The EFF and the South African Revolution

Over the weekend of 13-16 December 2014 the Economic Freedom Fighters held their first national congress. The event was attended by more than 2000 delegates, representing more than 500 000 members. This  was an excellent turnout  for a party which is just over one year old!  

The ‘’National Peoples Assembly’’ was held in the Free State city of Mangaung. Despite mischievous (and malicious) reports in the media about ‘’chaos’’ and ‘’revolts’’ during the nominations and elections process for the leading body, the Central Command Team, the overall congress was actually very successful and represents yet a major milestone for the Fighters.

One of the most important moments during the assembly was when the leader, Julius Malema committed the party to socialism:  ‘’Socialism does not do away with personal non-exploitative property. Socialism does away with private property owned by individuals and used to make a profit such as factories and banks. Socialism to us primarily means that we should collectively develop the productive forces and make sure that all people have equal access to economic sustainability and have basic needs’’, he said. This is a welcome outcome and a significant step forward.  


The emergence of the EFF to the left of the ANC is a clear manifestation of the radicalisation taking place in South African society. No other opposition party in the last two decades has made such a sudden and dramatic entrance onto the political arena. But the emergence of the EFF necessitates a closer look at the party and some of its leading policy positions.

The EFF describes itself as a ‘’radical, leftist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement with an internationalist outlook anchored by popular grassroots formations and struggle’’.  It also states that it “draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition and Fanonian schools of thought in their analyses of the state, imperialism, culture and class contradictions in every society.’’ [Note: Frantz Fanon was a radical left-wing writer who had an influence on many anti-imperialist activists throughout the former colonial world, including, in particular, South Africa]

The party bases itself on what it calls seven ‘’non-negotiable cardinal pillars for economic freedom in our lifetime’’, namely: a) Expropriation of South Africa's land without compensation for equal redistribution in use. b) Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation. c) Building state and government capacity, which will lead to the abolishment of tenders. d) Free quality education, healthcare, houses, and sanitation. e) Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor, close the apartheid wage gap and promote rapid career paths for Africans in the workplace. f) Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice in the entire continent. g) Open, accountable, corrupt-free government and society without fear of victimisation by state agencies.

To fully understand the emergence of the EFF and their radical approach and some of their foremost policies, it is first necessary to look at the context in which it had emerged. Only by looking at the process of the class struggle in the previous period, is it possible to fully understand current events and the emergence of such a radical political formation.

A diseased system

Capitalism in South Africa is a thoroughly diseased system and is at a complete impasse. Millions of people suffer the indignity of hunger, not because the country lacks the means to solve unemployment and poverty. On the contrary, South Africa sits on top of some of the biggest mineral deposits in the world. At the same time that the working class and the poor have had to suffer this situation, the capitalists have lined their pockets with trillions of Rands which could wipe out poverty and unemployment forever. To add to this, the crash of 2008 also hit the economy, leading to more than one million job losses. Now officially more than 25 percent of the working age population are unemployed, although the expanded definition puts it at nearly 36 percent.

Life under capitalism is proving to be unbearable to many. This reality is staring millions of workers in the face. Unable to solve the crisis, the bourgeois unloaded the crisis onto the shoulders of the workers. This has led to widespread anger within the working class and youth.

However, the leaders of the  traditional political organisations of the South African masses, the ANC and the SACP, have not reflected this mood. In fact they have been on the opposite side of the barricades at every crucial turn.

The Marikana massacre clearly exposed the real interests of the ANC leadership which is completely intertwined with the bourgeoisie. Here these so called leaders of the liberation movement, in a clearly premeditated act, opened fire on peaceful striking workers. At the same time the rotten and corrupt nature of the Zuma clique is being exposed every day. The Nkandla scandal especially revealed the luxurious lives of the elite, which is in stark contrast to the desperate situation of the majority. The “Communist” leaders are even more rabid and reactionary than their so-called “reformist” counterparts. The masses are furious about the state of things. The organisations which were supposed to lead the struggle against the onslaught of the bourgeois are paralysed, because their leaderships are in fact leading the onslaught themselves.

In this situation the EFF has been the most radical voice against the establishment. No other political organisation has had an approach similar to the EFF. In the trade union field NUMSA has started moving in a similar direction, having broken with the right-wing leadership of the ANC-SACP-COSATU tri-partite alliance.

The EFF has been intervening in every major struggle in the country. From the mines to the townships the EFF leader Julius Malema, has been present taking up the humble demands of the masses. The party has also been fighting for the most radical demands putting forward the important question of the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, as well as calling for a revolution. It has stood up against the corrupt ANC tops and boldly exposed how they hide their corruption behind bureaucratic parliamentarism.

This bold approach and the revolutionary rhetoric has attracted a large layer of the youth and the working class who are looking for a radical solution to their problems.

A correct approach to nationalisation needed

The call for nationalisation was an extremely important development and it connects with the historical traditions of the liberation movement. Unfortunately, the way the EFF leaders pose the question of nationalisation is not always clear or consistent. Is it part of a general programme of struggling for socialism, or is it a means of solving some of the contradictions within the capitalist system? Nationalisation in and of itself, unless it is carried out under democratic workers’ control and management and is part of an overall plan, does not necessarily solve the problems of the working class.

