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(en) ZABALAZA: A JOURNAL OF SOUTHERN AFRICAN REVOLUTIONARY ANARCHISM - No. 13 - Whose State is it; and What is its Role? by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)

Date Sun, 24 Feb 2013 14:55:22 +0200

The South African state’s oppression of the ongoing wildcat strikes, including at Marikana, is clearly deepening. Over the last few weeks troops were deployed in the platinum belt in what was a barefaced bid by the state to stop the protests by striking workers, and essentially force them back to work. As part of this, residents at the informal settlement at Marikana, and those surrounding Amplats, have been subjected to a renewed assault by the police. Many residents in the process were shot with rubber bullets; their homes were raided; they were threatened; and tear gas, at times, lay over these settlements like a chemical fog. In practice, a curfew has also been put in place and anyone gathering in a group on the streets has been pounced upon by the men in blue. Threats have also emerged from the Cabinet that a crackdown on any ‘trouble-makers’, that are supposedly inciting workers to continue to strike, is going to happen.

New arrests have also taken place at Marikana and even workers who are witnesses in the state’s Commission of Inquiry into the events at Lonmin have been arrested and harassed. A number of strikers at Amplats too have been killed or injured by the police.

Many left groups, amongst them the Demo-
cratic Left Front (DLF), have rightfully con-
demned this violence and the accompanying
threats that have been made by the state.
They have highlighted how the state is pro-
tecting investors in the platinum belt, and
they have lamented how the ANC government
is acting in a similar way to the apartheid
government. While we should be disgusted by
the actions of the state, it would, however, be
a mistake to be surprised by them.

The reality is that no state is truly demo-
cratic, including the one headed by the ANC.
Even in a parliamentary system, most high
ranking state officials, including generals, di-
rector-generals, police commissioners, state
legal advisors, judges and magistrates, are
never elected by the people. Most of their de-
cisions, policies and actions will never be
known by the vast majority of people – the top
down structure of the state ensures this.
Linked to this, parliamentarians make and
pass laws; not the mass of people. In fact, par-
liamentarians are in no way truly accountable
to voters (except for 5 minutes every 5 years).

“...no state is
truly democratic,
including the one
headed by the
ANC. Even in a
system, most
high ranking
state officials, in-
cluding generals,
police commis-
sioners, state
legal advisors,
judges and mag-
istrates, are
never elected by
the people.”

“The outright
and ongoing
violence of the
state in the
platinum sector,
on other
mines and at
therefore, lays
bare the true
nature of the
state; and the
role it plays in
protecting the
ruling class.”

They are not mandated nor are they
recallable. They – along with permanent state
bureaucrats - have power; not the people. As
such, no state, including the ANC headed one,
is participatory; but rather designed to ensure
and carry out minority rule. Likewise, the
state’s main function is not to protect work-
ers, but to ensure rule over them. While the
anarchist Mikhail Bakunin rightfully pointed
out that it is better to live under a parliamen-
tary system than a pure dictatorship, because
it allows for some rights, he also pointed out
that all states are inherently oppressive to-
wards the working class (workers and the un-

The outright and ongoing violence of the
state in the platinum sector, on other mines
and at Marikana, therefore, lays bare the true
nature of the state; and the role it plays in
protecting the ruling class (made up of capi-
talists and high ranking state officials). It is
not a regrettable accident that the state has
been protecting the mines of huge corpora-
tions, like Lonmin and Amplats, and that it
has been willing to use such violence to do so.
The state’s, including the ANC headed one,
main function is to further and protect the in-
terests of the elite and their continued class
rule. 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 rests and 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 nec-
essarily concentrates power in the hands of
the ruling classes; in both respects, it is the
means through which a minority rules a ma-
jority. Through its executive, legislative, judi-
ciary, military and policing arms the state
always protects the minority ownership of
property (whether private or state-owned
property), and tries to undermine, crush or co-
opt any threat posed to the continuing ex-
ploitation and oppression of the working
class. As the wildcat strikes on the mines
show that includes shooting rubber bullets,
tear gassing people, raiding houses, arresting
people, threatening people, humiliating peo-
ple, torturing people, and even killing those
that the state and capital deem as posing a

The post-apartheid state in South Africa too
has played an instrumental role in maintain-
ing the situation whereby poorly paid black
workers remain the basis of the massive prof-
its of the mining companies, including
Lonmin and Amplats. 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 in-
stitutionalised 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 main-
tained an entire legal and policing system
that is aimed at protecting the wealth and
property of companies, like Lonmin, and pre-
vent the working class – and specifically the
majority of black people who make up the
bulk of the working class – from their rightful
access to this wealth and property in South

State managers, who comprise a section of
the ruling class, based on their control of the
means of coercion, administration and some-
times production, also have their own reasons
for wanting to protect the minority ownership
of property: because their own privileged po-
sitions rest on exploitation and oppression.
This is why the post-apartheid state in South
Africa has been so willing to protect compa-
nies like Lonmin: the pay checks of high rank-
ing state officials, mostly tied to the ANC,
depend on it. The lifestyles of people like
Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale, Pravin Gord-
han, Trevor Manuel and rest of their cohorts
in the Cabinet, therefore, is based on the con-
tinued exploitation of the working class, and
the black section in particular. These state of-
ficials are consequently parasites that live off
the back of workers - workers who have
created all wealth in society!

