From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
The apartheid policy of the South African government — with its race laws, its industrial colour bar, its segregation, its overflowing jails and its restrictions on free expression — is a brutal system of oppression of the “non-white” people there and particularly of the African workers and peasants on whose backs the South African capitalist economy largely rests.
Everybody knows (including the South African government who have banned our pamphlets) that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to apartheid. However, our refusal to take part in anti-apartheid activities such as the boycott of goods some years ago and the planned demonstrations against the cricket tour is often misunderstood. So let us explain why we say that Socialism, not anti-apartheid is the way out for the oppressed people of South Africa.
The establishment of a democratic socialist world community based on the common ownership of the world’s resources will mean the emancipation of all mankind. It will end not only the capitalist exploitation of the working class but also all existing oppressions based on colour or language or culture.
Capitalism, the system based on the class ownership of the means of production, paves the way for Socialism by creating a world-wide productive system capable of turning out wealth in abundance. Towards the end of the last century capitalism became the dominant world system and so completed this task of building an economic basis for Socialism. From then on world Socialism was an immediate, practical possibility; capitalism had become a reactionary barrier to man’s further social progress. Some parts of the world, however, though dominated by world capitalism had yet to be absorbed into the system of production for profit and wage labour. These were “the backward countries”.
The question arises: is the coming of capitalism to these countries now in the interest of mankind? The Socialist Party says it is not. Before capitalism became the dominant world system it did play a progressive role in breaking-up pre-capitalist societies — a step towards creating an economic basis for Socialism. But once capitalism had come to dominate the world it had no progressive role to play anywhere, not even in the backward countries. The modernisation of these countries is certainly desirable but this can now take place within the framework of Socialism. There is no longer any need for them to pass through the capitalist stage of social development; they can skip this and, along with the already industrialised parts of the world, go straight into Socialism.
Let us now apply this analysis to South Africa.
Apartheid is essentially a pre-capitalist form of oppression; it is an attempt to impose the colour patterns of a frontier farming community onto a modern industrial economy. It will never work properly because what the government is trying to separate the economy keeps bringing together. The mines and factories of South Africa depend on African labour so Africans are attracted into the towns. Apartheid may never work but the attempt to make it do so brings untold suffering since it is partly because it does not make economic sense that it has to be imposed by police state methods.
The big capitalists of South Africa, as exemplified by gold magnate Harry Oppenheimer, are opposed to apartheid; so are the international corporations with capital invested there. Capitalism’s tendency, through the world market for its goods and the labour market for its workers, is to reduce all previous distinctions based on birth or language or colour or religion to one economic one: that between owners and non-owners of the means of production. Ideally — and this comes near to reality in this age of big corporations where the prejudices of individual capitalists do not matter — the capitalist employer is only interested in the quality of a worker’s ability-to-work and is not concerned with his skin colour or his views; he wants to be free to employ those he considers would be the most profitable for him. The free labour market by throwing together workers of all kinds of backgrounds allows him to do this.
South Africa's big capitalists want to encourage this tendency of capitalism so that they can make more profits on the basis of a modern wages system and a stable, integrated urban working class. They recognise apartheid as an obstacle to this and oppose it. Anti-apartheid serves their interests. It is not in the interest of the oppressed people of South Africa since its achievement would mean the final triumph of international capitalism over its backward-looking opponents there.
Those who are merely anti-apartheid and who urge us to join in their latest single-issue campaign about this should ask themselves just whose dirty work they arc doing. Are they really helping the oppressed people of South Africa or are they merely furthering the interests of the capitalists there whose profit-making is being restricted by apartheid? The unpleasant fact is that the overthrow of the National Party government in South Africa and the end of its apartheid policy would mean that political power would pass into the hands more friendly to capitalist magnates like Oppenheimer. This would be so under an African nationalist government (as it is in Zambia or Ghana, for instance) as much as under a United Party or Progressive Party government. The biggest part of the South African working class would be freed from oppression on grounds of colour, but they would still be propertyless and still have to work for wages on the farms, down the mines and in the factories. They would become subject to the straightforward capitalist exploitation the workers of Britain have long known.
Anti-apartheid, then, is not the way out for the oppressed people of South Africa; Socialism is as it will free them from capitalist exploitation as well. To treat opposition to apartheid as a separate issue to Socialism is to become an unwitting tool of international capitalism.
The Socialist Party for other reasons (the dangers of reformism) does not support single-issue protest campaigns in any way event, but, as we have tried to explain, anti-apartheid is not what it seems. We are afraid that thousands of sincere people genuinely appalled at racism in South Africa are going to further the demand of international capitalism for freedom to exploit all workers in South Africa irrespective of colour. We are not prepared to be used in this way and shall not be joining in the demonstrations.
Our advice to those who like us are opposed to apartheid, but who arc thinking of demonstrating is this: Think before you act. Do not let your perfectly justifiable distaste for racism lead you to “do something” that, when you think carefully about it. will not really achieve what you want. Consider whether your efforts would not be more fruitfully employed in working with us for a socialist world community where racism would have no place. In the meantime racist policies will be undermined to the extent that socialist ideas spread.