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International Socialism, Summer 1964

Editorial 3

Boycott South Africa

From International Socialism (1st series), No.17, Summer 1964, pp.2-3.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Following an appeal by the African National Congress, an attempt was made to conduct a consumer’s boycott of South African goods for a year from March 1960. It failed. In 1960 exports from South Africa increased by 3½ per cent, and in 1961 by 6 per cent. This April, at the International Conference on Economic Sanctions Against South Africa held in London and attended by delegates from some fifty countries, another appeal was launched – to officialise the boycott and so make it effective. If ‘swift and total,’ economic sanctions would clearly paralyse the South African economy, while little damage would be incurred elsewhere. Conference agreed that ‘special pressures are essential to get the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and France to change the directions of their policies on the South African question’ and gave as examples, ‘pressures by Commonwealth countries particularly in Africa and Asia’ on Britain, by former colonial territories on France, by the Negro and Civil Rights Movements on the State Department in the United States.

The aims of the Conference are admirable. White South Africa is the last major country in which the rule of Capital rests on racism. Any weakening of the economy is bound to bend and strain apartheid. Utter collapse might well entail a more tolerable form of society for the majority of South Africans. But are the methods adumbrated by Conference likely to succeed?

Conference admitted that ‘the main obstacle to the implementation of such a (boycott) policy ... lies in the fact that the major powers (Britain, the US and France) ... have shown themselves consistently reluctant to do anything that might disturb the status quo in that country.’ It admitted further that Britain ‘because of its economic involvement in South Africa, is unlikely to take the lead in any measure designed to bring about radical changes’; that the present Tory Government is cynically circumventing a recent Security Council resolution on the supply of arms to that country; and that the Labour Party, even out of office, has opposed the use of economic sanctions other than those pertaining to arms (and even here, no mention made of the export of capital and expertise to make them in South Africa, as in the case pf ICI, Vickers and a number of other firms). As a result, Conference found that ‘the position of the United States is in many respects the key to the problem of securing international support for the use of economic sanctions. The influence of the United States at the United Nations is such that it is inconceivable that that body could adopt sanctions without not merely the consent but the active support of the United States ...’ And, at the end of the line, we are left with nothing but pressures to be exerted by the Negro and Civil Rights Movements on the US State Department!

This is not the first time that a sound concept has been made to rest on sand, that a revolutionary movement has mortgaged itself to the Powers That Be. To ask the American Civil Rights Movement to assume the major responsibility for Verwoerd’s defeat before it has even begun to solve its own domestic problems is ludicrous enough; to suppose that any amount of diplomatic pressure, even if it were forthcoming, could constrain the Western Powers to declare economic war on, and unleash a revolutionary upheaval in South Africa, is preposterous. If they were not prepared to do so to discomfort their declared enemy, Russia, at the time of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, or the East German uprising three years previously, they are hardly likely to entertain the idea when it comes to their partner-ally, South Africa.

This is not to say that we should not press for official boycott. On the contrary, apartheid is so widely hated, so notorious for its brutality, that a demand for such a boycott might well become popular, and the Governments that ignore it damned for their inhumanity. But we can do more than that; we can expose these Governments more effectively for the hypocritical, interested parties they are, by organising a world-wide dockers’ boycott of South African trade, a transport boycott of South African shipping and air traffic, a workers’ boycott of materials and goods destined for the country or deriving from it (oil is especially important). It would not be a total boycott – the international labour movement is not powerful or conscious enough for that; it would not have a once-for-all-effect in paralysing the South African economy. But it would be vastly more effective than a chimerical official boycott, even more important in the long run, it would link the struggle to free South Africa from its special bondage with a struggle against its allies the world over, in every port and airfield, and in the largest factories. Freedom in South Africa is a class issue.

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