What the hell happened in South Africa?

One of the places from which the Adams leadership drew inspiration (if that’s the word for it) in the 1990s was the ANC leadership in South Africa and the course they were taking.  One of the signs for me of how deep the rot went, and how even what had been pretty left comrades were being caught up in it, came after an anti-extradition conference at Powers Hotel in Dublin.  A few people were sitting around in the bar, including Pat McGeown.  We were talking about the state of the Movement and Pat started talking about how we needed to be more “mainstream” and how great the ANC had done in mainstreaming itself (“mainstreaming” was in the process of becoming a buzz word in leadership circles at the time).  Since I understood that he was one of the main people involved in writing Questions of History just a few years earlier, I was gobsmacked.  It was an indication that there just wasn’t a lot of point in sticking around for the further political degeneration of the Movement, as it was so evident what the ANC was doing and how the smart money in South Africa (and the smart western imperialists) were now fully with the ANC and it was being converted from a radical national liberation movement into the new management for South African Capitalism Ltd (and the global capital that was invested there too).

Some years later, ANC personnel were actually toured around by the Sinn Fein leaders in order to drum up cumainn support for the course the leadership were taking in relation to the Good Friday Agreement and the ‘peace process’.  Among them was Cyril Ramaphosa.  On a later personal visit to NZ, the comrade who had been Cork Sinn Fein organiser told me that he’d told head office that Ramaphosa was one of the biggest sell-outs of them all and wasn’t going to stepping across the door of the Cork party office.

In 1999, a few years after I’d returned to New Zealand, I was involved in researching and writing a paper on the ANC and capital accumulation in South Africa.  I’ve been meaning to get it up on the internet for years but just never got round to it until a few days ago.  It’s up on the Redline blog, here.  It looks at the evolution of the ANC in the context of the requirements of South African capital and how original capital accumulation in South Africa originally required apartheid but the subsequent evolution of capitalism rendered apartheid obsolete – a process which was made more acute by the rebellion of the black masses – and these paved the way for a rapprochement between the white ruling class and the ANC leadership.

One of my interests that had been developing for several years before this paper was written was the way in which forms of oppression which once seemed set in stone were actually no longer so.  Changes that a decade or two earlier were unimaginable – ie within the context of capitalism – were being brought about.  It reinforced for me that the only non-negotiable social relation under capitalism is the capital/wage-labour relation.  Everything else can be quite dramatically reformed.  As Marx had noted as early as the Communist Manifesto, under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air”.  A lot of us had forgotten that side of the system as we focused almost exclusively on its tendency to crisis and breakdown and on struggles against oppression that we had thought inherently challenged capitalism.  (They didn’t!)

Looking at what happened in South Africa in terms of the connection of capitalism with apartheid and how that connection was actually broken, so the political system of apartheid went but the economic system of capitalism remained is very instructive for understanding what happened to the Provos and the changes in the six-county state.



Posted on July 11, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Internationalism, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Social conditions, Toadyism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on What the hell happened in South Africa?.

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