THE TRIUMPHALISM with which the spokespersons of capitalism had greeted the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Stalinism gave way to doubts and pessimism.
The dazzling future held out for the ex-Stalinist states had become a nightmare, particularly for the peoples of the former Soviet Union. By February 1992 it was clear that “price rises and poverty are the bitter fruit of the attempt to introduce capitalism into the former Soviet Union.” (1)
Ninety per cent of Moscow’s and Murmansk’s populations, for instance, were now on the poverty line because of the massive increases in prices in January, 1992.
Food riots and strikes had flared up amongst workers and a big confrontation between students and police took place in Tashkent. This resulted in two dead and many wounded.
Previously privileged layers under Stalinism had been thrown into the abyss of poverty. Workers in the former prestige area of space research, including astronauts, had threatened strike action in late January as economic catastrophe and food shortages gripped large parts of the former USSR.
However, mass opposition, either in the form of strikes or the creation of a separate mass party of the working class, had not yet materialised.
But the situation was so tense that ex-President Gorbachev had warned that Russia was a “lake of petrol”. (2) One accidentally dropped match could ignite an explosion. Why had there not been a mass uprising of the workers of the former USSR? An explanation was to be found in the unprecedented drop in production, comparable only with the USA during the 1929-33 slump. We pointed out:
Neither boom nor slump in and of themselves evoke movements of the working class.
It is the change from one period to another that radicalises working people. Trotsky pointed out that the defeat of the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907 coincided with an economic downswing.
This served merely to deepen the Russian masses’ demoralisation and disappointment. On the other hand, an economic revival, boosting workers’ confidence, led to an upswing in strikes and other forms of struggle.
A sudden collapse in the productive forces, and with it mass unemployment, can stun workers for a period, rather than immediately radicalising them. (3)
In the case of the former Soviet Union this demoralisation was further deepened by the lack of a mass workers’ party capable of explaining the nature of the economic catastrophe and of putting forward a programme to show a way out.
The situation had been compounded by the throwing back of the political consciousness of the working class under Stalinism. However, in opposition to some pseudo-Marxists, we had argued that, despite all the efforts of dictatorships, including the Stalinist variety, society and the working class does not go back to its starting point. The embers of the October revolution remained in the workers’ consciousness, especially in Russia.
These will be fanned into flames, and eventually a roaring fire, once they [the working class] realise that there is no way forward on the basis of capitalism. The masses would draw this conclusion far quicker if they had at their head a workers’ party capable of explaining the process unfolding. (4)
The small forces of genuine Marxism attempted to take this message to as many workers as possible throughout the former Soviet Union. We reported in March 1992:
people from Crimea, Ukraine, Belarus, St Petersburg and Moscow met on the 14 and 15 March to pull together support for Rabochaya Demokratlya (Workers’ Democracy). (5)
The Itar-Tass news agency reported on the meeting as an attempt to organise a “new party”. This was not quite accurate, as the 15 people who were present were hardly the basis for a mass workers’ party.
However, the organisers of the meeting believed that such a mass party could be formed by linking up the various workers’ committees which existed. Those present at the meeting only represented as yet a small movement but nevertheless were quite influential. A representative from Crimea present at the meeting had organised an open-air meeting in the previous week, of 500, on the national question. Reports had begun to appear of
some students complaining about not having access to sources, for example Trotsky’s historic critique of Stalinism. “I’m glad you raised that; look at what I’m working on with my students at the moment!” (6)
explained Valentina Chichkina (vice-president of the philosophy faculty at Lomonosov University, Moscow). The French paper Liberation published a report which stated:
The Revolution Betrayed was published in Russia for the first time last year by Rabochaya Demokrakya. (7)
The opposition to the new emerging capitalist class was growing but was, and is still, quite small.
Uprising in Los Angeles
However, on a world scale capitalism’s New World Order looked more like a new world catastrophe, with riots in America and a huge strike wave convulsing Europe.
The Los Angeles uprising had shattered the complacency of the US ruling class. This revolt was clearly a turning point in American society as anger exploded at racism and racist policing.
The riots were triggered by the acquittal of the policemen responsible for the beating meted out to Rodney King by the notoriously racist Los Angeles Police.
Despite the fact that the police had used 5,000 volt stun guns, had kicked and clubbed King with an estimated total of 56 blows – all caught on video tape – the Los Angeles Police were nevertheless “declared innocent”.
This ignited the anger which had been accumulating in all the major cities of the US. The army of poor, deprived and dispossessed, had grown during Reagan’s 1980s’ boom. The resulting riots were the biggest since the upheavals of the 1960s and left 58 dead, 1,900 injured, 5,200 arrested and a total of 5,000 buildings destroyed.
Three-quarters of the dead were black, many of them shot by the police. Millions of TV viewers, worldwide, were horrified by the attack on a white lorry driver. However, this was not typical. It was one of the very few attacks on whites and four blacks actually stepped in to save him from what appeared to be certain death.
