Friday, September 21, 2012

the South African capitalist state

Extract and adaptation of an article by the anarchist group Zabalaza.

"The ongoing violence of the state at Marikana, therefore, lays bare the true nature of the state; and the role it plays in protecting the ruling class (made up of capitalists and high ranking state officials).  For capitalism to function, and for class rule to be maintained, a state is vital. It is central to protecting and maintaining the very material basis on which the power of the elite is derived. Without a state, which claims a monopoly on violence within a given territory, an elite could not rule nor could it claim or hold onto the ownership of wealth and the means of production. In fact, the state as an entity is the defender of the class system and a centralised body that necessarily concentrates power in the hands of the ruling classes; in both respects, it is the means through which a minority rules a majority. Through its executive, legislative, judiciary, military and policing arms the state always protects the minority ownership of property (whether private or state-owned property), and tries to squash any threat posed to the continuing exploitation and oppression of the working class. As Marikana and other protests and strikes show that includes shooting rubber bullets, tear gassing people, raiding houses, arresting people, threatening people, humiliating people, torturing people, and even killing those that pose a threat.

The post-apartheid state in South Africa has played an instrumental role in maintaining the situation whereby poorly paid black workers remain the basis of the massive profits of the mining companies, including Lonmin. In South Africa, black workers have historically been subjected to national oppression; and this has meant that they were systematically turned into a source of extremely cheap labour and subjected to institutionalised racism. The history of very cheap black labour enabled white capitalists – traditionally centred around the mining houses – to make huge profits, and it is on this basis that they became very wealthy. The post-apartheid state has continued to protect and entrench this situation; it has maintained an entire legal and policing system that is aimed at protecting the wealth and property of companies, like Lonmin, from the black working class in South Africa.

Since 1994 the entire working class has fallen deeper into poverty, including sections of the white working class, as inequality has grown between the ruling class and working class as a whole. It has, however, been the black working class that has been worst affected.  While it is clear that the black working class remains nationally oppressed, the situation for the small black elite, nevertheless, is very different. Some, through their high positions in the state, and hence having control over the means of coercion and administration, have joined the old white capitalists in the ruling class. Others, have also joined the ruling class, but through the route of Black Economic Empowerment. This can be seen in the fact that all of the top ANC linked black families – the Mandelas, Thambos, Ramaposas, Zumas, Moosas etc. – have shares in or sit on the boards of the largest companies in South Africa, including the platinum mining companies. In fact, Ramaphosa not only owns shares in, and is on the board of, Lonmin; but a number of functions at Marikana and other platinum are outsourced to various companies he has interests in, like Minorex. He too has shares in the largest platinum mine in the world, Modikwa, through African Rainbow Minerals. The wealth and power of this black section of the ruling class in South Africa too rests on the exploitation of the working class as a whole, but mostly and specifically on the exploitation and national oppression of the black working class. Hence, this is the reason why the black section of the ruling class and the state its members are part of has been so willing to take action – whether during platinum strikes, Marikana, other strikes in general – against the black working class.

The anarchist Bakunin wrote that due to the centralised nature of states, only a few can rule: a majority of people can never be involved in decision making under a state system. As a result, he stated that if the national liberation struggle was carried out with “ambitious intent to set up a powerful state”, or if “it is carried out without the people and must therefore depend for success on a privileged class” it would become a “retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement”. He also noted that when former liberation heroes enter into the state, because of its top down structure, they become rulers and get used to the privileges their new positions carry, and they come to “no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people”.   Former liberation heroes in South Africa rule in their own interests, they wallow in the privileges of their positions, they have joined white capitalists in the ruling class, and they exploit and oppress the vast majority of the people in the country.

The state cannot simply rule by force alone – force is ultimately the last pillar upon which its power rests – but for its own stability and that of capital, it also tries to rule through consent. To do so, it pretends to be a benefactor of all; while in reality facilitating, entrenching and perpetrating exploitation and oppression. Certainly, most states today do have laws protecting basic rights, and some provide welfare – including the South African state. Such laws and welfare, however, have been won through massive struggles by the oppressed, and that should not be forgotten; states simply did not hand out these rights. But even where such laws exist, and sometimes they exist only paper, the state tries to make propaganda mileage out of them.  The anarchist Malatesta argued that the state: “cannot maintain itself for long without hiding its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it cannot impose respect for the lives of the privileged people if it does not appear to demand respect for human life, it cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all”. As struggles go forward it is important that the working class is not duped by the duplicity.

 The state and bosses have stolen from the working class, and it high time the working class got some of this back. A fight must be taken to the state and corporations, and the working class must mobilise to have its demands met. As part of this, we must, however, have no illusions about what the state is; who it is controlled by; who it protects; and what its function is. As such, the working class must mobilise outside of and against the state and force it to give back what has been stolen, but it should not have illusions in doing so that the state protects workers or the unemployed.

It is vital for the future of working class struggles that mineworkers and at Marikana win their demands. If they do, it could rejuvenate workers struggles across the country, which have been on the decline since the late 1980s. In fact, workers need to win better wages and safer working conditions. In the long run though, and if inequality and injustice are to be ended, the working class needs to take power and run society through its own structures. This means confronting the state, which is not theirs. This too means abandoning faith in the state to nationalise companies, which would essentially mean ownership by a state bureaucracy; not the working class. Indeed, calling for nationalisation builds illusions in a higher power: the state; and it does not show faith in, or build the power of, the working class itself. The state is not a lesser evil to capitalists; rather they are part and parcel of the same system."

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