20 July 2009
Ben Turok - long-standing member of the South African Communist Party, ANC
most senior member of the National Assembly and author of an autobiography
titled Nothing But the Truth - has published an article on ANC nationalisation policy which provides no clue
whatsoever on government intentions in relation to statisation of the mining industry, but which does make one thing
clear: the 54-year-old clause in the Freedom Charter relating to nationalising the mines was provided to the ANC by
the Communist Party.
Here Turok writes, "As the author of the economic clause of the Charter in 1955, I suppose I have a responsibility to
comment." So he should know.
Turok confirms in this article that current delirium among ANC members about nationalising the mines is a
regression to the delusions of the Stalin epoch, for which he himself is more than somewhat nostalgic. (This is
despite the fact that a recent lavish book of photographs collected by David King, Red Star over Russia: A Visual
History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin, Tate Publishing, London, 2009, contains the following
on page 272: KGB mugshots of eight doomed men, one of which carries the caption: "Iosif Turok. Bolshevik Party
member since 1918. A director of Sverdlovsk Railroad [a nationalised industry - PT]. Arrested in 1936 as a 'wrecker'.
Sentenced to death and shot on February 1, 1937"). So it goes.
The role of Stalinists in the drafting of the Freedom Charter is confirmed also by the veteran American scholar,
Sheridan Johns, in a recent paper, "Invisible resurrection: the recreation of a communist party in South Africa in the
1950's", published in African Studies Quarterly (Fall, 2007). As Johns writes in this valuable account:
"Many white CPSA members, after the formation of the white Congress of Democrats (COD) in 1953, took prominent
positions in the COD nationally and locally. Rusty Bernstein [one of these Communist Party members - PT] found
himself the COD representative on a national working committee to prepare for the Congress of the People. 'As the
only regular writer on the Committee', he was drafted to write the national call for the Congress. He then
subsequently drafted the Freedom Charter that was adopted with few changes by the Congress of the People at
Kliptown in June, 1955."
This establishes that the nationalisation programme of the ANC was a product of its growing Stalinisation by the
A good deal of current jargonising about nationalising the mines might well be emotionally and politically stimulating,
but it is intellectually nebulous. There is no engagement with any point arising in the real world, such as raised in my
article "Notes on nationalisation" Politicsweb, 13 July, (see article). But that is the point!
A basic approach in this current discourse in the ANC is stikingly similar to that of the Pan Africanist Congress in the
late 1950s and early 1960s: "izwe lethu" (our country), or "umhlaba wethu" (our soil). In the last resort, it is a racial
aspiration, and like all discourse of this kind it is fundamentally mystical (as with Blut und Boden, blood and soil, in
Germany in the 1930s and 1940s). A racial possession of a certain territory, and a racial dispossession, is being
sought, in abstraction from a whole sum of realities to which the ANC and the SACP of the late 1980s and early
1990s gave close attention in the transition period.
The 91-year-old former President Nelson Mandela is now possessed by the new dominant grouping in the
ANC/SACP as a kind of trophy icon. It nevertheless rubbishes the conditions set by Mandela himself, with Joe
Slovo and Thabo Mbeki, as architects of the basic groundwork for the transition period. To that extent, a "new"
SACP/ANC is now in government, with a very different agenda and modus operandi from the "old". It castigates the
character of the previous 15 years of government as if this had been exercised by a traitor clique that had
duplicitously usurped authority over black people, and the ANC, as "Uncle Toms" owing allegiance to white,
It sees economic power in the world and in South Africa as continuing to belong to whites, and it sees itself as part of
a substantially non-white and in many ways anti-white global alliance aiming to reverse this state of affairs. The
Obama presidency in the United States does not in any way modify this outlook, which represents a kind of Third
Worldism aiming to become the new First Worldism. A good deal of its enthusiasm for Hugo Chavez and Evo
Morales in Latin America has this source, as does its effective continuing support for the regime of Robert Mugabe in
neighbouring Zimbabwe, despite its immense cost to South Africa in any ordinary terms.
