At present, there is no liberation movement in South Africa which seriously regards the white working class as a potential ally, because of the benefits that this section of the settler community derives from Apartheid. Some currents within it have recently even revealed symptoms of political sympathy for the extreme right wing of white bourgeois chauvinism.
This social phenomenon has tended to baffle observers. Some bourgeois analysts have seen the existence of a militantly reactionary sector of the working class as a refutation of Marxism: a proof that factors other than class can be the fundamental division in capitalist societies.
This view has even, to some extent, been adopted by Marxists—who, seeking to avoid being categorized as dogmatists in the face of empirical facts, have accepted the thesis that there is a conflict between racist ideology, which has now (so the argument runs) acquired a dynamic autonomy of its own, and capitalist economic forces.
Reformists argue that these economic pressures will triumph and that South Africa will emerge as a more ‘normal’ bourgeois society, whilst revolutionaries argue that the ideology is too strong to be reformed. For its part, the South African Communist Party is also trapped within this problematic and maintains, following the late ‘progressive leader of all mankind’, that class-based action is not now on the agenda and can only be after a successful national revolution eliminates the structures of racial oppression.
However, as an acute recent analysis has pointed out, since international capitalism does not now seriously seek a ‘neo-colonial solution’ to the ‘South African problem’
(because this could only be bought at the expense of widespread disruption within the Republic), racism can only be eliminated by the destruction of the capitalist system as such in South Africa. Arrighi and Saul add: ‘the minimal aspirations of the African people . . . can only be fulfilled by seizing control over the industrial apparatus itself and its reorientation towards the economic and social uplifting of the African masses. Moreover, contrary to what has sometimes been supposed, this . . . clearly cannot be initiated by an African
To understand the structural position of the white working class in the Republic, it is necessary first to recall the historical background of the peculiar politico-economic system of South Africa. The present State structure can perhaps best be described as a functional alliance between international and settler capitalism, after a considerable period of conflict between them. European settlement, of course, arose out of the needs of international capitalism, or imperialism. Originally the European powers—first Holland, later Britain—were only interested in South Africa from a strategic viewpoint. The Cape was on the sea-route to the East. Settlement was encouraged to provide supplies for passing ships, and subsequently to protect the coast from the indigenous inhabitants of the region. But since it was only the Cape peninsula that was important to international capitalism, the settlement inspired by it did not reach far into the interior. Accordingly white occupation of the interior of the country was largely the product of local settler initiative,
But with the discovery of large scale mineral deposits, international capitalism began to view South Africa in a new light. In 1886 the Witwatersrand was declared a gold mining area, foreign capital poured in and two years later was yielding an annual return of £1,300,000. footnote8 With the inflow of capital came an inflow of skilled white labour, mainly men from the mines of Cornwall and Northern England.
The Transvaal settlers who had at first cautiously welcomed the discovery of minerals on their territory footnote9 began to fear that most of the benefits would accrue to ‘uitlanders’. It was true that the railway to the ports permitted farmers in formerly remote areas to market their products, but the railway also meant that produce from outside the Transvaal competed with Transvaal produce in the rapidly expanding urban market. Also Transvaal farmers were losing their labour as blacks preferred working in the mines because of the relatively higher wages there. The settlers responded to these challenges by using the only power that they possessed, their control of the state. They made this control secure by extending the residence qualification for the franchise from 5 to 14 years and then set up a number of state-run monopolies such as dynamite, hoping thereby to gain revenue and provide some diversified employment for their own community. The inefficiency of these monopolies and their consequent hindrance to the mineowners’ operations, as well as Kruger’s attempt to thwart British imperial policy in the North and the East, led to the Anglo-Boer war of 1899 to 1902.
One effect of the war was that much of the rural settler economy was destroyed, and accordingly large numbers of Afrikaners were forced to