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In Defence of Mayday

THE ARTICLE by Martin Sullivan in the last issue of What Next? about the anti-capitalist demos on May the first ("Marxism and Rioting") did little else than recycle the Daily Mail view of the world. That is to say, in Mr Sullivan’s eyes it was only the boys in blue that stopped these anarchist thugs (or are they middle class drop-outs?) from general mayhem.

In Birmingham, as part of the S26 collective (inaccurately portrayed in the media as everything from an SWP front to neo-nazis! ... don’t ask which was worse!), we helped organise a Mayday demo. This demo saw 200 people turn up, 40 put in a police cordon and 14 arrests. Nine people were charged. The protest aimed to give some concrete examples as to why we are opposed to capitalism without being abstract.

Now, a lot of criticisms can be made of the leaflets we wanted to give out and I’m sure the London lot would also be self-critical. But there was no question of the demos being something workers should have stayed away from and meekly followed the Livingstone/Blair view of protest.

Of the people that were arrested with me, all were either in low-paid jobs (and like myself highly active in a trade union), unemployed or struggling to study. Maybe if Mr Sullivan ventured out of his Labour Party meetings – from where he sneers at anybody willing to do more than uncritically support the likes of "red" Ken – he would actually meet the working class youth that are getting involved in activities.

Nor is it the case that anti-capitalist youth are cheerleaders for middle class "intellectuals" such as Monbiot ... no, we leave that to the SWP, who as always seek to dominate that which they don’t control and do not understand those who believe that struggle involves more than "building The Party".

There are many facets to the anti-capitalist movement and those working class youth on the ground know its complexity ... perhaps rather than rubbish us for not being in the Labour Party, Mr Sullivan could direct his spleen toward capitalism or even write something without his "I know best" attitude. Me? I’d rather get back to the struggle.

Steven Davies
(S26 collective and UNISON rep personal capacity)

On the History of the Unity Movement

I WAS pleased with Norman Traub’s positive comments about my book District Six – Lest We Forget ("Growing Up in District Six", What Next? No.18). However, he "takes issue" with my comments regarding the split in the Unity Movement. I contemplated for some time whether there was any purpose in replying to this. The differences between the two opposing sides made any meeting of minds almost impossible, and my reply, I thought, would achieve nothing. Nevertheless, I set about researching this contentious issue and hope that what I have to say might help to shed further light on the disintegration and demise of the Unity Movement. Hence I offer this response.

The Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM) started with the noblest of intentions in 1943, but appeared to lose its way after Sharpeville, 1960. I was an adherent since its inception, but broke from it ideologically in 1992 when it came out in support of the Serbs’ assault on Bosnia.

In my book I recalled as faithfully as I could how the news of the formation of the Society of Young Africa was disclosed at a general meeting of the New Era Fellowship circa 1951. I also related the surprise it occasioned and how I, and the other two members of the executive, were summoned to Dr Gool’s residence (the then Chairman of the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department, [Anti CAD]). There we were pointedly adjured by Mr Tabata not under any circumstances to raise objections at any future general meeting of the New Era Fellowship to the Society of Young Africa. One of the reasons given was that the young African youth who joined were not as politically advanced as those in the Fellowship (NEF), and that as a result, young SOYANS might be put at a disadvantage in discussions. To ensure this, SOYANS were discouraged to attend NEF meetings.

We agreed to Mr Tabata’s request. I can assure Mr Traub that never was any charge of racialism mentioned at this time. It was levelled later as the rift widened in the Movement. This accusation in my opinion was fallaciously levelled at us. To the best of our knowledge, SOYA was intended for the African youth only, and we believed its formation was to help provide Mr Tabata with an intellectual fountainhead and organisational base in the Cape. I trust that this put’s Traub’s allegation "how could the establishment of an organisation – open to all – be accepted as racialistic?" into perspective.

Insofar as the name of the Movement is concerned, it was not the Unity Movement of South Africa. It was called the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM), at least until February 1959. The APDUSA journal (Vol. VI, No.2, June 1980) explains that the term Non-European was a compromise term acceptable at the time to the three population groups. According to a journal called The SOYAN (February 1959), the new name Unity Movement of South Africa (UMSA) was adopted at a subsequent conference from which the Anti-CAD and NEF delegates were debarred. It was at this time that Mr I.B. Tabata recognised the urgent need for a mass-based organisation with a unitary structure, and decided to establish the African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA).