In an interview shortly after the formation of the EFF, party leader Malema defended state ownership in the following way: “The British themselves, when they came out of war, they took over their economy. It was state control. They took it from private capital to state ownership. The Americans now, recently with the global financial crisis, they took it over and intervened and directed how the automobile industries are going to be run by the state.’’

The problem with posing the question in these terms is that it seems to indicate that the kind of nationalisation being envisaged is one that would be compatible with the survival of the capitalism and not aimed at its overthrow. It is true that the bourgeois state has taken over  industries in the past.  After the Second World War, the British Labour Party in government did carry out a programme of nationalisations. It was in fact the only time they actually carried out their programme!

The Bank of England was nationalised in 1946. This was followed by Cable and Wireless being taken over. Then the coal industry was nationalised in 1947, followed by the railways in 1948 and iron and steel in 1949.

The main point, however, is that these nationalised companies were not run by the workers. They were run by boards, or public corporations, as state capitalist companies and to the benefit of the capitalist system as a whole. The fact that such a form of nationalisation was compatible with capitalism, was clearly confirmed when the Conservatives won the election of 1951, and after having opposed nationalisation and having championed private ownership, they did not privatise these industries.

Nationalisation of the coal industry did allow for some concessions being given to the miners, such as paid holidays and an improvement in safety standards. But pay for miners stayed relatively unchanged as the strikes in the coal mining industries during this period indicate.

The capitalists put massive pressure on the Labour leaders to turn nationalisation in their favour, as Ted Grant explains:

‘’And yet the bureaucratic structure of the nationalised industries was introduced by Herbert Morrison and other right-wing [Labour] leaders under the direct pressure of the capitalists and the Tories during the period of the 1945-50 Labour Government. The Labour Party should return to the principles passed by the Labour Party Conferences in 1931 and 1937; that previous owners of nationalised industries should have no further say and that the first change in the public company should be to the wages and conditions of its employees, not to the massive interest payments or compensation to former owners which cripple industries like rail and coal now.’’ (Ted Grant, Workers’ control or workers’ participation?)

The Tories are the traditional party of the British bourgeoisie. It is the party of private enterprise and Margaret Thatcher. Yet, when it came back into government in the 1950’s, it only de-nationalised and de-regulated the road haulage industry. The rest of the industries were kept under state control until the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Why would the traditional party of the bourgeois keep these industries under state control? One of the main reasons was that these nationalisations were vital to support British industry.

The same could be said of the situation in the USA at the outbreak of the 2008 crash. Indeed, between 2008 and 2010 the automobile industry was bailed out by the state. The big three automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler received massive cash injections worth $85 billion from the government and were effectively nationalised. We must also remember that the state also nationalised some of the big investment banks and insurance companies. What was the result? The bailout of the auto sector contributed to the massive US budget deficit as the companies were made “leaner” and ultimately, they were returned to private ownership. In the financial industry, all the bad debt and toxic assets were taken over by the state while the bankers walked away with billions of dollars and big bonuses.

As a direct consequence of this swindling by the bankers and the government, austerity measures have subsequently been forced on the shoulders of the American working class and workers around the world. These examples clearly show that nationalisations in these instances were not carried out in favour of the working class. And later, when the system required it, they were privatised and many of the plants and mines were closed. That is what provoked the powerful almost one-year long miners’ strike in Britain in 1984-85.

Nationalisation and the EFF

The founding manifesto of the EFF which came out in July 2013 calls for “Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.” Marxists wholeheartedly support this correct demand. The economy of South Africa is highly monopolised. It would only be necessary to take over the mines, banks, land, industry and transport to begin the process of building a socialist planned economy.

However, the EFF’s policy on nationalisation does not seem to be firmly set despite being characterized as one of the “seven non-negotiable cardinal pillars” of the programme. There also seems to be some contested views from within the party. This was confirmed by a leading EFF member, Andile Mngxitama when he said:

“The contestation is that the state can have its own interests that are not the interests of the people. The best-case scenario is going to be a blend between state ownership and checking accumulation by the political elite that runs the state and devolving ownership to the communities immediately.”

In another interview, he goes further:

‘’There are two contending ideas. The assumption is that it becomes a people’s state, responsive to the needs of the people. Does the state then become the new capitalists, with the possibility to share more the profits and distribute amongst the people? Or does the state increasingly undermine that same capitalist logic by, first of all, ownership. But then you immediately devolve ownership as part of the socialisation of the means of production into communities. In other words, you reinfence ownership; like the Zimbabwean model of immediately reinforcing ownership. Say you take 60%, you nationalise. This is not a foregone conclusion, this is a proposition on the table. You would have to say 10% to the community where there is a mine, 10% the workers – some would say 15% to the workers, these matters are not yet resolved. The state takes 30%, then you can give private black capital 10 or 5%. You still accept that there is going to be private enterprise contending with state ownership, but you have to reinforce so that there is direct benefit of the community and we don’t depend on the state.’’ (Malema “Decimates” the Left – An Interview with Andile Mngxitama, The Con, 11/10/13)

At the same time, Floyd Shivambu, the commissar for policy development and research and deputy president, gave the following explanation: “We are arguing for a mixed state and community ownership… We want to discontinue private ownership but we’re willing to look at 60% state-owned and 40% private ownership at the initial stage. But private ownership will eventually be phased out.” (EFF straightens out its mines nationalisation policy, Mail&Guardian, 9/10/2013)

(We will expand more on the points raised here later. The point to for now is that the policy seems to be in flux.)