US President Bush hypocritically declared: “The scenes in California and elsewhere are so violent it is hard to watch.” (8)
With the deaths of thousands of Iraqi workers on his hands his administration was clearly responsible for the conditions in Los Angeles, because of the axing of many reforms associated with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
However, the marchers and rioters included whites and Hispanics as well as blacks. In Oakland school students and a number of schools walked out in protest. The racial composition was mixed and the mood for unity strong. In the workplaces, Militant reported:
There was a strong mood for unity. Labor Militant supporters – Militant’s co-thinkers and their paper in the USA – put out a petition condemning the verdict and calling on the local labour movement to organise mass protests. (9)
In its death-agony the apartheid regime was inflicting terrible retribution on the African working class.
Militant detailed the massacres at Boipatong and the counter-revolutionary violence of Inkatha. Following the Boipatong massacre Mandela spoke at a mass rally of 20,000 where he was confronted with placards demanding “Mandela, give us guns!”
At this time the South African socialist Philemon Mauku was imprisoned. Like Nelson Mandela 20 years previously, he was jailed for taking up arms to defend his people.
The 24-year-old Philemon was sentenced to three years’ jail for having two AK47s. He was helping to defend his community in Alexandra township against the continuing attacks by chief Buthelezi’s right-wing Inkatha movement, backed by the police.
Philemon was a member of Congress Militant and had been visited in prison by 22 comrades from Alexandra in the first fortnight after his jailing. He was released in 1994. The Boipatong massacres pushed the ANC into breaking off negotiations with the government. This was an important turning point in the struggle against de Klerk’s disintegrating apartheid regime.
This was followed by an even worse massacre on 7 September, in Bisho the capital of the “state” of Ciskei. 28 people were killed and 200 were wounded. This followed the 70,000 demonstration against Ciskei’s dictator, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo.
The stooge nature of Ciskei was shown by the use of South African troops by de Klerk. Following the Bisho massacre these troops were deployed to protect South African-owned industrial property. The general strikes following the Boipatong and Bisho massacres, together with those which followed the assassination of Chris Hani, an ANC leader most associated with the “armed struggle”, played a decisive role in the phase of “negotiations”.
The purpose of the counter-revolutionary terror, organised by Inkatha and the South African police and army, was to force concessions from the ANC. But, as we pointed out, the work of the counter-revolution only gave a further spur to the movement of the South African workers.
It was this movement which compelled the ANC leadership to stiffen their demands against any white veto. The general strikes had also demonstrated that the working class was the most powerful political force in South Africa. This put its stamp on all future developments. It was this factor that forced the ANC leaders to oppose de Klerk’s demands for a significant white veto in a future coalition government.
In October the first visit to South Africa by some of the British Militant leaders, Lynn Walsh and Tony Saunois, took place. This was to discuss with our co-thinkers, gathered around Congress Militant, and to witness the situation in the country. Tony Saunois, in an eyewitness account, confirmed the overwhelming power of the black working class and the impossibility of the ruling class seeking to govern in the old way. He commented that it was
clear that what is intended is a new constitution, which involves the black population in government but leaves real power with the white ruling class.
The elected assembly will be bound within the limits of an agreed schedule which will be decided before hand. Into this will be written restrictions and limitations…
The ANC leaders are in the process of embracing the ruling class and delivering working-class blacks to capitalism. Though they enjoy massive – but not an unquestioning – support, they are increasingly separating themselves from the working class.
The two general strikes in August – amongst the biggest in South African history – were planned in the headquarters of Liberty Life, one of South Africa’s top ten monopolies. The same company also supplies ANC leaders with a fleet of limousines. (10)
The death agony of apartheid was inflicting a terrible price on the African majority. De Klerk’s careful scheme, of reforms from the top in order to prevent revolution from below, was almost unhinged following the assassination of Chris Hani in April.
Hani was probably only second to Nelson Mandela in popularity amongst the masses. More than any other ANC leader he was regarded in the African townships and villages as a man of the people.
He had become a legendary leader of MK, the armed wing of the ANC. On his return from exile in 1990 he had maintained hes reputation amongst ANC militants, saying at one time that a seizure of power by the African majority could not be ruled out if the government refused to concede to the majority.
He had also warned of the possibility of a workers’ party developing out of the ANC in the future, although he perceived this as a social democratic party rather than as a revolutionary party.
The assassination of Hani, by a crazed Polish immigrant, was obviously instigated by the right as a means of disrupting negotiations aimed at a political settlement. Extreme right-wing figure Derby-Lewis and his wife were indicted as being the organisers of this assassination. Hani’s murder led on Wednesday 14 April to the biggest “stay away” that South Africa had ever seen.
Never before in South Africa’s history had so many people joined mass demonstrations as in the 12 days following Hani’s murder. 100,000 marched in Durban, 80,000 marched through the Inkatha-controlled area known as “Beirut”.
At Chris Hani’s funeral vigil, 100,000 filed into a soccer stadium near Soweto, with thousands more outside. On the day of the funeral over 90 per cent of workers stayed away from work. However, they didn’t stay at home but went onto the streets.
At the mass meeting in the Soweto soccer stadium Nelson Mandela received applause. But when Harry Gwala, the ANC leader from Natal Midlands arrived the whole stadium chanted, “Gwala, Gwala, Gwala”. He had a militant reputation because of his opposition to power sharing.
His defiant speech received greater applause than Mandela’s. An indication of the readiness of workers to embrace the ideas of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC was shown by the sale of more than 500 Congress Militants at demonstrations in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.