Tuesday, March 1, 2016

South Africa: In Honor of Martin Legassick

Martin Legassick 1940-2016
I just spoke to Noor Nieftagodien, a close friend of our South African comrade Martin Legassick who died this morning. This is a great loss for the working class and socialist movement. We are sharing an announcement of Martin's passing from Noor. Below that is a speech comrade Legassick gave after receiving a Distinguished Achievement Award in Political Economy in 2015.  You can read a revue of and  and order Martin Legassick's book, Toward Socialist Democracy from our book page here.   RM


Another sad day, as one of our great Marxist political economists, Martin Legassick, died this morning, after battling cancer so bravely the past couple of years.

Dismal economic stats were released today, which confirmed his predictions of a decade ago. Then, using Marxist economic analysis, he projected the stagnation in which capitalism finds itself here and everywhere (below). It was this analysis that drew him to socialism, as he explained in one of his last major talks, to the World Association for Political Economy last June (below).

The Review of African Political Economy is putting a website together with information about his life, work and revolutionary ideas, so if you have anything to contribute, please send to Leo Zeilig at roape@outlook.com

Martin Legassick (1940 – 2016)

Comrade Martin Legassick passed away this morning, 1 March 2016, after a protracted and brave fight against cancer. Despite ill-health and excruciating pain, he completed his final book project at the beginning of this year.

Comrade Martin was a revolutionary socialist, brilliant scholar, teacher and mentor. He was an outstanding scholar and a pioneer of radical revisionist history in South Africa. From the 1960s when he was a university student, Martin immersed himself in the struggle against apartheid, including mobilizing some of the first international student demonstrations in the United States.

In the mid-1970s he became a founding member of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the ANC (MWT of the ANC) and left his academic post to work as full-time political activist. He served on the editorial committee of the journal,Inqaba yaBasebenzi, and newspaper, Congress Militant. For this, he was expelled by the ANC in 1985. On his return from exile, Martin continued to play a leading role in the MWT of the ANC and simultaneously became active in working class struggles in the Western Cape.

He was also appointed professor of History at UWC, where he continued his excellent scholarship and mentoring of students. When anti-eviction struggles exploded on the Cape Flats, he spent most of his time working with activists, contributing to build these new movements of the working class. Evenings and weekends were dedicated to meetings and political education classes.

After the Marikana massacre, he immediately travelled to the platinum mines to show solidarity and to be part of the movement emerging there. Similarly, he stood by the farm workers under the leadership of CSAAWU. He lived for the struggles of the working class. From 2008 he also dedicated some time to efforts to rebuild the socialist left, especially in the form of the Democratic Left Front and was hopeful that the United Front and a new trade union movement would galvanise the working class in co-ordinated struggles against poverty, inequality and racism. When I met on his birthday in December last year, he wanted to know about the new wave of students’ struggles and, despite physical weakness, was excited about the prospects of a new generation of activists emerging from this movement.

Hamba Kahle Comrade Martin

Noor Nieftagodien
University of the Witwatersrand
Email: noor.nieftagodien@wits.ac.za
Tel: +27 11 717 4266
History Workshop Website: http://www.wits.ac.za/historyworkshop


Remarks prepared for the closing plenary of the WAPE forum on 21 June 2015 upon being awarded a Distinguished Achievement Award in Political Economy for the Twenty-First century