‘’Black industrialists’’

In a recent article in which Shivambu replied to a former chairman of the Free Market Foundation he states:  

“The most reliable approach to creating black industrialists in South Africa is to aggressively pursue a radical industrial expansion programme because the industrial policy action plans pursued by the trade and industry department are very weak.

“The government should develop productive forces, deriving useful lessons from the late industrialisers in east Asia that realised massive industrial expansion after World War 2.” (Floyd Shivambu, Radical change needs radical policy, City Press, 8/10/2014)

The idea here is that the state should own some of the “key sectors” not in order to overthrow Capital, but in order to “create black industrialists.” But this is only a mirror image of what happened when the Nationalist government took over “key companies” like the electricity company ESKOM, the transport company TRANSNET, the telecommunication company TELKOM, the steel company ISCOR and the energy company SASOL. In those instances, the nationalisations were carried out precisely to “create white industrialists.”

This stance is contrary to their position which calls for the “transfer of the economy to the people as a whole”, and the call for the elimination of private ownership, which is indeed a socialist demand.

The task of the South African revolution is the expropriation of the entire bourgeoisie, not to create black capitalists. The problems of housing, water, unemployment, inequality and hunger can begin to be solved only when the capitalists are overthrown. Only by taking over the means of production would it be possible to use them to the benefit of all, not just for a few capitalist fat-cats.

Workers’ control or bureaucratic state control?

The need for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is no quip, nor merely a good idea. It is an objective necessity. The twin barriers that stand in the way of progress of humankind are on the hand the nation state and on the other hand, private ownership of the means of production. Only by placing the means of production under public ownership will humanity free the productive forces from the straight-jacket of private ownership.

A clear example of workers’ control and management is to be seen in the Venezuelan revolution where workers in a number of instances have taken over the running of some of the biggest companies such as INVEVAL, ALCASA, PDVSA and CADAFE and have run them very successfully. For example, after the 2002-2003 bosses’ lockout, the workers of the massive oil company PDVSA took over their installations, broke the sabotage of the managers and ran them on their own.

The programme of the EFF is very explicit in its call for state-ownership of the key sectors of the economy. But the programme is silent on the question of workers’ control.

What is workers’ control? It means precisely what it says: the working class in the factories, the mines and elsewhere in the economy have the right to inspect the books of a company or industry and to check and control exactly what goes in and out of the company, and to hold the management directly accountable. Workers’ control usually occurs during revolutionary situations (especially where the phenomenon of dual power exists) and is an excellent training ground for the workers to learn how to run a planned economy.

As Trotsky explains:

“This leads squarely to the question of the governmental administration of industry; i.e. to the expropriation of the capitalists by a workers' government. Workers' control, in this way, is not a prolonged 'normal condition', like wage scale agreements or social insurance. The control is a transitional measure, under the conditions of the highest tension of the class war and is conceivable only as a bridge to the revolutionary nationalisation of industry."

Why is workers’ control important? Because of the special place the workers occupy in capitalist production. The workers are the creators of all wealth in society. Without them, not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines and not a telephone rings. Only the working class knows exactly the ins and outs of the production process.

In the transitional programme, Trotsky explains:

“Workers no less than capitalists have the right to know the ‘secrets’ of the factory, of the trust, of the whole branch of industry, of the national economy as a whole. First and foremost, banks, heavy industry and centralized transport should be placed under an observation glass. No office holder of the bourgeois state is in a position to carry out this work, no matter with how great authority one would wish to endow him.’

“The immediate tasks of workers’ control should be to explain the debits and credits of society, beginning with individual business undertakings; to determine the actual share of the national income appropriated by individual capitalists and by the exploiters as a whole; to expose the behind-the-scenes deals and swindles of banks and trusts; finally, to reveal to all members of society that unconscionable squandering of human labour which is the result of capitalist anarchy and the naked pursuit of profits.”

There is also another reason. Under capitalism, the market acts a check on production. But in a situation where the market mechanisms are absent, the only way society would know how much of each product it needs, is through the democratic participation of the creators of wealth, namely the workers. Only the workers would know how much of each product is needed and what the best and most efficient way would be to produce it. Under socialism the managers must be subordinate to the workers.  Any attempt to impose this from the top would eventually lead to a layer of bureaucrats standing above society with all the assorted vices that go with this, such as waste, corruption and mismanagement.

