Mandela v the working class

Mandela walks free from prison

Subversion's communist critique of the anti-working class nature of the African National Congress (ANC) and its leader, Nelson Mandela, during the anti-apartheid struggle.

Submitted by Steven. on June 11, 2011

If you thought Nelson Mandela was a great heroic leader of the oppressed masses of South Africa who, now risen like Christ after 27 years in the underworld and poised to lead said masses, if not to life everlasting, at least to freedom in the here and now, you might be a little puzzled.

Surely that can't be right. Mandela condemning the schools boycott and 'ordering' students back to school. Mandela supporting the use of South African state forces to suppress riots. Mandela and de Klerk singing each others praises. Etc. etc. What's going on?

If you were surprised by all this, it's because you didn't realise what the ANC was all about. The ANC has always been a capitalist organisation.


The working class in South Africa is probably the strongest on the continent, and has been increasingly showing this strength in the last few years.
There have been major strikes by both coal and gold miners, in the hospitals and on the railways. This in addition to the resistance in the squatter camps, the rent strikes and school boycotts. All of these struggles are a shining example to workers everywhere and show that the workers in South Africa are among the most advanced in the world in combativity. However, they face a serious threat from the ANC.


The ANC is one of many similar groups around the world, such as the PLO, IRA, SWAPO, Sandinistas, etc. who claim to be fighting against oppression and for, usually, 'national liberation'. All of these organisations are simply the latter-day equivalents of the nationalist, bourgeois democratic movements of the historical period following the French Revolution. At that time the emerging capitalist powers needed an ideology which would bind the whole population to the ruling class. They found it in the idea of the 'nation' - a unity of both rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed, capitalists and workers who, because they lived in the same area of land and spoke the same language, supposedly were a single unit with a single interest.


It has worked well for the capitalists. The ideology of nationalism has always meant that the working class has accepted the aims and interests of its exploiters, the capitalist class, as though they were its own. It is perhaps the biggest con in history.

Today, capitalism is dominant throughout the world, but there are always conflicts between rival capitalist powers large and small, both between countries and between different factions within a single country. The weaker capitalist factions make use of the same old lies about democracy and 'national liberation', usually coupled with the left-wing capitalist policy of Nationalisation, i.e., direct state control - thus the rhetoric of these groups like the ANC, PLO, etc.


When they come to power the result is always the same. They get on with the business of running capitalism and exploiting the working class.

When the MPLA, Frelimo, Zanu, Sandinistas, etc. came to power the masses discovered the same thing they did after the French Revolution
- plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (the more it changes. the more it stays the same.

When the ANC comes to power it will be exactly the same, only they're being a bit more obvious about it than most. This is because of the dovetailing of interests between them and the Nationalist Party at this moment in history.


The growing world economic crisis has hit South Africa badly - especially since the greater part of the international capitalist class has mounted the campaign of sanctions (this latter because they can see the writing on the wall for the Apartheid regime, and they want to get in the good books of the non-racial regime whose accession to power is only a matter of time anyway). The more intelligent and forward looking faction of the white bourgeoisie, represented mainly by the Nationalist Party, realises that a non-racial capitalism is necessary - and as this is also the aim of the ANC, hence the increasingly pally relationship.

For the working class, in South Africa as elsewhere no form of capitalism, whatever fancy phrases it uses, will change the relationship between exploiters and exploited - it will just be an exchange of one lot of exploiters for another.


The working class must not allow itself to be conned by the ANC's version of capitalism. Our class can only free itself by abolishing wage-labour itself and taking the means of production - the factories, mines, land, etc. - into its own hands, running them collectively for the collective needs of society. This is the basis of what we call Communism. In contrast to the widespread use of the term Communism to mean state capitalism, as in the Eastern Bloc, we mean a classless society without national boundaries, without inequalities or oppressions, where money, markets and commodity production have been abolished and replaced by production for need, with free access for all.

It will be the first genuinely free society in history. To achieve this genuine liberation, the working class must fight resolutely against all factions of capitalism. The ANC is just one more gang of capitalists confronting us.



Guerre de Classe

10 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by Guerre de Classe on January 2, 2014

Since Nelson Mandela died, we are saturated with an obscene ideological propaganda campaign from bourgeois media: all of them cry and call us, proletarians, to cry “the loss of a so great man” who worked all his life for “human dignity”. But the reality is much more prosaic and merely sordid: all these bourgeois, from politicians to artists, from businessmen to journalists, from leaders of economy to militaries, from upholders of ultra-liberalism to partisans of protectionism, from the right to the left, all these servants and worshippers of the State, the capitalists’ State, all of them cry the death of one of theirs.

