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International Socialism, Winter 1963/4


Editorial 3

South Africa


From International Socialism, No.15, Winter 1963/4, p.4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As events in South Africa move towards greater and greater oppression and nearer and nearer to crisis so it becomes more and more necessary that we be clear about the issues involved. On no issue can the real villains be more easily seen, on none is political woolly-mindedness and sheer hypocrisy more evident. Readers of this journal do not need to be reminded of the oppression of the non-white peoples that has now degenerated into racialist tyranny. Sharpeville, the Sabotage Act, the Bantustan fraud, the Boycott are part of our common political experiences. But there is more to it than that.

The two major developments recently have been the almost unanimous call for sanctions and the growth of underground, often violent, resistance within the Republic. Both raise fundamentally important questions. The call for sanctions was a logical development of the Boycott. But there is even less hope of success here than with the earlier campaign. It is difficult to know just which countries trade with South Africa as much of the trade goes by devious routes. One instance is the maize going at cheap rates to ‘Red’ China. The Chinese government claims to have no trade links with the Republic but the maize seems to get there nonetheless. East Germany too seems to trade, and Czech sporting guns (allegedly pre-war) have turned up in the hands of white farmers. Neutralist Mexico buys maize and many Afro-Asian states are only now stopping trade. The major offenders, of course, are the Western bloc, especially Britain, which takes 40 per cent of South Africa’s overseas trade.

Any attempt to cut off trade by Britain would necessitate a major reshaping of the economy. Even on arms the Labour Party’s cautious pledges are an indication of the importance of this trade to our economy. It is estimated that effective sanctions would, for instance, deprive Southampton of 80 per cent of its trade. But even this is not capitalism’s major interest. There is over £800 millions of British, some £200 millions of American and £300 millions of West European capital invested in South Africa, and cooperation between the South African government, local capital and foreign capital continues in many forms.

There is of course another side to it. Far-seeing capitalists here are now thinking in terms of sanctions in preparation for continued prosperity when freedom comes to South Africa, but they are a small minority. No ‘practicable’ government in this country would or could take the action against capital implied by effective sanctions.

This is further heightened by the nature of South African society. White capitalism depends for its prosperity on the low wages of the non-white proletariat. ‘One man, one vote’ is seen by capital to imply a radical reshaping of the economy. Because it is in many ways an industrial country, freedom in the Republic, more than anywhere else in Africa, has socialist overtones.

Here it is that the new resistance movements have their significance. Outstripping their middle-class leadership they are more and more dependent on non-white workers in the locations and, to some extent, the peasants in the reserves. As oppression increases the future will be more and more in their hands. In the first issue of this journal we stressed the need to choose between the African working class and ‘the up and coming minions of capital.’ Now in South Africa the choice may be made for us. This does not mean that we stop marching, protesting and boycotting. It does mean that we know who the real enemy is and that the struggle of the oppressed in South Africa must be made one with the class struggle in the industrial countries. If South Africa’s workers want sanctions, let it be by dockers’ boycott.

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