The idea of nationalisation is an enormous step forward. But it should be carried out under democratic workers’ control and management. The workers must be in the majority in the structures which would run these industries. The best way to guarantee this is to ensure that one third of the structures should be elected by the unions in the industry, one third by the workers on the shop-floor, and only one third by the workers’ government at national level. This would ensure that the state is subordinate to the workers and serves their interests.

Planned Economy

Under the section “Nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy”, the founding manifesto of the EFF states:

“Nationalised mineral wealth will in effect constitute a very firm basis for the beneficiation of these products in both heavy and light industrial processes in South Africa, which could be left to industrial and manufacturing entrepreneurs, co-operatives and small and medium enterprises, so as to develop the productive forces of the South African economy, which is still reliant on the production of primary commodities. Instead of relying on neoliberal mechanisms to attract industrial and manufacturing investments to South Africa, such as a narrow fiscal stability, and decreased labour costs, the state, in the ownership of mineral wealth and metals, could provide incentives to reduce prices for the primary and raw commodities, which will be industrialised and beneficiated in South Africa.

‘’Minerals and metals beneficiation will constitute a very firm, sustainable and labour-absorptive industrial process, which will feature both import-substituting and export-led industrialisation. Various other areas of an increased, sustainable and labour absorptive industrial process could be explored within a situation where the production of metals and minerals are nationalised for the benefit of all. Industrial and manufacturing entrepreneurs, co-operatives, and small and medium enterprises from outside and inside South Africa could then be allowed to industrialise the South African economy, with guaranteed rights, and regulated through transformation charters which will lead to skills transfer at all levels of corporations' structures. “

The Marxists propose the expropriation of the mines, banks, industry, transport, etc., in other words, the big capitalists. In this process a fundamental feature of the socialist revolution is to win the middle class (what the EFF programme calls “co-operatives and small and medium enterprises”) over to a revolutionary socialist programme. The middle class, especially the lower layers, is also oppressed by big Capital. The lower layers – the small shopkeepers, small peasants, bank clerks, etc. – stand closer to the working class and can be won over, as Alan Woods explains:

“The nationalization of the banks will enable the government to grant small businesses cheap and easy credit. The nationalization of the big fertilizer plants will enable it to sell cheap fertilizer to the peasants. And by eliminating the middlemen and nationalizing the big supermarkets, distribution and transport companies, we can provide the peasants with a guaranteed market and a fair price for their products, while reducing prices to the consumer.

“The nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy is not an act of aggression or revenge but, on the contrary, a necessary means of defence of the revolution. The measures taken by a revolutionary government are not aimed at the property of the workers and peasants or the small proprietors who make up nine-tenths of the population, but only against the one-tenth of the population who have the lion’s share of property in this society.’’ (Where is the Venezuelan Revolution going? A contribution to the discussion on property and the tasks of the revolution, Alan Woods, 29 October 2010).

Although the programme of the EFF correctly calls for nationalisation, it also mentions “industrial and manufacturing entrepreneurs”, (later “black industrialists”) which could then ‘’be allowed to industrialise the South African economy.’’

The first thing that has to be said is that South Africa already has a highly industrialised economy. It is by far the industrial powerhouse of the African economy. It accounts for about 24 percent of Africa’s gross domestic product. The main road and port network is comparable to that of the advanced capitalist countries. Over 45 percent of the African continent’s electricity is generated in South Africa although generating capacity has not kept up with demand. In addition to this, the country has also some of the world’s largest mineral reserves.

It is true that the masses of the workers and poor do not benefit from this wealth. Therefore, the only solution is to take over the commanding heights of the economy and run them under a centralised democratic plan of production and distribution. The task of the South African revolution is certainly not some form of belated capitalist industrial development. If this was possible to the extent that it could solve the main problems facing the masses then the fight for socialism would be meaningless. No, the market system must be abolished and replaced with a socialist planned economy. Then it would be possible to develop the productive forces to unheard-of levels. Only on this basis can all the most pressing problems of the masses like poverty, unemployment and homelessness be solved.

However, this cannot be done by “industrial and manufacturing entrepreneurs”, local or foreign, provided with “’incentives” and “guaranteed rights”. Neither can it be done by “creating industrialists” whether they are black or white.  Marx explained that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class. This revolution must be led, directed and executed by the working class at the head of all the oppressed layers of society.

Import controls or a socialist plan of production?

In the article in the City Press quoted above, Shivambu also talks about import controls, which is a topic that frequently arises on the left, especially at times of crisis in the economy. He writes:

“One of the world’s great political economists (?) Robert Wade, said as early as 1990 that ‘market guidance’ in East Asia in essence happened by: » Redistributing agricultural land in the early post-war period. » Controlling the financial system and making private financial capital subordinate to industrial capital. » Maintaining stability in some of the main economic parameters that affected the viability of long-term investment. » Modulating the impact of foreign competition in the domestic economy and prioritising the use of scarce foreign exchange. » Promoting exports. » Promoting technological acquisition from multinational companies and building a national technology system. » Assisting particular industries and introducing industry-specific policies to prevent industrial decline. None of these critical components exist in South Africa’s industrial policy framework and attempts in this regard are uncoordinated.”

