The past two weeks the media has been filled with the death of Mandela and the tributes to his life. One radio station even discussed the possibility of sainthood for him but likely would have been hard-pressed to find the two requisite miracles. Leaders from around the world rushed to get in on the photo opportunities and profit from the political clout that came from association with Mandela. Not bad for someone who, until quite recently, was considered a terrorist by the world's powers and would certainly be highlighted as such by today's security agencies.
Mandela was born into the Thembu royal family and attended Fort Hare and Witwatersrand Universities, studying law. He was, then, not typical of the average black inhabiting South Africa. He became involved in fighting against colonialism throughout Africa and particularly the apartheid laws of the ruling, white-dominated South African National Party. He secretly joined the South African Communist Party that was committed to overthrowing their white masters and was not averse to using sabotage methods. Mandela eventually ran afoul of the law and was tried and convicted of conspiracy against the state and jailed where he spent twenty-seven years.
Mandela deserves our respect for his life-long struggle against the injustices perpetrated against the Africans by the colonial powers; for his tenacity in enduring almost three decades in a prison system that would not have been sympathetic; for sticking to his fight and for helping to break the apartheid government and establish a democratic system. He became the first black president of South Africa and the first to be to be there through a democratic election. Socialists see this as a step towards socialism as, theoretically, the possibility of electing a socialist government now exists. The working class of South Africa now has a choice, assuming that socialism gets on the ballot.
Unfortunately, as we look at the state of the poor black in South Africa today, all of the above has not translated into security and wealth for the general population. Indeed, poverty has risen, unemployment is still at least as high, and recently government troops fired on striking miners killing dozens. Socialists contend that governments in a capitalist system must uphold the rights of the capitalist class over those of the working class and this is exactly what the black dominated government of the country did. At Mandela's memorial, current president, Jacob Zuma was roundly booed showing the depth of displeasure at current affairs. Apart from the poverty and unemployment among the masses, Zuma stands accused of failing to address the AIDS problem and of corruption and spending $21 million in renovations to his home. Recently, the largest South African union, The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, withdrew its support of President Zuma's ANC Party.
So what went wrong? Unfortunately, socialism as understood by the World Socialist Movement - a society based on the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth, organized democratically in the interests of all mankind - was not on anyone's agenda. The fight was a narrow one to end the excesses of apartheid and domination by the white ruling class. Of course it would be nice to free the workers from economic poverty, establish proper health, housing standards, and give economic opportunity to all. This is not on the agenda of the capitalist system. Ever vaster sums of wealth must be funneled, through the giant corporations, to the large investors. It is a competitive system that pits corporation against corporation in a never-ending scramble for investment by paying higher returns on investment. Everything else must be sacrificed - quality, health and safety of the workers, the environment - or pay the consequences of going out of business or being taken over by bigger fish. This was not clearly understood by Mandela and his party and once in power they were forced to operate much as any other government does or see economic collapse in their country.
Capital dominates, absolutely. Many other so-called socialist governments have met the same fate after the initial euphoria - Chavez in Venezuela and the Brazilian Workers' Party come to mind. The road to good intentions is paved with the dead bodies of Left Wing governments. In capitalism, they cannot compete with their business- oriented opposition who simply want to do what is best for business and therefore receive all the benefits that money can furnish. Mandela and his successors, then, are doomed to failure because they never had a truly class/socialist consciousness. Rather than fighting the effects of colonialism and apartheid, he and his compatriots should have been fighting for a system change from capitalism to socialism that would have ended not just the two main objects of their efforts, but the domination of capital altogether.
The World Socialist Movement is the only non-capitalist alternative that will, once power is gained, disband the nation state and its central government and devolve power to locally elected councils and, indeed, disband itself as political parties are expressions of class and once common ownership is established, there will not be any classes.
Socialist Party of Canada
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