In order to put both sides of the schism, I refer again to the APDUSA journal above, which dealt with the central reason for the split namely the "Land Question". We differed from UMSA on our interpretation of point number 7 of the 10 point programme. Our view was simply that in a revolutionary change the peasants would not be waiting for a new democratic parliament to be elected, but would be seizing the estates of the white land owners, as the French peasantry did during the French Revolution.

The followers of UMSA took a stricter interpretation of the point in question. We were designated as the petty bourgeois with ultra-leftist tendencies. The APDUSA journal (June, 1980) refers to point 6: "Full equality of rights for all citizens without distinction of race, colour or sex. This means the abolition of all discriminatory colour-bar laws." The following point, 7, then states: "Revision of the land question in accordance with the above. The relations of serfdom at present existing on the land must go, together with the Land Acts, together with restrictions upon acquiring land. A new division of the land in conformity with the existing rural population living on the land and working on the land, is the first task of a democratic state and parliament."

The APDUSA journal goes on further to state that the land question could not be solved within the framework of capitalism. Hence the first "Democratic Parliament" which will reflect the predominance of the oppressed groups and classes will have to place on the agenda, the fundamental question of the landlessness of the majority who live on the land and till it. At that time we took issue with the Tabata camp’s view that the struggle had to confine itself to the right to buy and sell land. I trust that Mr Traub will recall this; it was to us clearly a middle class standpoint.

On looking at the outline of the differences, one wonders in retrospect whether the hierarchs that precipitated the schism didn’t do the struggle irreparable damage. Perhaps the personalities of those in the leadership made the split inevitable. I shall always remember Mr B.M. Kies pleading with Mr Tabata to put personal differences aside for the sake of the Movement. His response was a withering "My differences are not personal – they are political!" From that moment in 1952 the hopes of the Unity Movement, I believe, were irrevocably shattered.

Despite all the angry rhetoric that existed at the time, one must pay a belated tribute to APDUSA for the excellent work they did and continue to do in the Transkei territories. From documents dating back to 1968 it is clear that APDUSA was a real thorn in the side of the apartheid regime and many members suffered as a result – some ending up on Robben Island.

But time was running out for any legal anti-apartheid organisations. After Sharpeville, 1960, the apartheid regime’s crackdown made any open political activity out of the question and UMSA and APDUSA were left leaderless when Mr Tabata and his partner, my aunt, Jane Gool left South Africa.

Another issue of conflict was regarding the nature of our struggle. Was it a national struggle or a nationalist struggle? In the New Era Fellowship several seminars were held about the nature of nationalism. The ideology of nationalism in a nutshell, we believed, was the political expression of the middle class. To us, our struggle was uncompromisingly anti-nationalist. It therefore came as a shock when members of the Cape Peninsula Students' Union attending NEF lectures declared that there was no difference between a national struggle and a nationalist struggle. They declared, in fact, that they were identical. The schism now became unbridgeable. To us it appeared more definitely that the Tabata group was merely fighting for a place in the bourgeois sun. Leaflets pilloried Mr Jaffe, the Anti-Tabata ideologue, as a "wrecker of unity". It declared that the 10-point programme was only a bourgeois democratic programme. And as for socialism? Well, that struggle could take place only after the achievement of the 10-point programme.

Regarding the Cape Peninsula Students' Union, it may come as a surprise to Mr Traub that the progenitors of this organisation were actually Victor Wessels and myself. Upon returning from the 1948 conference of the National Union of South African Students, Victor and I had made up our minds that we were going to move to disaffiliate from NUSAS, which could not and did not represent the aims and aspirations of non-white students. We decided to start our own students’ union. Victor thereupon wrote a draft constitution and we had an inaugural meeting. It was held at Livingstone High School. There were representatives of Hewat Training College, Livingstone and Trafalgar High Schools. We were really fired up about this project.