To the issue about “making private financial capital subordinate to industrial capital”, the first point has be: if we are ever going to be in a dominant position where we can dictate to Capital in this manner then why stop there? Why not overthrow their rule and take over the means of production?

In his masterpiece, Imperialism, The highest state of Capitalism, Lenin summarizes imperialism as: The concentration of production and capital developed to such a high stage that it created monopolies which play a decisive role in economic life. The merging of bank capital with industrial capital, and the creation, on the basis of this ‘’financial capital’’, of a ‘’financial oligarchy.’’ The export of capital, which has become extremely important, as distinguished from the export of commodities. The formation of international capitalist monopolies which share the world among themselves. The territorial division of the whole world among the greatest capitalist powers is completed.

From this it is clear that finance and industrial capital are often the same entity (they have “merged”), with finance capital, however, being dominant. This is a natural consequence of the workings of capitalism. Marx explained that free competition will eventually lead to monopolies. Any attempt to restore the dominance of industrial capital over finance capital will be an attempt to turn the wheel of history back more than 100 years, and could only lead to futile attempts to “break up” the monopolies.

Our aim should not be this but to take these monopolies out of the hands of the capitalists, as they have been historically created under capitalism, and place them under public ownership and run them democratically under workers’ control and management for the need of all and not for private profit. Attempts to “guide the market” will only distort the system and thereby create more and more contradictions.

The above quoted article continues to its central point:

“Another important aspect to massive industrial expansion is localisation. As a critical component of this, the state should pass legislation that compels government departments and entities to procure a minimum of 75% of their goods and services locally. This will create jobs and address South Africa’s perennial trade deficit that will cripple its capacity to expand now and in the future.

“The last and perhaps the most important component to industrial expansion is a coherent and dynamic trade policy where the state can impose tariffs on imports and exports. To foster local beneficiation and industrialisation, the trade policy should impose higher duties and taxes on exported raw and semi processed goods and services, and impose higher taxes on imported finished goods and services.”

The idea of imposing import controls sound like an easy fix to the crisis of job losses by “protecting” local industry from cheaper imports and thus supporting exports. However, although the introduction of some import controls could save some industries, this would only be temporary and it would be at the expense of others. Moreover, what would the capitalists in the protected industries do once they are protected from competition and low prices from abroad?

The South African capitalists no longer faced with competition from abroad and seeking to increase their profitability would be free to increase their prices. Meanwhile foreign capitalists would raise the price of the imports of the goods that would be allowed in. This means the workers in general would pay for keeping their jobs by having to buy the goods they need at higher prices, all to the advantage of the capitalists.

There would also be other consequences on a more global scale. The biggest is the commencement of trade wars and retaliatory measures from abroad with disastrous consequences for the South African economy and the working class. Other capitalist countries would not stand idly by and see their exports to South Africa being cut and would therefore impose curbs on imports from South Africa. So while import controls might protect one industry in the short term, they would in the long run be detrimental to employment in other sectors.

This would be the net effect of import controls on a capitalist basis. From a socialist point of view, what is needed is not import controls, but an overall socialist plan of production with a state monopoly of foreign trade. However, in order to execute such a plan, the economy must first be publicly owned and run under democratic control and management of the workers. Production can then be planned in the interest of all. Any attempt under capitalism to cap price increases by the state or to “control” capitalism will lead to all kinds of unforeseen circumstances, including sabotage, as we have seen in the case of Venezuela.

As Marxists have often stressed, “You can’t control what you do not own!” So long as the main economic levers remain within private hands, the capitalist will use this to pressure any “progressive” government to carry out policies that promote profit and not the needs of working people. The only solution to the crisis of unemployment is therefore a socialist programme, which would include such measures as immediately reducing the working week to 35 hours without loss of pay. The work could then be shared out between everyone. The nationalised industries and the banks could be used to raise wages and to massively invest in infrastructure, housing, education, etc., leading to a general improvement in living standards.

“A strong developmental  state’’ or a democratic workers’ state?

The question of the state is very important for Marxists. The state is central to the battle for political power between the oppressor and the oppressed. The point is: what is the state? And what role does it play in the struggle for the emancipation of the workers and the oppressed?

The dominant role of the state in the attainment of “economic freedom” is a single thread that runs through the whole programme of the EFF. But what type of state does it envisage?

One of the 7 “cardinal pillars” of the founding manifesto of the EFF is called “Building state and government capacity, which will lead to the abolishment of tenders.” In this section, the idea of a “strong developmental state” is envisaged:

“For a successful state that seeks to drive real economic and industrial development and provide better services, an inspired, skilled, and well-compensated public service is required. The public service should be strengthened for a sustainable transformation of the economy. The ethos of such a state should be developmental and very strong and, hence, consistent with anti-corruption measures. This is emphasised because the task of fundamental economic transformation requires a strong state with the ability to develop a clear strategic vision, and be able to implement and monitor the progress being made.’’