And even “the man of the street” is invited to participate in this show and to wear thus the uniform of the “useful idiot” dear to Capital. The key to domination, to oppression, to alienation, it’s to make the dominated participating in their own domination, the oppressed in their own oppression, and the alienated in their own alienation. All this allows at a higher level of abstraction to ensure an expanded reproduction of the capitalist social relations, the extraction of surplus value as a result of the obligation to go to work for modern slaves, wage slaves, all this allows consequently to ensure an expanded reproduction of exploitation…

The “end of apartheid” and the advent of “the black majority” to power in South Africa was not a result of any capitalists’ charity but it constituted an important moment of the unavoidable and historic process of reforms of the system of man’s exploitation of man (whether they are black or white), of class’ exploitation of another one. Capitalism was always obliged to reform its mode of production in order to preserve the totality of its dictatorship of value against the needs of humanity.

We publish below a text written by the group Subversion in 1991 (group that was based in England and doesn’t exist anymore), text we also translated in French and in Czech, and with which we share the global framework of critique although we have certain reservations about some expressions. We never use the expression “State capitalism” (as the text does), and the same “Nationalisation” doesn’t mean a “direct state control”. As we expressed in a previous text, the State isn’t an “apparatus”, an “institution”, a simple “structure”, or even merely “the government”, the State is a social relation and therefore nowadays it can only be the State of the capitalists, capitalism organized as a State. Neither a capitalist society that doesn’t get organized as a State nor a State that is not that of capitalism exist in any class society in this period, in the present state of things. There is no State capitalism as well as there is no capitalism without a State and (nowadays) no State without capitalism.

And finally, we consider as very limited how this text of Subversion deal with the conception of communism: indeed for us communism is not only a society to come but also a movement, a process, a dynamics of negation of all what constitutes the present society. In this sense the proletariat, while rising up and liberating the humanity, will not only take “the means of production – the factories, mines, land, etc. - into its own hands, running them collectively for the collective needs of society” but all this process will also be a global questioning of what to produce, how to produce and for which purpose. It will therefore not be a form of more human or social capitalism but a process of total negation, an upheaval of all what always existed until now.

Subversion’s text we present here is originally available on the website with the following presentation: “A significant stage in the process described in ‘Mandela V Working Class’, from Subversion 3, was reached [...] with Nelson Mandela taking office as President of South Africa. For us though the most interesting phase is yet to come. When the ANC inevitably fails to deliver its promises of jobs, housing and education, and when it becomes obvious that the long-awaited and much-heralded arrival of ‘democracy’ has made no real difference to the lives of the working class in South Africa, who will be the target of their frustrations, disillusionment and anger?” This text is also available (among others) on both websites: and

Guerre de Classe

10 years 6 months ago

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Submitted by Guerre de Classe on January 2, 2014

Subversion's text here above has also been translated in French and in Czech by the group Třídní válka.



5 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by baboon on November 17, 2018

It's not just Mandela against the working class but the whole of his capitalist class, including the ANC and its left wing, rank and file section. Looking back on the development of capitalism in South Africa I think it's a particularly good example of the poverty of racial identity politics (along with all identity politics), the poverty of the idea that the main fight of the working class is against the right wing (where, necessarily, the working class has to align with the left wing of capital). The history shows the corruption of the idea of the "lesser evil" as well as that of trade unionism and national liberation - formidable arms of the left wing of the capitalist state.

Here's a link to the last in a series of articles by the ICC:


Mike Harman

5 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Mike Harman on November 18, 2018

The ANC was multi-racial for the 30 years prior to the end of Apartheid. Prior to that it was part of a coalition. It seems a little silly to me to describe opposition to racial Apartheid as 'racial identity politics'. Especially when Mandela made a deal with FW de Klerk.

However the ICC's own website notes that founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko, was a martyr of the cycle of 'proletarian struggle' from '73-'77, years where the ANC was mostly out of the picture.

That article doesn' t really analyse the period or do any evaluation of Biko and BCM, but really bored of seeing ANC takes that completely erase the other organisations and movements in South Africa whether then or now.

Mike Harman

5 years 8 months ago

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Submitted by Mike Harman on November 21, 2018

Nymphalis Antiopa

Sorry - got them the wrong way round.

For a text about BCM see the end of this:

Thanks, now I found it. That's a good summary of BCM. I recently read I Write What I Like and there's a big disconnect between Biko's praxis and the rare moments where he says what he'd like post-apartheid South Africa to be like (which more or less approximates to a Democratic Socialist position - mixed economy, redistribution, nationalisation). However given what he actually did and wrote elsewhere, and how little of it there is, it reads to me more like a latent reformism than something strongly held; hard to tell whether those bureaucratic tendencies would have taken over or been rejected had he survived and how much it reflected the politics of other activists. I haven't been able to find much/anything by other people involved in BCM.

There's an interesting TV video interview with a Soweto uprising participant on the run, where he says "I'm not a communist [meaning Marxist Leninist], but if you act against apartheid, you're treated like one anyway" or similar.

Similar problems with the ICT/CWO's account of South Africa in the discussion on

It's one thing to critique national liberation movements and figures like Mandela, it's quite another to then ignore the class struggle against colonial/apartheid regimes which occurred without and sometimes against the officially recognised national liberation movements. And this is something that leaves a massive vacuum for left-nationalist/campist stuff to fill.