But as 1948 drew to its close, I asked Victor what was going to happen after we qualified as teachers and were students no longer. He was visibly perturbed. We realized that there was no guarantee of the direction the organisation would take and what its role would be. Furthermore, there were subsidiary matters regarding the funding of the organisation. I think Victor mentioned a concern about elitism, but I can’t be sure. The net result was that we abandoned the idea. To our astonishment the Cape Peninsula Students’ Union was launched circa 1953-4 under the aegis of Mr Tabata.

After 1958 there was a further deepening of the schism when Mr Jaffe at a rally called by the local Co-ordinating Unity Committee declared that there were no coloureds, Indians or Africans. We were all just people. There was only one race, the human race, and the racial tags were an imposition of the ruling class to divide and rule. In truth this was only the second occasion at the time that the existence of race was declared to be a spurious concept. The first mention of this proposition was in 1952 in a published lecture by B.M. Kies, "The Contributions of the Non-Europeans to World Civilization". To the best of my knowledge, even Mr Tabata’s "The Awakening of a People" referred to "races". Ever since that historic conference all references to coloured, Indian or African were preceded by the words "so-called" – except, interestingly, in SOYAN publications.

For a while there were two contending Unity Movements, each claiming it was the legitimate holder of the name. But now there developed a further split in the NEUM. Mr Jaffe began propounding the view that the time had come for the abandonment of the three-pillar structure of the NEUM. These "pillars" were the AAC, the Anti-CAD and the South African Indian Congress. However the Indian Congress never really became a member of the NEUM, and in fact joined the Congress Alliance. Thus the so-called triangular structure of the Unity Movement really had only two pillars even before the split in the Movement. Our Unity Movement now really consisted only of the Anti-CAD, whilst Mr Tabata’s UMSA had the All African Convention, SOYA, the CPSU and APDUSA. Mr Jaffe proposed a unitary organisation with individual membership. To Mr Kies, Jaffe’s proposition was anathema. The federal structure was a sacred principle, I heard him say in 1956.

Most of the youth rallied to Mr Jaffe. We all agreed that the federal structure was outdated, and needed to be changed. Eventually in December 1959 at a special general meeting of the NEF this was opened to debate. There was a full turn out of the membership, all except Mr Kies who had been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. At this meeting I changed my position on the grounds that I felt that any organisational change had to come from below. I thought that before engaging in any change of policy we had to canvass the views of the ordinary rank and file members of the Anti-CAD such as the parents, teachers, and members of the affiliated bodies, the civics and sports clubs. When after some acrimonious debate the motion was put, I abstained. The proposition to end the federal structure was lost by just one vote! It thus came as a major surprise to us when Mr Jaffe left South Africa before the beginning of the new school term in 1960.

Lots of name-calling took place. We declared the Tabata group to be adherents of the middle class. They countered by declaring us petty-bourgeois. It was quite ludicrous, considering that most of us stemmed from the petty-bourgeois – teachers, doctors, lawyers, students. As far as I know, there was only one worker-intellectual in the Movement, namely, the late Saul Jayiya who was avowedly anti-Tabata.

The Unity Movement may now be regarded as a mere footnote in the struggle. However it needs to be affirmed that when in 1943 it burst on the political scene, with a programme of struggle, with the principle of non-collaboration and the boycott weapon, it had taken a step that no other extant liberatory movement had done. In the Cape it fired up the non- white masses with the hope of breaking the endemic racialism that pervaded the country. Had the Movement succeeded in decolourising the "coloured" population, the "Indians" and the Africans" and won over a significant section of the white working class, perhaps South Africa just might have been a better place, instead of the ethnic categorisation that reared its head soon after the overthrow of apartheid.

I hope that I have filled in some of the gaps in the knowledge of the Unity Movement. Time may have dimmed some of my memory, and events might have happened earlier or later, for which I apologise. Although now only a footnote on the historical scroll, the contribution of the Unity Movement in shaping the consciousness of that epoch will remain indelible.

(Thanks to all who responded to Mr Traub's review article, expressing interest in my book District Six – Lest We Forget. I am at present negotiating for the publication of a second edition and will get in touch with all who have written or phoned in due course.)