And further:

“A strong developmental state should necessarily have political power and technical capacity to give developmental mandates to state-owned enterprises (SOE) and private corporations. SOE and private sector compliance with the state's developmental targets should not be voluntary, but a mandatory, crucial factor around which the state should be able to use a carrot-and-stick system to enforce. It can never be correct that the state operates only with the "hope" that the still colonial and foreign-owned, and thus unpatriotic, private sector, in particular, will voluntarily underwrite the developmental agenda and pursue the agenda of job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable development with the same vigour that should define government.”

Lack of clarity on the nature of the bourgeois state leads inevitably to fundamental mistakes. The Marxist view is that the state is a machine for class oppression. In a bourgeois democracy, the state serves the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie. The state came into being with the division of society into classes and will eventually disappear when classes no longer exist.

After the massacre at Marikana in August 2012, this question has occupied renewed attention of many in the workers’ movement. This was a bitter lesson to learn for many. It clearly showed that the state is not under the control of the masses. Rather, it is connected in various ways to the capitalists. Whenever the vital interests of the capitalists are in danger, the state machinery is mobilised in its defence in the name of “the rule of law”. The bourgeoisie is also an international force. Some of the owners of the multinational companies are based in London, Beijing, Frankfurt and New York. Whenever their rule is threatened in any way, they do not hesitate to mobilise the imperialist forces against the South African workers.

The EFF recognise this latter point and correctly concludes that:

“Certainly, the nationalisation of minerals and metals might ignite international condemnation by global imperialists, institutionalised in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and, notably, the World Trade Organisation. A broader mass movement should be mobilised in South Africa in defence of these massive economic reforms, because they constitute the core of our economic emancipation programme. Mass campaigns on what nationalisation (people and state ownership and control) of minerals, metals and other strategic sectors of the economy will entail should be conducted to garner support from the people as a whole.”

This is the way to fight back against attempts to sabotage, undermine and smash the revolution, but what is also required is to spread the revolution to other counties. Unless that is done, then the imperialists will still have the levers in their hands globally to stifle attempts of any progressive South African government to apply policies in defence of the working people.

One of the important lessons of the revolution in Venezuela is that the mobilised masses are the only guarantee of survival for a left government.. It is the primary reason why the Bolivarian Revolution has survived for the time that it has. On a number of occasions when the Bolivarian revolution was under mortal danger, like the coup against Chavez in 2002, and the 2002-2003 bosses’ lockout, the masses and the workers mobilised and ultimately smashed these attempts by the oligarchs and imperialists.

The Bolivarian Revolution has achieved much. There has been widespread reduction in poverty and illiteracy has been abolished. However, the revolution is still under mortal threat. One of the reasons for this is that the revolution has not been complete. A large part of the economy is still in the hands of the oligarchs, who use this to provoke shortages and carry out all sorts of sabotage in an attempt to discredit the Bolivarian government. Another important reason is that the revolution is also being undermined from within by sections of the Bolivarian bureaucracy itself who are holding the revolution back and stopping it from going all the way, in the belief that some kind of compromise with the business world is necessary.

Under certain conditions, where there is an extremely favourable balance of forces between the classes and in the white heat of revolution, it can happen that the ruling class can even lose control over certain sections of the state as has been the case over the last 15 years in Venezuela. However, although the ruling class can lose direct control, the state apparatus remains that of a bourgeois state and within the movement itself there has remained a bureaucracy which acts like a cancer to the revolution, often undermining and sabotaging it from within. Among this layer the oligarchy can find those elements it can use to derail the revolution from within.

Workers’ democracy

The lessons of the character of the state are being learned on a daily basis by the South African masses, not by reading Lenin’s “State and Revolution”, but through their own experience. Whenever the masses engage in struggles to improve their living conditions, they are met with stern resistance from the security forces. The numerous killings at the hands of the police are a case in point. The most graphic example of this was the Marikana massacre.

In “State and Revolution”, Chapter 3, Lenin explains:

“The only ’correction’ Marx thought it necessary to make to the Communist Manifesto he made on the basis of the revolutionary experience of the Paris Commune…  One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that 'the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes'…

“Most characteristically, it is this important correction that has been distorted by the opportunists, and its meaning probably is not known to nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine-hundredths, of the readers of the Communist Manifesto. We shall deal with this distortion more fully farther on, in a chapter devoted specially to distortions. Here it will be sufficient to note that the current, vulgar “interpretation” of Marx's famous statement just quoted is that Marx here allegedly emphasizes the idea of slow development in contradistinction to the seizure of power, and so on.

As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is the case. Marx's idea is that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery", and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.

“On April 12, 1871, i.e., just at the time of the Commune, Marx wrote to Kugelmann:

‘If you look up the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it [Marx's italics--the original is zerbrechen], and this is the precondition for every real people's revolution on the Continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting.’  (The letters of Marx to Kugelmann have appeared in Russian in no less than two editions, one of which I edited and supplied with a preface.)’

