A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Capitalism and Apartheid

The struggles of long-oppressed people in southern Africa against imperialism and racism have captured attention throughout the world. And while those struggles have spread to many parts of the vast African continent, nowhere are the forces and issues more compressed than in the racist fortress of South Africa.

No American worker can look to South Africa without noting that U.S. capitalism stands side by side with the most reactionary forces in that benighted country. Far from being a "neutral observer" or a harbinger of social reform, the United States is a leading prop of apartheid.

U.S. Stake in South Africa

Over 350 U.S. firms have investments in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion in the South African economy. In addition, U.S. banks have underwritten South Africa's apartheid policy with some $5 billion in loans. And U.S. firms have sold South Africa "nonmilitary" items such as telecommunications hardware, computers, helicopters, arms, ammunition, etc., much of which supplements the arsenal of oppression and suppression that South Africa's state apparatus employs in its systematic enforcement of its apartheid policy.

To put it bluntly, apartheid in South Africa has long had the tacit approval and overt material support of U.S. capitalism. And it continues to have such support and approval despite hypocritical official statements that apartheid is "evil" and "totally repugnant" to the United States.

For many years—including the years of the Carter administration—the official U.S. argument was that massive U.S. capital investments in South Africa would have a "reforming" impact on its apartheid policy. As then President Carter once put it: "I think our American businessman can be a constructive force for achieving racial justice in South Africa."

Carter probably knew better. By the time he came to office, the historic evidence was overwhelmingly to the contrary. For example, during the period from 1960 to 1975, U.S. investments in South Africa mushroomed from $280 million to over $1.6 billion. That same period saw the most ruthless consolidation of South Africa's apartheid system and the steadily worsening impoverishment of the black population.

Class rule has never been more than superficially concerned with tolerance, morality, equality or justice. But few ruling classes have succeeded in establishing for so long as complete and inexorable an apparatus of police-state control, brutal repression and vicious exploitation as South Africa's apartheid.

A Police State

To maintain such a racist order requires constant surveillance and repeated acts to ruthlessly crush any effort to challenge apartheid or the social system—capitalism—upon which it rests. Accordingly, South Africa has erected one of the world's most repressive state machines. That machine not only serves to protect and maintain the privileges and wealth of the white ruling class, it also ensures the cheapest possible labor supply for both domestic capitalists and foreign multinationals.

Under the prevailing internal passport system, all blacks must carry racial identification passes. They are barred from entering "white only" areas except to work. They are herded into barren "homelands" where women, children and surplus workers are forced to eke out a pitiful existence. Since 1960, 3.5 million blacks have been forcibly moved into designated tribal homelands. Some 8 million blacks have been stripped of South African citizenship by classifying them citizens of the homelands. In the past year alone, 160,000 blacks were arrested for acts against the pass laws.

Strikes by black workers are outlawed and they are barred from entering skilled jobs. Black workers' wages of only $60 to $140 a month enable U.S. firms to reap profits well above the world average.

Little wonder the U.S. capitalist class (and its political agents) stand firmly behind the racist South African government. They have reaped—and continue to reap—the benefits of racist exploitation.

Class Basis of Racist Oppression

The U.S. capitalists getting rich off black labor in Johannesburg and Salisbury are the same ones benefiting from racism in New York and Detroit. For this reason alone, it is important that U.S. workers stand with the oppressed workers of South Africa as they wage their difficult fight. It is not merely a matter of morality, or of altruism, or of humaneness; it is a matter of fundamental common interests—life-and-death interests.

Despite the jailing, torture and murder of blacks by South African police, protests continue to grow. In fact, as the forces of repression are augmented and officially sanctioned brutality is intensified, the resistance heightens. As one black observed while unrest 25 or so years ago was "almost sporadic," today "unrest is endemic."

Though there is a sizable black proletariat in South Africa, the current struggles against apartheid have not taken on any distinct proletarian character. Nor does it aim at the capitalist system that sustains apartheid. Today, all forces are being mobilized for a basically national struggle against the white regime and its apartheid apparatus. As the struggle develops, however, class divisions will take on added importance. To the degree that working-class interests become predominant, to that extent the possibility will open up for transforming capitalist property relations as well as race relations.

The U.S. ruling class can be expected to do everything in its power to prevent this outcome. It is motivated, of course, by a concern to maintain its investments, access to raw materials, communications networks and control of vital shipping lanes around the Cape of Africa. Moreover, its counterrevolutionary instincts and interests are too well developed to permit it to do anything that would undermine the South African regime.

Socialist Internationalism

However, many U.S. workers and students do see the basic justice of the struggle against racial oppression as well as the fact that U.S. corporations are profiting from inhuman suffering. Many of those workers and students are expressing their opposition to apartheid and their solidarity with the South African struggle through protests and demonstrations.

Those protests and demonstrations offer the potential for building a mass movement that could politicize millions of workers throughout the country and awaken them not only to the realities of U.S. imperialism, but to the realities of capitalist society. Socialists working within the antiapartheid movement can widen its horizons and draw attention to the common class nature of the oppressors of workers in both South Africa and the United States. It can make the connection between imperialism abroad and capitalism at home, raise the banner of international proletarian solidarity, and expound the socialist road to freedom and security.

The struggle in South Africa will not put an end to all the oppression in the world. But that struggle is part of an international class struggle which, as Socialists, we believe must culminate in the overthrow of capitalism in the industrialized countries and the establishment of a world socialist order. Until that struggle is won, the system of class rule and the racism it breeds will remain international—so, too, must the resistance and solidarity of the workers of the world.



Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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