The point about the "old" SACP/ANC of Slovo and Mbeki is that it looked decisively to a basically white, European
state - Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union - as the great power counterposed against the United States, with
apartheid South Africa seen as the creature of the US (and historically, prior to that, of Britain). The downfall of the
Soviet Union during the Reagan presidency required that this mindset be modified. This was done. By its very
nature, the subsequent realignment of SACP/ANC policy, which resulted in the present Constitution, took place
when the US rode supreme, with their own former protagonist lying completely prostrate on the floor.
I think we can see now that a fundamental shift in orientation and dynamic took place within the ANC at Polokwane
in December 2007. This took place even before the financial crash of 2008 which put the United States and the
world into a global capitalist depression comparable to that of the 1930s. This global economic crash, with its relative
weakening of US capital, and the discredit it inflicts on capitalism as the paradigm economic system which the Slovo-
Mbeki leadership of the SACP/ANC found itself compelled to recognise 20 years ago, has now spurred on a
millenarian, racialised anti-capitalism in the "new" SACP/ANC.
This ideological and political grouping is in any case very different from the exile leadership of the 1960-1990 period
and its subsequent assumption of office as government. The leaders of that period are now generally either dead or
were removed from office in the ANC at Polokwane. Jacob Zuma is one of the very few survivors from that period,
but he was in any case an insignificant figure in the creation of policy over that former period. The "exile" leadership
is substantially no more, and the current leaders are to a high degree drawn from a younger grouping of "inziles" or
lower level operatives from abroad.
This removal of the Mbeki grouping from office in the ANC requires far more research and analysis than it has
received so far. Something extraordinary took place within the ANC as a parliamentary party. A former dominant
grouping in an overwhelmingly dominant political party secured 40 percent of the party vote for its candidate for party
president, and then effectively received nil representation for itself on the party executive. Within a year of the party
congress, this former dominant grouping in the party and in the country - the kings and princes of government -
effectively became a zero, as if its leaders and members had all of a sudden become .... non-people.
This argues that the ANC is only a slightly parliamentary party. Such sudden and total eclipse of all representatives
of a former dominant standpoint within a major party is unheard of in a mature parliamentary democracy such as
Britain, or the United States, or the countries of north-western Europe. If one excludes the violent fate that tended to
meet the members of a defeated faction in the Soviet Union, such as Iosif Turok, the fate of the Mbeki grouping has
a good deal in common with the overnight transformation of illustrious struggle heroes into "enemies of the people"
and "class traitors" in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and afterwards. The almost total, overnight evacuation of the
ANC by its former dominant grouping, which then followed - evacuation of a party that had been the great mother to
many of them for 40 or 50 years, many of them in exile - was extraordinary.
This argues that it is not helpful to regard the ANC as a primarily parliamentary party. The party list system,
enshrined in the Electoral Law created in secret at the last minute in 1994 by the ANC and the former National Party,
does in any case transform the National Assembly into a creature of the ANC National Executive Committee sitting
in Luthuli House, since its MPs function as a collectivist bloc of voting cattle. They are dependent for a lifetime's
income, pension and preferment on their servile obedience, and removable in a nanosecond at the say-so of Luthuli
Under these circumstances, depite all constitutional forms, the Parliament in South Africa is not really a Parliament,
and the ANC is not really a parliamentary party. A continuing ethos of the ruling party of a totalitarian state pervades
it, as the majoritarian ruling party in the state. This would be so, even if an explicitly pro-totalitarian party - the SACP
- were not embedded within the ANC, as it is, right up to the level of the NEC, and the Cabinet. It is no joke when the
secretary-general of the ANC is the chairman of the Communist Party, and the secretary-general of the Communist
Party is in the Cabinet. A whole string of countries in Eastern Europe became Communist overnight after World War
Two with even less pressure from within....
This helps to explain why every significant measure of the new leadership of the ANC since Polokwane, and of the
government under President Jacob Zuma, tends towards the strengthening of more Soviet-type conditions in South
Africa. These were, after all, the ideal conditions of government that were taught and learned within the ANC in its 30
years of exile, and before.