“The words, ‘to smash the bureaucratic-military machine’, briefly express the principal lesson of Marxism regarding the tasks of the proletariat during a revolution in relation to the state. And this is the lesson that has been not only completely ignored, but positively distorted by the prevailing, Kautskyite, ‘interpretation’ of Marxism!”

The fundamental point made by Lenin is that the state under capitalism serves the interests of the capitalists. It is not independent in the class struggle. The existing state machinery cannot simply be taken over nor can it be strengthened in the interests of the working class. Instead, it must be dismantled and replaced by a completely different kind of state, namely a workers’ state, or what Marx calls the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Basing themselves on the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, the Bolsheviks in 1917 immediately replaced the Provisional government with the soviet system and based themselves on the four principles of Lenin, namely:

  1. All officials are to be elected and subject to recall at any time;

  2. Salaries of all state officials should not be higher than that of the average wage of a worker;

  3. Abolition of the army and the police. This was replaced by the arming of the masses.

  4. Gradually the running of the state was rotated, or as they call it ‘’when everyone is a bureaucrat, then no-one is a bureaucrat.’’

In contrast to a “strong developmental” state, a workers’ state consists of armed workers. It is an apparatus for the oppression of the bourgeoisie. But since the capitalists are such a tiny minority, a huge bureaucracy which stands above society is not needed. The workers’ state will, in effect be a “semi-state” which is designed in such a way that it will disappear over time, or as Engels calls it “wither away.”

Socialism and nationalism

The radical and fresh approach of the EFF  attracts all kinds of elements to the party, including those who are openly flirting with black nationalism. One of the negative features which could bedevil the struggle for genuine freedom is precisely the poison of nationalism. This was clearly shown in 2008 with the scenes of xenophobic violence where poor black South Africans turned on many poor black people mainly from other African countries, killing many. These heinous acts can be directly attributed to the social conditions experienced by many of the poor. It is also a direct result of the failure of mass organisations of the working class to offer a socialist alternative. The direct consequence was that many saw the source of their plight in the nationality of many foreigners who were also eking out a living on the streets.

This must be a stark warning of the poisonous effects of nationalism. Socialists must be resolutely opposed to all forms of nationalism and racialism, which only serve to divide the working class. It is true that black South Africans have had to bare the brunt of brutal racial oppression. It is equally true that many black people face racial discrimination to this very day. But it is important to understand that all forms of oppression, be it racial, gender or national oppression, has its origins in the division of society into classes. The only way to begin to solve these problems is to change their material roots, unite the working class and fight for socialism.

Socialism is internationalist by its very nature. There cannot be any notion of an ‘’African road to socialism.’’  This is because the capitalist system developed as a global system, as Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto:

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

The world is dominated by multinational companies which have operations all over the world. Capitalist production is an objective process. The worker sells his labour power to the capitalist in return for a wage. In the process of production, the labour power of the worker creates more value than he/she receives back in wages. This surplus value is expropriated by the owner of the means of production, namely the capitalist. This “expropriation” of the surplus value is the source of the exploitation of the working class. It is also the fundamental reason for the struggle of classes. It does not matter if the capitalist or the worker is white or black. The outcome is still the same.

This can clearly be seen in South Africa today. Over the last couple of years some of the most brutal exploitation of the black working class has been happening precisely at the hands of black capitalists such as Cyril Ramaphosa. In fact, Ramaphosa has more shared interests with white and foreign capitalists than he has with black South African workers, as was so tragically but clearly revealed in Marikana. The workers of South Africa have more in common with the workers of other countries than they have with black capitalists. Our aim should not be to “create black industrialists”, but to overthrow the rule of the capitalists altogether – black and white. The best way to do this is to unite the workers of the world under the banner of solidarity and socialism.

A non sectarianism approach needed

Early in August this year, the metal workers’ union, NUMSA hosted a symposium on Left political parties and movements. This was part of the union’s 2013 special congress resolutions to set up structures to unite workers’ and community struggles and to build a movement for socialism.

Parties and movements locally and abroad took part in the symposium, including Evo Morales’ MAS-IPSP of Bolivia. The union was in the process of learning from the experiences of left parties from Latin America and around the world. The EFF was also invited to the symposium, but unfortunately they did not attend, citing two reasons: (1) that NUMSA had not granted them a meeting, and (2) that NUMSA was still at that time part of the ruling alliance through COSATU.

In their statement we read the following:

“EFF is not in the business of saving the ANC or being trapped in the nostalgia of its former self as a liberation movement; the plan is to crush it and do so without any sunset clauses. The EFF is unashamedly in pursuit of a programme to take political power from the ANC led alliance, because they have thus far used such power to protect the interests of the capitalist class.

“Nevertheless, the EFF wishes NUMSA and all international Left forces that will partake in the Symposium a great success with the hope that a truly genuine left program can emerge. As for the EFF, sharing platforms with the ANC and SACP to discuss joint socialist programs will be an indictment against the souls of the 34 Marikana workers for whom justice is still not served.”

