A Marxist critique of the Freedom Charter

The first fundamental flaw of the Freedom Charter is that it is based on the assumption that in the current period there can be a purely national development of capitalism. Anglo American, Liberty Life, Sanlam, Rembrandt and Old Mutual control the overwhelming bulk of the SA economy. All these monopolies operating in South Africa are themselves controlled by big capital from the imperialist centres. For example, the biggest operating monopoly, Anglo American was set up in 1921 with major shareholding by the US bank, JP Morgan. These same banks, along with other imperialist banks, have major shareholdings in the SA Reserve bank, in effect controlling it. The development of capitalism in South Africa is thus determined by imperialist finance capital. Of this major feature, the Freedom Charter is silent. This means that the Freedom Charter does not envisage a struggle against the control by imperialism. If imperialist control is not going to be challenged, then it follows that the ‘nationalisation clauses’ of the Freedom Charter are a cover for a section of the black middle class to become junior capitalist partners of imperialism in South Africa. Thus the intention was to nationalise much like the Zambian government nationalised the copper mines, still having to pay compensation to Anglo American, and still having ultimate control in the hands of imperialism. This was a partnership of a section of the Zambian middle class with imperialism.

Imperialism has reduced South Africa to a cheap labour area, which provides primarily raw materials to the imperialist centres. Imperialism has suppressed the development of a local capitalist and middle classes. It follows that the Freedom Charter does not envisage challenging these features, ie that the section of the black middle class represented by the ANC cannot even act in the interest of the entire middle class, let alone the working class in South Africa.

Imperialism has set up a world wide division of labour and thus there can be no question of a national development of capitalism. The division of the world among the imperialists shows that ‘nationalism’ is a spent force and is outdated. To think of a national development of capitalism is to attempt to step back in world developments. On the other hand, the existing world division of labour means that the achievement of Socialism can only take place on an international scale. An individual workers’ state would always have to face the problem of inadequate resources and inadequate technology. This does not mean that if the conditions were right that the working class should not seize power – it merely shows the relation between workers taking power on national terrain and the international tasks that are necessary for the development on Socialism. This means that when workers seize power on national terrain, that it has to be supported by the working class taking power in one or more of the imperialist centres, in order for the development towards Socialism to take place. If this does not happen, then the world pressures of capitalism-imperialism will eventually lead to the collapse of the workers’ state. The collapse of the USSR and of the East European states is ample evidence of this.

The programme of the Freedom Charter is thus consistent with the Stalinist conception of a 2 stage-revolution in the colonial countries, ie that first there should be a period of national capitalism, followed at some undated period in the future of a period of national socialism (in reality, the socialist stage is never reached). The CPSA was banned in 1950 and re-formed as the SACP in 1953, which meant that they, in their ideological perspective of building the ANC to lead the first stage of the ‘national democratic revolution’, would have played a leading role in the mobilisation for, and more crucially in how the final Freedom Charter would look like. This is supported by the SACP programme, adopted in 1989 (The Path to Power) which states: “In South African conditions this meant, above all, playing a leading role in building the national liberation movement.” As the SACP’s perspective was for a period of national capitalism for the next stage of the struggle in South Africa, it follows that they would have promoted the idea of the Freedom Charter as a capitalist document and for the development of capitalism on a national scale. This is also supported by the 1989 SACP programme which states: “The main aims of the national democratic revolution are outlined in the Freedom Charter.” In the absence of challenging imperialism the Freedom Charter is not a document for the liberation of the masses, but a document which limits, holds back and diverts the SA working class from Socialism. This is because, without challenging imperialism, the Freedom Charter is actually a programme for the co-option of a section of the black middle class as their junior partners.

The line of dividing the struggle for Socialism into a ‘national democratic revolution’ followed by a stage for ‘socialism in one country’ is drawn from international Stalinism. The Communist International under Stalin directed the Chinese Communist Party to enter the nationalist Kuomintang in the 1920’s, abandoning the fight for working class power. The struggle was diverted to form a bloc with the local middle and capitalist classes, against the colonial power. The Chinese Communist party was directed to build the Kuomintang. When the Kuomintang came to power they turned their guns and massacred many Communists. Despite these disastrous consequences, the Stalinised Communist International exported this alliance of Communists with non-proletarian forces as a means to achieving the demands of the democratic revolution to all corners of the globe, including South Africa. Of this opportunist alliance, Lenin wrote in April 1917:

Whoever talks now only of a ‘revolutionary –democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is lagging behind life. He has by that very fact gone over to the bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle. Him we must put away in the archives of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary curiosities (you might call them the archives of the ‘old Bolsheviks’).”