Let me say, once again, I am honoured to receive this Distinguished Achievement Award for my book, Towards Socialist Democracy. At its launch at the Cape Town Book Fair in 2007 Patrick Bond asked why the book was so long! I replied, Patrick, you publish a book every year, but this is the product of 40 years activism, discussion and research!
            Here obviously I can only advance a series of propositions from such a long book without substantiating them, though, eight years later, I have updated their emphasis in line with the concerns of this forum. 
            In the first place, capitalism is in crisis. It offers only prospects of increasing austerity, increasing inequality, and increasing unemployment -- particularly for youth, who in despair turn to gang culture, drugs and crime and are in danger of becoming a destroyed generation. Together with that, with ecological disasters and global warming, capitalism has the potential for destroying life on this planet. 
            I am for democratic ecosocialism built from below. 
            The crisis affects every country, at this moment most acutely in Greece. All working people (I return to what this means) need to support the struggle of the Greek people because the course of events there will affect the ability of capitalism to impose greater austerity on the working classes of other countries.
            At the same time, there is the frightening rise of xenophobia, religious fanaticism and terrorism - horrible dangers suffered mainly by women who lose thrir breadwinners -- created in futile reaction to imperialist oppression and division of the working class, together with the present weakness of left leadership. 
            A major theme of my book was a critique of Stalinism the ideology of “Communist” Parties such as the SACP. I maintain that the term Stalinism does not just describe a repressive system but a world view defending the interests of ruling bureaucracies against the working class – with international repercussions which have set back the struggle of the working class for generations. Stalinism is not a variant of Marxism, but alien to Marxism
             Like all humans, Marxists make mistakes. Marx did; Lenin did. So did Trotsky. Their uncritical followers do too. But one tragic legacy of Stalinism has been to bury the legacy of Trotsky’s ideas. Stalin hated Trotsky and had him murdered, as well as tens of thousands of his followers. But Trotsky had many correct ideas which advanced the theory of Marxism. His analysis of the degeneration of the Russian revolution, his analysis of fascism and critique of Stalinist’s then ultra-left approach – drawing on Lenin’s critique in the Comintern in 1920-1 of this tendency -- were among the ideas which led Perry Anderson (not a Trotskyist) to write “The historical scale of Trotsky’s accomplishment is still difficult to realise today.” Trotsky’s innovative use of the concept of bonapartism in its proletarian variant characterizes the phenomenon of a totalitarian bureaucracy presiding over a (degenerate) workers’ state such as the Soviet Union was, and a number of other countries, including China – mostly if not entirely now reversed.
            Regarding South Africa, my argument drew on Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution – that national oppression would only be ended when capitalism is ended. It was a theory tested and proved in practice in the 1917 Russian revolution and proved negatively in the defeat of the revolution in China in the 1920s as a consequence of the rise of Stalinism.
            The ANC claims, farcically, it is pursuing a ‘national democratic revolution’. But its policies are neo-liberal capitalist, serving the interests of mining and finance capital, entrenching South Africa as the most unequal society in the world, with horrendous poverty and unemployment. I heard at this meeting that there are 400 new coal mines in operation or being opened up (with the encouragement of government – despite its supposed commitment to the environment) – all dependent on cheap black labour and on the oppression of women as social reproducers.
            The ANC’s policy of so-called black economic empowerment (the enrichment of a few blacks to join the white elite) cannot end racism or national oppression. The majority of blacks remain poor and tend to resent all whites as rich, while whites see poor blacks as threatening criminals. Racism and racial discrimination persists, and, with it, inter-racial violence (including a culture of internecine violence in the poor areas – in which women are subjugated). Only the replacement of the present state by a democratic workers’ state can begin to end all this – but then it could be ended rapidly.
            Along with its bankrupt policies the ANC has become degenerate. With Zuma, (or even earlier, in the arms deal) corruption started at the top and has spread throughout. 
            Leaders of the SACP engage in poodle-like defence of every scandal of the ANC: Nkandla, El-Bashir, the Guptas etc – while the party masquerades as left! At this forum comrade Jeremy Cronin in his keynote address claimed the SACP had abandoned the two-stage theory – and was for building socialism now (within, of course, the framework of the ‘national democratic revolution’! This while SACP leaders, including himself, sit in a government bankrupt in policy and reeking with scandal and corruption. Shame on all who remain in the SACP or under the influence of Stalinism!
            In the same address Cronin spoke of “building socialism now” through advances in reindustrialization and advances of a non-commodified economy – by which he means the abolition of exchange-value (money) in favour of exchange of use values (for example, free public transport, free health, free education, free housing). Both aims are in my view futile if incremental and utopian to achieve against global capitalism. The real task for “building socialism now” is to build the forces capable of replacing the capitalist state with a democratic workers’ state which could then, together with international working class struggle, start to build socialism. 
            There are hopeful signs in the breakaways from the ANC-led triple alliance: the Economic Freedom Fighters, NUMSA’s United Front, AMCU replacing the NUM. They are signs – like the crises in the ANC Youth and Women’s leagues – of the beginnings of the disintegration of the ANC. SACP leader Blade Nzimande denounces these new movements as imperialist-inspired. This is typical Stalinism: link the so-called ‘ultra-left’ with the right while the party is in the ‘reasonable left.’ Hopefully building these new movements and eventually perhaps through their unity in action, they can constitute effective means for the working class to challenge for power, though presently all have weaknesses.
            Who is the agency for change? The working class. Who are the working class? In the first place, all those separated from ownership of the means of production. Those actually working for bosses have the power to strike, up to unlimited political general strikes. But the working class includes not only those working for a boss but all the unemployed, whether of working age (young or old), pensioners or children. In particular women, who engage in social reproduction without a wage (as papers at this meeting have highlighted) as well as being among the most exploited workers (on the farms, as domestics, sex-workers) -- have a strong interest in preserving the means of social reproduction. They are empowering themselves. Those women or men not actually at work also have potential power, to protest, demonstrate, block roads, etc as recent movements here and around the world have shown. In the present period together with all the poor hard-working peasants, the majority of the peasantry around the globe, have nothing to separate their interests from those of the working class and can join in protest to protect their interests and to build unity in struggle.
            So I am an eco-feminist-democratic-socialist. I am indebted to Jacklyn Cock, a co-Award winner, an old friend of nearly 50 years, from whom I have recently learnt much on feminist theory and practice (I was first converted to feminism by Roxanne Dunbar, in the United States, in the 1960s). For my eco-emphasis in addition to Jacky, I am indebted to Vishmas Satgar, also a co-Award winner, and to Brian Ashley.
            The majority of the middle class also have interests in socialism – but need to take their lead from the working class. The threat or the reality of costly indebtedness to the banks destroys their independence. In reality, they are also oppressed. The social movements are critical of NGOs who try to control them. The real critique that should be made is not of the middle class as such, but of middle-class political party leaders who posture as representatives of the middle class when they are really acting in the interests of capitalism. 
            In his keynote address Cronin advocates advancing the struggle by delinking from global capitalism. This, in my view, can bring for any country only temporary and partial relief and again, if incremental is futile and if full is utopian. The Freedom Charter is in fact the starting program for the struggle for power. The immediate task of a democratic workers state is nationalization of the banks, multi-nationals, and big monopolies under democratic workers’ control and management, and planning the economy democratically – moving rapidly to ensure that health, education, housing, transport, etc are free and open to all.
            More than that, a fully non-commodified economy which Cronin advocates cannot be created in isolation – it requires the spread of workers’ democracy from country to country. How quickly this needs to occur is uncertain before degeneration would set in. But one example, even more than in Russia in 1917, could today inspire working people around the globe who are all suffering from cuts in living standards in a painful race to the bottom, from gross inequality, and with the threat of the eco-destruction of humanity hanging over them.
           But the working class can win! For forty years I have believed this and continue to do so. Viva! Amandla!

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