Massacring miners: the ANC, the Provos and the lessons for the struggle in Ireland

by Shan Van Vocht

From Sharpeville 1960 to Marikana 2012: managing capitalism requires brutal repression, regardless of the skin colour of the rulers and the ruled

On August 16, South African police opened fire on striking miners at the Lonmin mine, near Johannesburg.  The police shot dead 34 miners and injured 78 more.  While ANC leader and South African president Joseph Zuma has called for a commission of inquiry and declared a national week of mourning.  Cyril Ramaphosa, once a militant workers’ leader and now a multi-millionaire with shares in the Lonmin mine, has offered to pay for the funerals.  Zuma and Ramaphosa are total hypocrites.  The massacre of these workers is the perfectly logical outcome of the entire course of the ANC since it won the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.  The entire ANC is rotten to the core because its primary commitment is to managing capitalism in South Africa, a course which also has the happy result of enriching a whole layer of ANC bureaucrats and converting them into millionaires.

(For an analysis of this course, see “South Africa’s Non-Revolution”, here. This is a paper from 1999, which lays out the evolution of South African capitalism and the ANC.  See also Patrick Bond’s Elite Transition: from apartheid to neo-liberalism in South Africa, published 2000 and 2005, and on-line here.)

The massacre and the evolution of the ANC is of direct relevance to the Irish struggle for several reasons.  The development of the ANC is similar to that of Fatah in Palestine, the Sandinistas after their removal from power, and the Provos in Ireland.  In each case a dynamic anti-imperialist/national liberation movement has been converted into its opposite.  Fatah manages the Palestinians, at least on the West Bank, on behalf of the Israeli state with an economy of Israeli lives (like the Irish Free State managing things for Britain with an economy of British lives, as Churchill put it at the time).   The FSLN has been converted into a harmless liberal-bourgeois movement whose leadership enriched itself by a  property-grabbing spree before it handed over power to more traditional bourgeois forces following the February 1990 elections.  Back in power since 2006, the FSLN simply manages capitalism.  In Ireland, the Provos help manage the six counties on behalf of the British state whose monarch was recently warmly welcomed to Belfast by Martin McGuinness.

Indeed, when the Adams cabal were secretly negotiating with the Brits and steadily de-republicanising the Provos, they were given a big helping hand by the ANC leadership.  Important ANC figures toured Sinn Fein cumainn arguing in favour of a “political solution” to be achieved through a “peace process” – in essence, an internal settlement in the north – and holding up their “achievements” in South Africa as a model for the Provos.  The ANC’s transition from underground revolutionary movement to party of power was obviously very tempting for the Provo leaders around Adams and even for some of the ranks after many years of armed struggle against the British state and the intense repression of republican areas by the British state.

But the ANC in power has been as ruthlessly anti-working class as the old apartheid regime.  In fact, the gaps between rich and power and poverty levels have, if anything, expanded under ANC rule.  The ANC have certainly been more keen advocates and practitioners of privatisation than the old apartheid regime.  So comfortable was the old Nationalist Party regime with the course followed by the ANC that much of the Nationalist Party switched allegiance to the ANC and the remaining NP rump eventually merged with the ANC in 2004-5, the equivalent of a merger between the Sinners and the DUP!

One of the lessons is therefore that no republicans, least of all socialist-republicans, should have any illusions about the Provo leadership and what their entire organisation represents today.

The second lesson involves the connection between national liberation and socialism.   The ANC, while fighting courageously against apartheid for many years, was never – and never claimed to be – a socialist organisation.  For the ANC, the issue was the fight against apartheid and the specific socio-economic nature of a post-apartheid society was left open.  In reality, all this “openness” did was pave the way for the capture of the ANC by South African capitalism and the big British and American companies that had their tentacles well into the South African economy.  In the absence of an understanding that apartheid was but one specific form (in particular a specific political form) of capitalism and that the core issue was capitalism itself (which could never have taken root in South Africa without apartheid), the ANC simply inherited a capitalist economy which it then began to operate.

This is highly relevant to Ireland because there are still republicans who take no formal, public position on the socio-economic character of a post-partition Ireland.  Given that republicanism has now been in existence for over 220 years, this is really quite extraordinary.  Yet it is the position of whole republican organisations, such as the 32-County Sovereignty Movement.  The issue in Ireland is reduced, essentially, to partition and an agnostic attitude is taken to what kind of economy and society Ireland might have when the national question (narrowly conceived as partition) is solved.  What is more bizarre is that many of the comrades who pout forward this view are actually socialists!!!  (In that light, it’s good to see that the Republican Network for Unity has broken with that approach and declared itself for socialism.)  Being agnostic on the socio-economic nature of a post-partition Ireland is, essentially, adopting the same approach as the ANC and leads in the same direction.  If you’re not arguing, organising and fighting for a socialist outcome, then what you’re organising and fighting for, in practice, is a reworked capitalism, and capitalism is always going to require ruthless action against troublesome workers, just like the ANC cops’ massacre of miners last week.

As Che Guevara put it nearly 50 years ago, “Either socialist revolution or caricature of revolution”.  Whether it’s Ireland in 1922 or South Africa post-1994, the caricature kills, represses and exploits workers.  In Ireland today, to fight for The Republic means fighting for the workers’ and socialist republic.  There is no other path to liberation.

Posted on August 20, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Democratic rights - general, Economy and workers' resistance, General revolutionary history, Internationalism, Irish politics today, Provos - then and now. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What also should be kept in mind is the utterly treacherous role played by the South African Communist Party. They were for many years the dominant political force in the ANC and used that position to ensure the ANC would not be, or evolve towards being, a socialist organisation. Their view was that the ANC (including them within it) would lead the “national-democratic stage” of the revolution, which involved getting rid of apartheid, and then ‘normal’ class society would arrive and the SACP would lead the future struggle for socialism.

    The problem with this old stages theory is that it never gets past the first stage. In order to ensure the first stage, the SACP subordinated itself to the ANC and made sure the militant union movement that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s was tied into the ANC. Maintaining “the alliance” – the special relationship between the ANC, COSATU (the militant union federation) and the CP – became an end in itself, necessitated by the stages theory.

    Of course, once apartheid was ended, the ANC, including the SACP, were left with a capitalist economy and simply began administering it. This ‘actually existing capitalism’, along with the collapse of the SACP’s monstrous model of socialism (the hideous old Soviet bloc), left the SACP sucked into administering the rule of the capitalist class and sections of the CP being incorporated into the new multi-ethnic ruling class. In fact, a chunk of the CP – as in the Soviet bloc – became ardent champions of the free market.

    This also has relevance to Ireland and the generally pernicious role played by the CPI since at least the 1930s. In Republican Congress, for instance, the CPI argued a similar stagist position to the SACP in the ANC. They helped wreck Republican Congress by fighting to maintain it as a purely republican ‘united front’ and opposing the revolutionary position advocated by Nora Connolly and Mick Price, that RC become a political party of socialist-republicanism, fighting not for some vague ‘Republic’ but for a workers’ republic.


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