In other words, Lenin was saying that even where the working class in the minority, the aim should still be the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only means of completing the democratic revolution.

The capitalist nature of the Freedom Charter

In its preamble the Freedom Charter commits itself to the establishment of a ‘democratic state’. The very notion of a ‘democratic state’ implies a capitalist state. This is supported by Lenin in his State and Revolution, when he wrote:

A democratic republic is the best possible shell for capitalism, and therefore, once capital has gained control (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co) of this very best shell, it establishes power so firmly that no change, either of persons, or institutions, or parties in the bourgeois republic can shake it.”

What follows from the above statement by Lenin is that no change of leadership of the ANC (Zuma or Mbeki) or parliamentary change of parties can lead to Socialism. The only way towards Socialism has to be through a socialist revolution by the working class taking power. The SACP contradicts Lenin on this notion of democracy: “”¦ South African Communists consider the achievement of the aims of the Charter will answer the pressing and immediate needs of the people and lay the indispensable basis for the advance to socialism” (The Path to Power). The Freedom Charter aims for democracy is nothing else but an aim for capitalist wage slavery to continue. This is further supported by the Freedom Charter not including in its aims the abolishing of class divisions. This means that the existing capitalist relations will continue, ie a working class will continue to exist and will still be exploited. The capitalist class may change in that a section of the black middle class may join it as the junior partners (imperialism will not be challenged). In the land clause, restriction on racial ownership of land is proposed to be ended, but not land ownership itself. Thus again, on the land, a section of the black middle class will become junior capitalist landowners as the bulk of the land is in the hands of imperialism. The vague notion of ‘the people’ is used when describing the ‘nationalisation’ clauses of the Freedom Charter. As there is no intention to abolish classes, the ‘people’ is made up of all classes, the capitalists, the middle classes and the working class. In the absence of challenging imperialism, the establishment of a ‘non-racial’ capitalist class can only mean that a section of the black middle class become junior capitalists. This junior partnership is also reflected in the supposed right to ‘manufacture’. In the absence of taking the means of production from the imperialists, the only manufacturing that can take place is with the complete agreement of the imperialists and thus subject to their control. Thus the only conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Freedom Charter intends to establish a capitalist democracy, where the ANC leadership is prepared to play a junior role while imperialism is maintained in real control.

When capitalism developed in the colonies and neo-colonies, it took place based on the forcible suppression of the development of a local middle class and local capitalist class. The struggle for the development of the local capitalist class in Africa took the form of an anti-colonial struggle (against the direct political rule by the colonial powers). The aim was for the middle classes to achieve political power as a means to advance the development of a local capitalist class. Across Africa, the failure of the working classes to seize power has resulted in the failure to achieve the democratic programme of the masses. Imperialism still dominates albeit through the local political leadership of the middle classes. In the absence of ending imperialist domination and control it is thus impossible for a strong local capitalist class to develop, as they would be in direct competition with international finance capital.  The development of a black capitalist class, under these conditions, could only be as junior partners of imperialism in Africa. In South Africa after 1948 there was already a section of the local middle class (the Afrikaner middle class) that was ruling on behalf of imperialism. A small section of the local capitalist class was allowed to develop through being given a stake in companies like Sanlam. The Afrikaner middle class instituted slave relations for the black working class. To get rid of the local managers for imperialism in South Africa, the National Party, the ANC needed a political base, the black working class, which was provided by the SACP. To redirect the struggle to become junior partners of imperialism, the SACP invented ‘colonialism of a special type’, namely that the main fight was against ‘the colonial ruling class’ in South Africa with its ‘white support base’. Completely absent from the SACP perspective was a fight against imperialism and completely ignored was that the bulk of the economy was in the hands of imperialism. White workers were put in the camp of the ruling class and thus divisions between the white and black sections of the working class were entrenched by the SACP perspective. Without fighting imperialism, the SACP’s ‘national democratic revolution’ could only yield a capitalist South Africa. Indeed it could only achieve a change in who the junior manager for imperialism would be. The SACP provided the theoretical justification for the continued wage slavery of the working class as well as the continued domination by imperialism, through its so-called 2 stage ‘theory’.

The interpretation of the Freedom Charter as a capitalist document aimed at the development of a section of the black middle class is supported by one of the leading middle class leaders of the ANC, Mandela himself.

In an article, entitled ‘In our :Lifetime’ published in Liberation in June 1956, Nelson Mandela made the following statement about the Freedom Charter:

‘Whilst the Charter proclaims democratic changes of a far reaching nature, it is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state, but a programme for the unification of various classes and groupings amongst the people on a democratic basis. Under socialism the workers hold state power. They and the peasants own the means of production, land, the factories and the mills. All production is for use and not for profit. The Charter does not contemplate such profound economic and political changes. Its declaration “The people shall govern!” visualizes the transfer of power not to any single social class but to all the people of the country be they workers, peasants, professional men or petty-bourgeoisie.