We feel that this is not the best way of approaching the question. The first reason given for not attending the symposium was that NUMSA had not yet met with them. But at that stage NUMSA was still going through its internal democratic processes. It did not meet the EFF or any other party or movement at that stage. This, indeed was what the symposium was for, i.e. to meet other parties, share experiences and discuss the way forward.

The second approach given here is equally mistaken. The impression given here was that NUMSA  first had to break with COSATU which in turn is part of the alliance with the ANC. The current issues in COSATU led to the eventual expulsion of NUMSA and a split in the federation is on the cards. But it is no easy matter walking away from hundreds of thousands of workers and leaving them in the hands of their right-wing leaders. All the problems plaguing the federation, including NUMSA’s expulsion, must be placed on the shoulders of the right wing reformist forces inside COSATU. What is important to understand is not organisational independence but political independence, which NUMSA has. Whether inside or outside COSATU, the task remains the same: explain to all workers the the origins of the problems, expose the right wing of the federation, win the workers over to a socialist programme and offer a revolutionary way out.

NUMSA has made some excellent analyses of the current political situation and has put forward some far-reaching proposals for the way forward. Therefore, the charge by the EFF that there is ‘’no clarity, for instance, whether the current differences in COSATU are deeper ideological differences, or political differences’’ is off the mark. NUMSA has categorically defined them as rooted in the class struggle when it stated:

“We have boldly maintained that at the heart of the crisis in COSATU are two opposing forces: the forces of capitalism and the forces of socialism. The capitalist forces within the Federation seek to make workers to understand and tolerate the continuation of white monopoly capitalist domination, by accepting elements of the neoliberal NDP.”

NUMSA is not just any organisation on the fringes of the workers’ movement. It is the country’s biggest union. It represents some of the heavy battalions of the workers’ movement. It is in the process of setting up local, regional and national structures to mobilise and coordinate all the thousands of struggles by workers and communities on a class basis. They have been engaging in attempts to educate their cadres in Marxist theory.  It is also the catalyst behind a Movement for Socialism which is expected to take shape soon. They have come out very strongly against the Marikana killings and have a standing position not to sit idly by in similar circumstances in the future.

As it turned out, the ANC and SACP tops ran a mile from the symposium. This only served to expose them even further.

It was therefore a mistake to dismiss NUMSA in this manner. If such errors are allowed to continue in the future, there would be a real danger of cutting the EFF off from the leading layers of the workers’ movement.

While it is correct to criticise and expose the rotten leadership of the ANC and SACP, it is equally necessary not to see these organisations as one reactionary bloc. There have also been a few unfortunate instances of physical confrontations with members of the ANC YL.  It is a fundamental mistake to confuse the leaders with the ranks of the organisation. There is a big distance between the two. It is necessary to have a correct orientation to the ranks of the movement. The task is to patiently explain the shortcomings of the ANC tops and to develop a clear socialist alternative to the ranks of the tripartite alliance.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote about such matters in the following way:

‘’In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

‘’The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.’’

These words adequately express the Marxist approach to the rest of the workers’ movement. We maintain an absolute independent political stance, making no concessions on principled questions, but we apply the maximum flexibility in how we take these same principled positions to the mass of workers and youth who may have illusions in the present leaders of the organisations they belong to. Our approach is the same of Marx and Lenin: mild in manner, but bold in content!


The objective conditions to mobilise the masses towards socialism have never been more favourable. There is an enormous thirst for Marxist ideas and a genuine desire for revolutionary change. Under capitalism there is no future for the working class and youth. By having a clear perspective for socialism, for taking over the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control and management, the enormous wealth of South African society could be used for the benefit of all and not for the parasitic capitalist class. Under these conditions, the quality of life would improve to unheard of levels. It would be a revolution for genuine liberation, i.e. liberation from this exploitative capitalist system and not just from one form of rule of the bourgeoisie to another.

The EFF leader, Julius Malema has boldly stood up against the status quo and has been willing to disregard the unwritten rules of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and expose the rottenness of the bourgeoisie. For this the masses respect him. However, there is another side to him. His associations with dubious elements and lumpen characters and also his  propensity for the high life, gives him a dual image in the eyes of working people, and also facilitates the ruling class in their offensive against the movement as a whole. This is certainly no small matter and could become a serious problem for the movement in the future.

There has been mass radicalisation of the youth over the last period.  The Economic Freedom Fighters are a clear reflection of this. The workers have shown their willingness to struggle again and again. The leading layers of the working class are on the move. South Africa has indeed one of the strongest working classes in the world with revolutionary traditions second to none and they are very well organised in mass organisations.

What is needed is a mass Marxist cadre organisation which is educated in the genuine ideas, methods and traditions of Marxism. Such a Marxist leadership cannot simply be declared. It must be patiently built up, starting with finding, recruiting and educating the ones and twos.

The task of such a party would be to orientate themselves to the mass of workers wherever they are and patiently explain the alternative to the current situation. It is therefore our duty to develop a clear revolutionary programme which links the everyday struggles of the masses with the aim of winning them to socialism.