Apartheid and Class Struggle: Comrade Gerald’s Presentation Notes

Our comrade Gerald Smith will be presenting tomorrow, Friday September 7th, 7pm @ La Pena (event sponsored by 2nd Generation La Pena).  He’ll join Zach Levenson in presenting on the current situation in South Africa (see Zach’s piece which was posted a few days ago) and the history of resistance to apartheid and post-apartheid oppression & exploitation.  Here are Gerald’s presentation notes for your study/discussion.

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Apartheid—a system of legislated racial oppression which literally means apartness—grew out of the requirements of British mining interests at the end of the 19th century. After grabbing the land of the indigenous African population (thereby destroying the basis of their agrtcultural and pastoral, pre-capitalist economy) the colonialists consigned them to the role of migrant laborers hired only for short-term contracts and forbidden to settle in the vicinity of their jobs.

This poses a profound contradiction for the South African ruling class. Historically they (and their international investors) have paid only a fraction of the labor costs of their competitors. Their rate of return on invested capital has been proportionally higher—even after deducting the military and administrative costs of running a police state. This differential represents the ‘‘secret’’ of the vitality and dynamism of South African capitalism. The rulers of this bestial system, who have profited from it for generations, are determined to retain their competitive advantage and are adamantly opposed to granting real equality to the black population. But they are deeply divided over how to best protect their privileged position.

A key strategic question black workers in South Africa confront in their struggle for power is the ‘‘white question.’’ In North America ‘‘white supremacy’’ is primarily a form of false consciousness with which the master class deludes white workers into imagining that the racist oppression of blacks is somehow in their interests. In South Africa however, the white population as a whole has substantially benefitted from over a century of white supremacy in a direct material fashion. Whites are the object of considerable generalized hatred by the oppressed black masses. Nonetheless a revolutionary leadership of black workers would seek to ensure that the social polarization which must accompany the struggle for power occurs as much as possible along class lines—not racial or national ones. This is why communists have raised the slogan: Not black against white, but class against class.

The spirit of the 11-day 1984 San Francisco longshore boycott against South African cargo (in solidarity with the struggles of black workers and youth in Botha’s racist hell-hole) was continued on March 10, when twenty-five longshoremen refused to cross a militant picket line set up at Pier 80 in San Francisco. The Campaign Against Apartheid (CAA), a Berkeley-based student group, called for this blockade to prevent the unloading of the Nedlloyd Kembla’s South African cargo. The CAA timed the action at Pier 80 to coincide with a week of international labor protest against apartheid called by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

The development of powerful trade unions rooted in South Africa’s black proletariat is one of the brightest chapters in the recent history of the international working class. Nowhere on earth have workers struggled against more desperate conditions or faced a more powerful, intransigent opponent. In the face of a fiercely racist state, armed to the teeth and supported by the overwhelming bulk of the privileged white population, black workers in the apartheid hell-hole have organized themselves into one of the most powerful trade-union movements in history and wrested a series of concessions from the white rulers. Their struggle has inspired workers and the oppressed around the world.

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