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 af-
fected. This is because the state has imple-
mented extreme policies, in the form of
neo-liberalism, to help capitalists increase
their profits even further. While it is clear
that the black working class remains nation-
ally oppressed, the situation for the small
black elite, nevertheless, is very different.
Some, through their high positions in the
state 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, Sisulus, Thambos,
Ramaposas, Zumas, Moosas etc. – have
shares in or sit on the boards of the largest
companies in South Africa, including 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 compa-
nies he has interests in. Patrice Motsepe too
has shares in the largest platinum mine in
the world, Modikwa, through African Rain-
bow Minerals. The wealth and power of this
black section of the rul-
ing class in South
Africa too rests on the
exploitation of the
working class as a
whole, but mostly and
specifically on the
exploitation and
continued national op-
pression 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, or other
strikes in general –
against the black work-
ing class.

Bakunin foresaw the
possibility of such a sit-
uation arising in cases where supposed
national liberation was based on capturing
state power. Bakunin said that the “statist
path” was “entirely ruinous for the great
masses of the people” because it did not abol-
ish class power but simply changed the make-
up and faces of the ruling class. Due to the
centralised nature of states, only a few can
rule: a majority of people can never be in-
volved in decision making under a state sys-
tem. Consequently, 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 peo-
ple and must therefore depend for success on
a privileged class" it would become a "retro-
gressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary
movement”. He also noted that when former
liberation fighters or activists enter into the
state, because of its top down structure, they
become rulers and get used to the privileges
their new positions entail, and they come to
“no longer represent the people but them-
selves and their own pretensions to govern the
people”. History has proven his insights to be
accurate, former liberation activists in South
Africa rule in their own interests and that of
their class: they have joined white capitalists
in the ruling class; they enjoy the opulent
lifestyles their positions carry; they flaunt
their wealth; and they exploit and oppress the
vast majority of the people in the country, in-
cluding in the mining sector.

The state we must also, nevertheless, re-
alise can’t simply rule by force alone – force is
in the end the central pillar upon which its
power rests – but for its
own stability and that
of capital, it also tries
to rule through consent
and co-option. To do so,
it pretends to be a
benefactor of all; while
in reality facilitating,
entrenching and perpe-
and oppression. Cer-
tainly, most states
today do have laws pro-
tecting basic rights,
and some provide wel-
fare – including the
South African state.
Such laws and welfare,
however, have been
won through massive
struggles by the op-
pressed and exploited,
and that should never
be forgotten; states
simply did not grant
these rights without a fight. But even where
such laws exist, and sometimes they exist only
paper, the state tries to make propaganda out
of them. It is this duplicity that led the anar-
chist Errico Malatesta to argue that the state:
“cannot maintain itself for long without hid-
ing its true nature behind a pretence of gen-
eral 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, including in the mining sector, it is
important that the working class is not duped
by the duplicity.

Certainly we must raise demands from the
parasitic state and bosses. The state and
bosses have stolen from the working class,
and it is 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.

“The state ...
can’t simply rule
by force alone –
force is in the
end the central
pillar upon
which its power
rests – but for its
own stability
and that of capi-
tal, it also tries
to rule through
consent and co-
option. To do so,
it pretends to be
a benefactor of
all; while in real-
ity facilitating,
entrenching and
exploitation and

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.

"Workers need...
to use struggles
for reforms, such
as winning
higher wages, to
build towards
seizing the land,
mines, factories
and other
themselves so
that they can
run them
through worker
for the benefit
of everyone in

It is vital for the future of working class
struggles that mineworkers in South Africa
win their demands. If they do, it could re-in-
vigorate workers struggles across the country,
which have been on a relative decline since
the late 1980s. In fact, workers need to win
better wages and safer working conditions;
and they – as the DLF pointed out – need to
protect the right to strike. 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 struc-
tures. This means confronting the state,
which is not theirs. This too means abandon-
ing faith in the state to nationalise compa-
nies, which would mean ownership and
control by a state bureaucracy; not the work-
ing 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. Workers
need, and Marikana highlights this, to use
struggles for reforms, such as winning higher
wages, to build towards seizing the land,
mines, factories and other workplaces
themselves so that they can run them through
worker self-management for the benefit of
everyone in society. Only when the working
class has done this, and runs society through
its own structures and not a state, will the
power of the ruling class, the power of its
violent state, and inequality be broken,
smashed and ended.

Central to this too has to be the ending of
the national oppression, and accompanying
racism, that the black working class is sub-
jected to. Until this is ended, true freedom
and equality for both the black and white
working class will not be achieved. As has
long been pointed out by anarchist-
communists, however, if a just, free and equal
society is to be achieved the means and the
ends in struggle have to be as similar as pos-
sible. Hence, if we want a future that is gen-
uinely equal and non-racist, our struggle to
end the national oppression of the black work-
ing class, and the accompanying capitalism
and racism in South Africa, must be based
firmly on the ideals of non-racialism. Only
once racism, injustice and inequality – along
with the state and capitalist system that
generate and feed into these evils - have
ended will the Marikana massacres and other
killings in the name of profit and cheap
labour be part of history.
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