Y.S. Rassool

My thanks to the following for their constructive comments on an earlier draft: S. Barends (South Africa), W. Michaels (U.K.), J. Meissenheimer (Quebec), R. Petersen (Canada) and Naz Rassool (UK).

Pablo, Healy and Political Strategy

MARTIN SULLIVAN’S letter regarding Michel Pablo ("Michel Pablo and Entrism") in the last What Next? is perhaps more relevant than it may at first seem to the tasks facing socialists today. In this letter I don’t wish to get into an argument over the history of the Fourth International – which I believe in terms of historical debates is not as important as some sects on the far left may like to make out. What is important, though, and links in with some of the points made in Sullivan’s letter, is for socialists to learn from the past history of the left in the labour movement in this country.

Comrade Sullivan seems to endorse Michel Pablo’s criticisms of the Healy group. Actually, in contrast to some of the myths propagated by certain sections of the left (I personally endured for some time the "Grantist" interpretation of the history of the far left!), it seems from what I have read that the "Club" did at least made some progress. They carried out useful work in building up the left in the Labour Party and focusing on key class struggle issues such as the fight for unilateral nuclear disarmament. It would be hard in today’s Britain to find many groups with such a firm labour movement orientation and who have such concrete gains and achievements to their credit. I would recommend to everyone Mark Jenkins’ book Bevanism: Labour’s High Tide for an account of the mass left struggle in those years.

Therefore, I would conclude that the criticism to be made of the "Club" would not be Pablo’s objection that they failed to issue open propaganda for the Fourth International (they did in any case publish explicitly Marxist material such as Healy’s review of Bevan’s book In Place of Fear), as this would surely have intensified the purge against them. This is the sort of criticism one may expect from the likes of Workers Power but not from comrade Sullivan! Instead, my criticism would be similar to that made by the late John Archer in a recent What Next? article – that they proved incapable of fortifying their positions in the labour movement and taking the struggle forward. In terms of tactics and orientation, I would say the Healy group (despite its clear problems in terms of perspective and organisation) was in those years far more in touch with the reality of British politics than most of the far left today!

Matthew Willgress

Marxism or Nationalism?

IN WHAT NEXT? No.19, Mick Woods, a member of the SAP, the Danish section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec), has an item on Macedonia that apparently reflects partly his own and partly USec opinion ("Welcome to Zone 2"). It seems to illustrate the muddled thinking in some Trotskyist circles and among other left wing and liberal spokespeople when tackling the conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia.

Firstly, there is a Macedonian identity, even if it is relatively new. Macedonians were unhappy about their times as part of Serbia and under Bulgarian occupation during World War II. (Until recently, Bulgaria had claimed that Macedonian was a Bulgarian dialect and that the Slav population were Bulgarians.) During the war, the communist partisans already acknowledged a Macedonian nationality.

However, there is a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria (Pirin Macedonia), which is recognised as such and feels a kinship with the people on the other side of the border in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Vardar Macedonia). There are also Macedonians in Bulgaria who are assimilated. But Mick does not mention the Macedonian minority in northern Greece (Aegean Macedonia) nor the one in Albania. Neither does he refer to the Albanian minority in northern Greece (Epirus). Aegean Macedonians who left Greece during the civil war and were not allowed to return are spread over a number of countries. ELAS guerillas operating in the region came into conflict with Macedonian partisans during World War II, and General Tempo, who was Tito’s link to both ELAS and the Albanian partisans while operating in Macedonia, relates this in his book (Svetozar Vukmanovic, Struggle for the Balkans, London, 1990).

Mick points out that the "credo of modern European diplomacy (since Helsinki) has been support of internationally recognised boundaries and this was a formula we supported during the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia". Presumably, "we" means the USec. Amazingly, he refers to Bosnia-Herzegovina as a "historical state with reasonably well-defined boundaries", and says that he "would not have a problem with the majority of the population of an area establishing independence or even transferring to a neighbouring state if this could be done peacefully ... and with respect for the rights of minorities within this area. This is my opinion".