In any case, the history of the ANC of the past half-century is not one of a "broad church". One failed grouping after
another in the ANC was extruded out of it, then marginalised and crushed. These included the Africanists of the late
1950s who went on to form the Pan Africanist Congress, the so-called "Gang of Eight" in exile in the mid-1970s
(which clearly came together in response to the rise of Black Consciousness within South Africa) and the prodemocracy
movement within Umkhonto weSizwe in exile in the mid- to late-1980s, which ended up in Quatro prison
camp, or dead.
The crushing of the Mbeki grouping, and its seeking of a refuge for itself in its formation of the opposition Congress
of the People (Cope), followed this pattern of the utter extirpation within the ANC of what its main leadership came to
regard as a hostile and a dissident faction.
It is clear that this is how the ANC now regards its once dominant, and now defeated, former leaders. It has identified
the defining line of differentiation between the two tendencies as economic. Its key focus is on the year of currency
crash, 1996, when Mbeki autocratically pushed through his Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme
(GEAR), in the hands of his new Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, in place of the statist Reconstruction and
Development Plan (RDP) favoured by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and a probably majority of
economic Stalinists and even Keynesians within the ANC.
It is now possible to see the period of stable macroeconomic policy of ANC government between 1996 and 2009 as
the principal target of current majority groupings within the ANC and its so-called Tripartite Alliance (the only
"alliance" in history between a big body, the ANC, and a smaller body buried inside it, the SACP). The line of division
is between a defeated group that acknowledged the reality of world capitalist economy as the determining condition
for economic welfare in South Africa (GEAR) and a triumphant insurgency aiming to set in place a Soviet- or Cubantype
Apparat of top-down bureaucratic Diktat, with all its bygone jargon about planning, redistribution, reconstruction,
the workers, etc. etc.
The reality is that among exile leaders, the study of capitalism through a reading of Marx was abysmal. (Recognition
of the realities of the transition period by the Slovo-Mbeki-Mandela grouping was purely pragmatic). With the new
leadership there is no reading of Marx whatsoever. Bar one or two individuals, its theoretical grounding in any kinds
of economics is vacuous. Not even from Marx is there any understanding of capitalist economy, apart from a few
In this sense, the "new" SACP/ANC is a "no-nuthin'" party which prides itself on ignorance, and which relies on a
species of hyped-up populism appealing to poverty, distress and ignorance, not different from that of ZANU-PF
under Mugabe, or any Latin American Caudillo. It is difficult to see how this now dominant grouping would respond, if
it too came to be seen as no different in its effect for the mass of black poor as the "old" ANC of the Mbeki period.
There is one new factor which needs to be explored, the factor of China. Given its decades-long umbilical link to the
Soviet Union, the "old" SACP/ANC turned its back on China in the mid 1960s following the outbreak of the Sino-
Soviet split, as this initially developed between Mao Zedong in Beijing and Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow. The PAC
then received backing from Beijing, though this amounted to nothing in practice: by 1990 the PAC was a
mere memory of the vigorous current it once was in the early 1960s.
Within the Communist Party and the ANC in South Africa, the victory of the Communist Party and the Red Army
under Mao Zedong in China in 1949 had been received with exhilaration. This was proof of the coming victory of
socialism world-wide, and the toppling of world imperialism. Mandela's political mentor, colleague and confidant,
Walter Sisulu (1912-2003), visited China in 1953. The ANC leader, former president of the African Mine Workers'
Union and Central Committee member of the SACP, "Uncle" JB Marks, was later sent to Beijing as official
representative, though withdrawn in 1964 as a consequence of the Sino-Soviet split.
More important, two of Mandela's and Sisulu's colleagues sentenced to life imprisonment with them in the Rivonia
Trial of 1963-64, and a total of four of their fellow prisoners on Robben Island, including the first commander of
Umkhonto we Sizwe, the trade unionist and Communist Party veteran Raymond Mhlaba, had only two years
previously had discussions with Mao Zedong himself at a military training camp at Nanjing in China about the
suitability of South Africa for guerrilla warfare.
