In the early 1900s, there was strong worker and peasant opposition to Italian colonialism and military involvement in Eritrea, Abyssinia and Libya, and to the repression of the Italian working class by the state’s armed forces. Continue reading

Payn, “The 1917 Russian Revolution and United Front” (2014)

The 1917 Russian Revolution and United Front

Jonathan Payn

First published in issue 88 of Workers World News

Part 3 in a series of articles on the concept and history of the United Front.

In the October Revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik Party, together with other revolutionaries, overthrew the Provisional Government established in February and – together, initially, with left Social Revolutionaries – seized power. How did the Bolsheviks – a minority just eight months earlier, when the February Revolution overthrew the Tsar and established the Provisional Government – come to power so quickly? How did this small force emerge from relative obscurity to win large sections of the working class to its programme and take power? Herein lies the root and essence of United Front policy in a traditional Marxist sense.

Soviet Democracy and Revolution in February
During the February Revolution, workers, peasants and soldiers spontaneously rose up and seized land and factories throughout Russia establishing workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils – mass democratic organs of working class counter-power. These councils, known as soviets, elected their own delegates and had representatives from different political tendencies from (reformist) Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries to (revolutionary) anarchists and Bolsheviks. Through the soviets workers co-ordinated strikes and other forms of struggle, using them to govern themselves as a class. They were, in effect, united fronts organised from below by the working masses in pursuit of specific demands: food, land, democratic reforms and an end to the war.

In a few short weeks the Tsar, whose family had ruled Russia for generations,

Continue reading

ZACF: Free the Boiketlong 4! Remember and Revive the Militant Tradition of September 3, 1984! (ZACF)

Remember and Revive the Militant Tradition of September 3, 1984! (ZACF)

Free the Boiketlong 4! No more banning orders!

6 September 2017

On 3 September 1984, the Vaal Triangle, which is located southeast of Johannesburg and was part of the industrial heartland of South Africa, exploded into unrest. A general stay-away from work was called, schools were closed, buses and taxis stood idle and militant protest spread across the country. It was the most significant and large-scale rebellion of the black working class since the Soweto Uprising of June, 1976, and signified one of the final nails in the coffin of apartheid and white minority rule.

For the black working class living in the townships across the Vaal Triangle, such as Sharpeville, Sebokeng, Evaton, Bophelong, Boiketlong, Zamdela and others the conditions were very similar to those of today. A slump in the steel industry had led to many workers being retrenched, there were evictions of rent defaulters and bribery, corruption and self-enrichment of local councillors was rife. Councillors’ Continue reading

Hattingh, ” Class war and imperialism in Greece” (2012)

From ZCommunications here

Class war and imperialism in Greece

Hattingh, “Venezuela and the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: Beacon of hope or smoke and mirrors?” (2012)

From ZCommunications here 

Venezuela and the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: Beacon of Hope or Smoke and Mirrors?

by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)

April 23, 2012

Introduction

For many people on the left, within and outside of Southern Africa, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is seen as a beacon of socialist hope in a sea of capitalist despair [1]. The reason why many leftists feel so strongly attached to this project, and promote it as an alternative, is because they have come to view it as a move by the Venezuelan state towards creating a genuine, free form of socialism [2] or at the very least an experiment that profoundly breaks with the tenets of neo-liberalism [3] [4]. Many articles have, therefore, been written lauding the state’s nationalisation of some industries [5], its land distribution programmes [6], and its attempts to supposedly create participatory democracy in workplaces (through co-management and co-operatives) [7] and in communities (through community councils) [8]. Linked to this, a great deal has also been made of the state using some of revenue generated by the Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to roll out social services such as education, subsidised foodstuffs and healthcare [9]. Much ink has, consequently, been spilt arguing that all of these are socialist inspired moves and passionate calls have been made for other states, like the South African state, to adopt Venezuelan style ‘Socialism for the Twenty First Century’ [10].

This article, however, questions the assumption that the Venezuelan state is embarking upon a path to create a truly egalitarian and free socialist society. It will, therefore, be argued that Venezuela is not in a transitional phase to socialism; rather it is a capitalist country where the private sector and important state-owned companies seek to maximise profits. Indeed, it will be argued that while some welfare is handed out by the state, this often sits side by side with other policies that are outright neo-liberal. In order to make the argument that Venezuela cannot be considered as heading in a socialist direction, this article will engage and examine issues around the state’s nationalisation programme, its relations to multinational corporations, its community councils project and its social service programmes. Coupled to this, the nature of the economy will be looked at, including ownership patterns, and it will be critically considered whether or not the relations of production that define capitalism are being transformed into more socialist relations based on direct democracy, mutual aid and self-management in workplaces and communities. In fact, it will be argued, from an anarchist perspective, that unfortunately relations that define class rule and capitalism are not being eroded away by the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’: instead of an egalitarian society arising, it will be considered how and why an elite still exploit and oppress the working class. It will, therefore, be critically considered how and why class rule and capitalism, and even elements of neo-liberal capitalism, in Venezuelan society are not in the process of being eroded away. Far from being a beacon of hope the ‘Bolivarian process’ may be more correctly identified as a case of smoke and mirrors.

The Quagmire of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’s’ Rhetoric

There is no doubt that both the supporters and opponents of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ feel passionately about the figure of Hugo Chavez and place him firmly at the centre of the ‘revolution’. Continue reading