German imperialism forced through the recognition of an independent Croatia within the boundaries established by Tito’s Yugoslavia. Such boundaries were political/administrative ones that had been designed to create stability and upset as few people as possible. Only minor adjustments had been made to those established by imperialism, and a plan to set up an autonomous Serbian part of Croatia was abandoned.

The Tudjman regime, whose ruling party, the HDZ, rested on the extreme-rightist Herzegovina Lobby (diaspora Croats had financed Tudjman’s project), turned hundreds of thousands of Serbs, mostly populating the old military frontier where they had settled centuries ago, into second class citizens. The Croatian Serbs had rallied to the partisans early on and voted communist until nationalist thugs promoted from outside by the Serboslavia tendency took over. The Serbs had a just cause according to the usual criteria for self-determination, but their leadership and its methods, as well as its long-term aims – a Greater Serbia – could not be supported, as minorities were not respected.

In New Interventions Vol.9 No.3 (Autumn 1999), I pointed out that in his book Balkan Odyssey (London, 1995) David Owen relates how, upon taking up his peace-making role, he found proposal by the Dutch from their EC presidency period to make "changes to some of the internal borders between the Yugoslav republics" (pp.31-3), in order to apply self-determination to the minorities within them as well as to the majorities. The other eleven EC governments rejected the proposal, presumably to uphold Helsinki. Yet, as I pointed out in the same article, the Yugoslav Constitution (1963 and 1974 editions) described Yugoslavia as "a federal state of voluntarily united and equal peoples". The key word here is "peoples", rather than "republics", as the borders of the latter do not delimit the geographical areas inhabited by the former.

John Sullivan, in his article "Nationalism Against Marxism", which appears in What Next? No.19 just before Mick’s piece, correctly observes that "the ’nation states’ which succeeded the USSR are based on administrative divisions within it, not on pre-existing proto-nations. Elites opposing the regime turned (quite late) to organise regionally. Nationalism was a source of legitimacy even if it had to be created in a hurry. All of the ’nation states’ which emerged are really heterogeneous – fortunately for the ruling elites, as it gives them minorities to persecute".

It was not the task of Marxists to support any of these nationalist projects as they were all reactionary, led by corrupt elites intent on getting their hands on the already existing wealth and what could be gained by criminal activities, were directed against the masses, and were bound to end both in persecution of minorities and in war. On top of that, they have played into the hands of imperialism and set back the socialist cause for decades or more.

Junge Welt (8 January 2001) has an interview with the top Croatian economist Professor Dragomir Vojnic, who describes what took place there as "tycoonisation", as "the wealth and power in Croatia has ended up in the hands of around two hundred families", and "under the cover of privatisation, what happened was an unscrupulous plundering of the wealth of the Croatian population ... ten billion dollars has vanished out of the country".

We have covered the corruption today in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where aid monies have ended up in the hands of the elites, as was also the case during the war. The Sarajevo government, portrayed in the liberal/left press as the "goodies" in that war, were profiteering out of it. In Fighting for Peace (London, 1998), General Michael Rose relates instances, such as how it didn’t suit the government to have the UN get Serb agreement to reconnect services to Sarajevo, as ministers supplied the black economy.

We have covered the gangsterism today in Kosovo controlled by ex-UCK figures. In the BBC2 documentary Correspondent on 3 June, one of the top gangsters, Ramush Haradinaj, like Thaci a protégé of Mrs Albright, was accused by David Sells of being the top criminal in the vicinity. Previously a leading figure in the UCK and Deputy Chief of the Kosovo Protection Force, Haradinaj now leads his own party. Badly injured while attacking the home of a rival, he was first taken to Camp Bondsteel for treatment, then flown to a US military hospital in Kaiserslautern. The UCK has fragmented into rival criminal clans again, but its involvement in drug-dealing, human trafficking and suchlike was known to European police forces for many years before it became NATO’s tool in Kosovo.

The people around Milosevic, the Montenegrin separatist leaders (though western politicians turned a blind eye until Milosevic was removed and a separate Montenegro was no longer desirable) and apparently the Macedonian crew are all corrupt and profit while their people suffer, so where is the progressive content to this "Balkanisation"? Mick favours a majority being able to establish independence as long as it can be done peacefully and with respect for the rights of minorities. Given who was behind such movements in Yugoslavia, was this ever a realistic possibility?

