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Misappropriating Marxism to justify the paradigm of capitalist mode of appropriation will compromise the masses hard-pressed in economic exploitation and inequality
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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 16, No. 13, 27 June 2017

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Misappropriating Marxism to justify the paradigm of capitalist mode of appropriation will compromise the masses hard-pressed in economic exploitation and inequality

A reply to Justice Piitso by Alex Mashilo

Dear Justice Piitso, as I indicated after receiving your open letter addressed to our Party General Secretary Dr Blade Nzimande, on 19 June, it was two days just after the funeral of his mother, Mrs Nozipho Nzimande. I nevertheless forwarded your letter to him with due regard to the sensitivity relating to his circumstances. And since you wrote to him in his capacity as our Party General Secretary, I do not believe you had the illusion that the Party would create a monopoly for him to reply. In addition, your open letter was, of course, further carried by the Gupta ideological apparatus, The New Age three days thereafter, on Friday, 23 June 2017. It was two days afterwards that I decided to engage with your open letter in the form of this reply. But for the benefit of the new generation of the youth in the ranks of our Party, especially members of the Young Communist League, I decided to go back to the basics, to start and proceed from there in a comradely spirit.

Just, and perhaps a minor note before I proceed, the title of my reply has less to do with your open letter - it has more to do with the political atmosphere that your open letter coincided with. I am sure you might have noticed that there are others who increasingly care less about the masses of our people, if ever they still care or if they have ever cared at all. Their mainstay is now defending the Guptas and their networked or other ilk. Having been in constant communication with you, I am sure your position is that you are not part of those elements. They are also arguing - exploiting the name of Africans in particular and black people in general - for the advancement of the capitalist mode of appropriation of the product of workers' labour (or surplus value). This product of labour is accumulated in the form of, or any combination of profit, interests, rent and assets (commodities in the form of factories, means of production, etc.), but all in the ultimate analysis certainly as capital. First of all I would like to draw your attention, expressing this very fundamental point, to what Karl Marx and his life-long collaborator Friedrich Engels said in the Manifesto of the Communist Party first published in 1848:

"To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion.

"Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.

When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character."

This is basically why I found it difficult to legitimise private appropriation, ownership and control of capital by capitalists - regardless of whether they are white or black. It is exactly for the same reason why I basically decided to become a Communist to fight for the restoration of capital to its producers who are its rightful owners as aptly summarised by Marx and Engels above. This, the constitutive basis of class struggle under capitalism, should actually suffice in addressing the notion of the so-called "white monopoly capital" regardless of, in general, who has used it before or is currently using it. But because I want to reflect on what is summarised by the title of this intervention, as briefly explained above, I decided, accordingly, to further substantiate.

As you know, Marx (1818-1883) studied the capitalist mode of production extensively, employing the science of the materialist conception of history and dialectics. He produced massive volumes of work on the subject. Capital: A critique of political economy became his major work. He produced it in three volumes, Volume 1, 2 and 3. In his ‘Preface to the First (German) Edition' of Capital Volume 1, Marx conceded: "Beginnings are always difficult in all sciences. The understanding of the first chapter, especially the section that contains the analysis of commodities, will therefore present the greatest difficulty" (1990/1867, p. 89). The concession was, in part, a response to the reviews that came to Marx's attention. Marx was himself nevertheless alive to the difficulty: "The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation" (Capital, Vol. 1, 2015/1867, p. 6). The writer who would have asked for Marx's advice on how to approach the book (given the difficulty as highlighted above from Marx in person) would have been sincere, unlike those who, without grasping the content and its presentation, abandoned the reading in addition because of its voluminous size but then proceeded to claim monopoly of authority.

In fact others criticised the work without grasping it. In a letter dated 5 January 1888, Engels wrote: "The critics are on the other hand very, very much below the average low level" (Marx-Engels Briefe ÜberDas Kapital", p. 304). Marx was no stranger to attacks not unlike the "open letters" addressed to our contemporary Party officials. Some of the endless open letters are not necessarily sincere. They are merely attacks by those who seek to draw attention to themselves. In the same correspondence just quoted, Engels wrote: "Then a miserable Jew Georg Adler, Privatdozent in Breslau, has written a big book, the title of which I forgot, to prove M[arx] wrong, but it is simply a scurrilous and ridiculous pamphlet by which the author wants to call attention - the attention of the ministry and bourgeoisie - on himself and his importance... Indeed if any miserable impotent fellow wants to faire de la réclamefor[- i.e. advertise] himself he attacks our author..." (p. 305).

The first chapters of Volume 1 of Marx's Capital begin a journey in which he presents his research work and analysis, departing not only from the surface or appearance, systematically to the essence, but also from the abstract, to the concrete. The latter becomes very clear as the book unfolds. To grasp the presentation of the subject matter not only in the first chapter in relation to the section on the analysis of commodities, but also chapters 2 to 5 although the latter chapters to a lesser extent, requires another component in Marx's method of analysis: "in the analysis of economic forms neither microscope nor chemical reagents are of assistance. The power of abstraction must replace both" (Capital, Vol. 1, 1990/1867, p. 90).