In this discussion, Mao had confined himself to asking his six South African interlocutors a series of penetrating
questions about the class character of the society, the nature of its terrain and the degree and quality of the military
experience of the potential insurrectionary forces (it was in fact almost zero). He specifically warned the South
Africans against uncritically copying the Chinese experience, and suggested that the experience of the FLN in
Algeria against the French might be a more appropriate guide.
None of this came to light in the Rivonia Trial, or in any subsequent major trial. This was so, even though one of the
principal witnesses against Mhlaba, Mandela, Sisulu and their colleagues in that trial - Patrick Mthembu, later
assassinated by Umkhonto we Sizwe - had been one of the six members of Umkhonto present at that discussion
with Mao. (Mthembu appears to have kept silent to the Security Police about their training in China, though this did
become known to them within a few years).
With the sharp turn away from China after 1964, and given the solidly realistic appraisal of the military capacity of the
South African state by such a leading Umkhonto strategist as Joe Slovo, Chinese military experience then played
very little if any role in the ANC. For the Mbeki grouping at the head of the ANC, and later of ANC government, up to
its defeat at Polokwane in 2007, China then more or less fell outside the radar in any meaningful way.
It would not seem out of place, however, if China were now to be viewed within the "new" SACP/ANC as the rising
world power in this more racialised and de-Sovietised climate, while the United States were to be seen as
substantially weakened and in historic decline.
Firstly, an ongoing theme of hostility to the United States does preserve a unity with one of the primary themes within
the "old" SACP/ANC from the exile period, articulated as it was then on admiration for and support from the Soviet
Union. A very sharp anti-Americanism is noticeable in the acerbic reply by Dr Z Pallo Jordan (elected to a foremost
position in the "new" National Executive Committee of the ANC at Polokwane, though not restored to government by
the Zuma presidency), in his recent response to his former friend and colleague, Moeletsi Mbeki, younger brother of
Thabo, deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs and a leading representative of the
post-1990 black capitalist elite.
This interchange appears to carry a substantial and significant sub-text, relating to perspectives for ANC policy at the
level of government towards the United States, and deserves careful study. It may well contain also coded
references to an ideological war between supporters of GEAR (Mbeki) and RDP (statist, anti-Mbeki) factions,
currently at loggerheads over future government economic policy.
Secondly, there has already been speculation that China may have been one source of the spectacular funding for
the ANC in its election campaign this year. More investigation is needed on this subject, if at all possible.
If this is proved to have been the case, it would then beg a series of questions, among them: what is the quid pro
Might the "new" SACP/ANC contemplate the extrusion of the present "white" US, British and European capital
engaged in mining in South Africa, in return for a significant Chinese presence, as in Zambia and other African
At what point might the present millenarian populism surrounding the issue of nationalisation of the mining industry in
South Africa not locate for itself a sheet anchor in the prospect of another "pragmatic" deal, in this case with China?
It would not be unreasonable to imagine that in the present over-heated ideological climate in the SACP/ANC there
is a good deal of admiration for China as a possible model for South Africa, with its combination of totalitarian oneparty
statist politics, powerful military forces and tightly governed capitalist enterprises. This would at least provide
an alternative model to the somewhat too "western" ethos excoriated by Pallo Jordan in his exceptionally sharp
attack on the perspective on US-South African relations as advocated by Moeletsi Mbeki.
Such policy alternatives may well be still inchoate and inadequately thought through in the councils of the SACP, the
ANC and their affiliated organisations, but it would be surprising if alternatives such as these were not being
considered, even if only at the back of the mind.
That said, there is no evidence so far that "nationalisation" measures on the part the Zuma government might extend
any further for the time being than to provide feather-bedding for a new tranche, the also-rans of the previous
dispensation. So far there are no signs of disquiet from the Anglo American colossus. A dismantling of the mining
cash cow would make no sense in terms of state revenues, and its many and varied dependents.
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