Southern Africa and U.S. Workers

Throughout history ruling classes the world over have had no better ally than racism. From South Boston to South Africa, various forms of racial oppression have meant superprofits and privileges for exploiting classes and inhuman suffering for the oppressed.

The struggles now unfolding in southern Africa against the world’s two most notorious racist governments, Ian Smith’s Rhodesia and John Vorster’s South Africa, bring this reality into clear focus. For standing behind these regimes throughout their histories have been not only white settler minorities, but other ruling classes as well—including the U.S. capitalist class—who’ve reaped the benefits of racist exploitation. For this reason alone, it’s important for the workers of the world to stand with the oppressed workers and peasants of these African nations as they wage their difficult fight.

At first glance such unity might appear to be mostly a matter of brotherhood, or even altruism on the part of workers seemingly far removed from the battles. But the reasons for international solidarity become much more concrete when one realizes that the ruling capitalists getting rich off black labor in Johannesburg and Salisbury are the same ones benefiting from racism in New York and Detroit.

Twelve of the top 15 U.S. companies and 55 out of the top 100 have set up shop in South Africa. Since the early 1950s U.S. investments in South Africa have soared from about $50 million to the present sum of $1.5 billion.

Needless to say, these investments have not helped blacks. Denied even the most elemental civil rights, blacks are herded into black townships and desolate “homelands” in South Africa and into tribal lands and “protected villages” in Zimbabwe. Poverty, indecent housing and criminally inadequate health conditions are also behind the rebellion against fascist rule.

The chief beneficiaries of black oppression have been domestic capitalist owners of the land, mines and factories and their imperialist partners. Just as in the United States, racism is used to hold wages of black workers to a bare minimum and to perpetuate these conditions. U.S. corporations have reaped a return on investments in South Africa far exceeding the average profits on similar investments elsewhere, because black workers are paid monthly wages of only $60-$140.

Is it any wonder that in the past nine months, U.S. banks have loaned South Africa nearly $800 million to keep the economy afloat? Or that the U.S. government exchanges military information with the South African government and has provided it with dual purpose equipment, including helicopters, Lear Jets and military transport planes to be used in suppressing black uprisings?

After decades of suffering and scattered resistance, the African masses, encouraged by the defeat of colonialism in Angola and Mozambique, are beginning to stand up. And as U.S. imperialism hears the rumblings from African villages and townships, it has suddenly converted to a new religion—support for majority rule.

American corporations have announced plans to reform. Blacks will supposedly be allowed to eat with whites in corporate lunchrooms and wages for black and white workers doing the same work may be equalized. But reforms won’t change the supremacist system—and U.S. capitalists continue to function as “partners in apartheid” to prop it up.

The U.S. government’s sudden concern for peace in the region is aimed at maintaining these same imperialist interests. As Business Week warned recently, if the guerrilla wars in southern Africa are not cut short, they “will radicalize the political climate throughout the entire region” and limit U.S. investment potential.

For centuries Western colonialism has meant a bloodbath for African peoples. U.S. banter about a “peaceful solution” is motivated solely by a desire to control the outcome.

More accurately reflecting the attitudes of the U.S. ruling class is the government’s reluctance to do anything that might bring the immediate downfall of Smith or Vorster. During the past 25 years the United States and the CIA have toppled any number of governments, installing butchers like the shah of Iran and Chile’s Pinochet when the need arose. Now when African guerrillas begin a struggle so obviously just it can’t be openly opposed, the United States still refuses to throw its full support behind the insurgents. Its counterrevolutionary instincts are too well developed.

The struggle in southern Africa will not put an end to all the oppression in the world or even to all the racism in Africa. But it 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 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.

(Reprinted from the Weekly People, March 26, 1977)

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • •

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