It is true that in demanding the nationalisation of the banks, the gold mines and the land the Charter strikes a fatal blow at the financial and gold-mining monopolies and farming interests that have for centuries plundered the country and condemned its people to servitude. But such a step is absolutely imperative and necessary because the realisation of the Charter is inconceivable, in fact impossible, unless and until these monopolies are first smashed up and the national wealth of the country turned over to the people. The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of the country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before. To destroy these monopolies means the termination of the exploitation of vast sections of the populace by mining kings and land barons and there will be a general rise in living standards of the people. It is precisely because the Charter offers immense opportunities for an overall movement in the material conditions of all classes and groups that it attracts such wide support.’

Thus the essence of the Freedom Charter is for a section of the black middle class to develop as capitalists. It follows that this class is the real leaders of the ANC and thus of the tripartite alliance (ANC-SACP-COSATU). In the French revolution of 1789, the working class provided the mass base for the struggle against the feudal lords, while the new capitalist class were the ideological leaders of this struggle. A section of the black middle class are the real leaders of the ANC, despite its mass working class base. Thus in both cases, the programme of struggle were limited to advancing capitalist interests.

Can the indigenous middle class be the driving force for the achievement of full democratic demands?

The inability of an indigenous capitalist class or middle class to achieve the democratic programme arises from the current period of imperialism that we live in. The giant monopolies and banks have divided up the world among themselves. A fight for land locally means a fight against local monopolies and banks that control huge parts of the land. These same banks and monopolies are intertwined with international finance capital. A fight for democratic demands means a fight against the capitalist class, who hold the land and other means of production (banks, mines, factories) in their hands. It also means a fight against international finance capital (international banks and monopolies). This means that the capitalist class and the middle class that tail behind them cannot fulfil the full democratic demands of the SA revolution as this would come into conflict with the capitalist class itself and imperialism. To solve the land question would mean expropriating the big landed bourgeoisie, who are tied hand and foot to imperialism. The capitalist class and the middle class would thus act as a brake, a hindrance to the achievement of full democratic demands. The reactionary role of these classes was already confirmed by Lenin in 1905 when he wrote: “the winning of a democratic republic, will be the complete end of the revolutionism of the bourgeoisie, and even of the petty bourgeoisie.” Over their concerns of the treacherous role of the middle class and the peasantry, Lenin and Trotsky were united. They were concerned that once they had achieved their demands (becoming capitalists and getting land), they would have no interest in carrying forward the general struggle for broader democratic demands. Thus Lenin and Trotsky in 1917 called for the Bolsheviks not to enter the provisional (democratic) government, to expose it and to launch a struggle for its overthrow to institute working class power as the only means to achieve the democratic demands of land and peace (and the broader democratic programme)

It follows that the only class that can lead the struggle for democratic demands is the working class in power. This is in contrast with the line of the SACP which calls for continued leadership of the ANC (the black middle class) to ‘deepen’ democracy. The very developments, up to and since 1994. have shown that once the ANC leadership has achieved their position of privilege, they stand in opposition to the democratic aspirations of the masses. Indeed, their revolutionism has ended.

Concluding remarks

The current programme of the SACP is the Freedom Charter. It is allegiance to the Freedom Charter that enables the section of the black middle class that leads the ANC to hold back the masses from achieving their full democratic demands. This is shown by the watering down of the democratic demands of the masses, through the RDP, Gear, Asgisa and now the election pact that is being promoted by the SACP and Cosatu leaders. It is not as the SACP and Cosatu leaders would have us believe, that the ANC is moving away  from the Freedom Charter.

What is needed is not a Charter that places workers and capitalists on an ‘equal’ footing and that places the middle class at the leadership of the struggle but one which contains the full democratic programme and unambiguously places the attainment of working class power as the only means of achieving it (along the lines as spelt out by Lenin in his State and Revolution). In short, the path to achieving full democratic demands is only through the dictatorship of the proletariat; no other class has the interest to fight for full democratic demands except the working class. The French Revolution in1789 was the first and last time that the middle class and capitalist class could, to a significant degree, complete the democratic demands of the masses. The onset of world imperialism means that local middle and capitalist classes are incapable of meeting democratic demands and in fact stand as obstacles against them.

Despite its name, therefore, the Freedom Charter stands against the struggle for Socialism. This is because the Freedom Charter is the programme of a section of the black middle class, for its co-option as the local junior partner of imperialism. The time is long overdue for the development of a new programme for the SA revolution as part of the world wide struggle for Socialism.