Who told Mick that Bosnia-Herzegovina was a "historical state with reasonably well-defined boundaries"? Just as Albania was set up by imperialism to keep Serbia weak, as Mick rightly states, so was Bosnia kept out of Serbia. The three key communities there referred to themselves in terms of their religions up to the end of the 19th century. Historical experiences since then resulted in three rival identities developing out of the same ethnic origins in the main. But once the Yugoslav identity was nullified it was inevitable that two of these peoples would be pulled towards different outside states with the consequent conflicts.

In the same New Interventions article, I quoted from The Yugoslav Tragedy (Nottingham, 1996), where Michael Barratt Brown writes that in Bosnia-Herzegovina "nearly every one of the 110 districts ... contained two, and more often three, different communities" (p.45). Again, socialists could not support the strivings of any of the three main communities for self-determination owing to the leaderships, their methods, and their long-term aims.

Even more bizarre is the decision to support the struggle of the UCK in Kosovo, given its methods and aims. It engaged in the murder of Serbs and Albanian opponents before the war. Its involvement in crime was no secret, though its supplying, training and cultivation by US and German intelligence was not so well known. It acted as NATO’s tool during the war, but since then its methods and aims have become only too well known. Not just Serbs, but Croats, Roma, Gorans (Islamised Slavs), Turks and other minorities, even Albanian catholics, and political rivals have all suffered repression or fled in terror. Pristina’s Jews have left, after five centuries. Kosovo is "Judenfrei". The Nazis themselves never accomplished that. Already in August 1999 the situation was described in the newspaper Koha Ditore as "Kosovo fascism", in a lead article by Veton Surroi, one of the Kosovar delegates at Rambouillet. Yet, glancing at the press of the Trotskyist cheer-leaders for the UCK, one sees no concern for the respecting of the rights of the dozen or so minorities in Kosovo today. Mick now asks whether one should support the UCK-inspired terrorists operating in the Presevo Valley and Macedonia! The maps circulating among Albanian exiles here showing Greater Albania include parts of southern Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and even Greece.

In a study of "Hungarian-Romanian Relationships" in today’s Romania, in the South East Europe Review, Vol.2, No.2 (Baden-Baden, 1999), Mariana Cernovica-Buca writes that, when Romania’s present borders were set in late 1918: "Around 16 different minority groups were currently living in the new Great Romania" (p.136). An essay by Maria Koinova on "Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Bulgaria", in the same volume, tells us that: "Bulgaria is a typical Balkan state, since one can find more than 30 minorities on its territory" (p.152). In Vol.2 No.3 of the journal there is an essay on "National Minorities in the Republic of Moldova", by Klaus Neukirch. In the south of the country there is the Territorial Autonomous Unit of Gagauzia (the Gagauz are Orthodox Christians of Turkic origins). According to the 1989 census, "64.5% of the population (of Moldova) were Moldovans, 13.8% Ukrainians, 13% Russians, 3.5% Gagauz ..., 2% Bulgarians and 1.5% Jews, while 1.7% were other nationalities including mainly Belarussians, Poles, Greeks, Germans and Roma" (p.45). Within the territorial autonomy there are other minorities: Bulgarians, Moldovans, Russians and Ukrainians among others. So steps were taken to legally establish "the rights of the minority within the minority ... and there seems to be no inter-ethnic problems within Gagauzia" (p.58).

Mick asks: "How best do we fight reactionary nationalism and advance the struggle for democracy and socialism?" I suggest that he and his associates give up their knee-jerk support for any movement demanding self-determination and instead examine its class character and programme in order to determine whether it is progressive – or reactionary, as has been the case with Yugoslavia. Marxists have never favoured the establishment of small states as such, and particularly not ethnically pure ones. In the Balkans, the Caucasus, Russia, as we have seen, one can find at least a dozen or as many as thirty minorities in quite small countries. The creation of homogeneous states inevitably requires population removals and war. The only benefactors have been the corrupt elites, gangsters and the imperialist powers.