In dealing with the subject of capital, and clearly distinguishing it from its appropriators based on capitalist relations of production, Marx wrote: "If we abstract from the material substance of the circulation of commodities, that is, from the exchange of the various use-values, and consider only the economic forms produced by this process of circulation, we find its final result to be money: this final product of the circulation of commodities is the first form in which capital appears" (Capital, Vol.1, 2015/1867, p. 104). In other words, for Marx capital is not merely a thing but a process, and capital assumes many forms, among them that of money. If we may then ask, is the colour of (the) money, that is capital, including, and all in the process of valorisation, its physical asset forms that are either valued or expressed ultimately in money form, white? Or is that money controlled on a capitalist private basis in South Africa predominantly by the white, and it must be said, also foreign, bourgeoisie? Let us look at the following passage before we proceed to what is, basically, meant by the bourgeoisie.

"As the conscious representative of this movement" [- i.e. private capital accumulation, or private monopoly capital at its highest stage), writes Marx, "the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts and to which it returns. The expansion of value, which is the objective basis or main-spring of the circulation M-C-M['], becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will" (Capital, Vol. 1, 2015/1867, p. 107). By the bourgeoisie it is meant the capitalists, those who, as Marx says, personify capital - but in no way do they replace it to become capital themselves. This is basically why Marx specifically called them capitalists, clearly distinguishing them from capital itself.

To confuse capital with its private accumulators, the capitalists (who can be white, foreign, black, male or female, etc.), to justify the argument that our key strategic opponent is "white monopoly capital" and argue for black capitalist ownership of capital, has the effect of distorting Marx and co-opting his work to feed other class agendas. The real motive by some of those who do this is to invoke "Marxism" for a thoroughly un-Marxist objective - to advance the cause of black capitalists as if they would or could behave in any fundamentally different way from their white counterparts. As Vivek Chibber has recently written: "the point is that the market tells the capitalist which elements of his moral universe are viable and which are not - rather than vice versa" ("Rescuing Class from the Cultural Turn", Catalyst, Vol. 1, No.1, Spring 2017). This sleight of hand is exactly an integral part of what the ANC in its 1969 Strategy and Tactics document referred to as narrow nationalism and chauvinism. As the ANC states in the document, its: "nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism... It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the masses."

As Jeremy Cronin, Alex Mashilo and Malesela Maleka (Umsebenzi Online, Vol. 16, No. 09, 11 May 2017) (in a response to Professor Chris Malikane) correctly state, in our contemporary reality - "Unquestionably, overwhelmingly the majority of capitalists in South Africa are white and male". There can be no denial about this. To the extent they command a monopoly of private control over capital they constitute white monopoly capitalists, while capital remains that which it materially is as represented in its elementary or basic form by the formula M-C-M' developed by Marx in Capital. The formula stands for the following process of continuous motion, as Marx explained, "the transformation of money into commodities, and the change of commodities back again into money; or buying in order to sell. Money that circulates in the latter manner [- i.e. in accordance with the formula M-C-M'] is thereby transformed into, becomes capital, and is already potentially capital" (Capital, Vol. 1, 2015/1867, p. 104).

It is not my intention in this intervention to theorise the financialised aspect of the above formula of capital, which will appear to be excluding the (commodity or "C") production process during which, as a labour process, more value is produced/added. Hence the M' after the value add labour process, representing more money/capital than would have initially been advanced. There is no way one can even argue, as Malikane does, that the source of our tax base or national revenue is "white monopoly capital" if indeed one appreciates the labour theory of value as developed by Marx, and if one is strongly opposed to, and is truly an activist against economic exploitation. In material terms, the wealth produced by the labour of workers but privately appropriated by capitalists in the form of surplus value as transformed into capital belongs to those whose labour produces it, the workers (strictly speaking it is also in this context that it cannot therefore be white). It is, basically, the workers' unpaid labour that capitalists privately accumulate in the form of capital made their so-called private property.

By the way capitalists themselves are aware about the robbery they are committing. Among others in every state they want a constitution or laws that protect that so-called private property because they are insecure. They are always scared that without such protection the people who produce capital from their labour in production, the workers could at any time rise up and take what is rightfully theirs. The tax or revenue thereby obtained is primarily from workers' labour - not from their exploiters, the capitalists, not even from "white monopoly capital". How will the unfair private appropriation and accumulation (of capital), which is the source of inequality (for so long as this mode of appropriation exists there will always be inequality), be finally resolved? This will ultimately require a real radical measure - a revolution.
Of course there is still a lot of work that must be done by the revolutionary working class movement before that ultimate revolution occurs and breaks all protection offered to robbery. But until then the movement must do everything possible to systemically press for policies that will establish a true radical transformation movement to do away with undue wealth by giving back to Caesarwhat is Caesar's - i.e. to restore the wealth/capital produced by the labour of workers to the control and ownership of workers. This is what Marx in 1843/1844 in "A contribution to the Critique of Hegel's philosophy of right" meant when said: "To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter", and, therefore, to go to, and proceed from, the root!!

Related to the above, the subject of monopoly capital as discussed by Vladimir Lenin in his thesis "Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism" originally published in 1917 has nothing whatsoever to do with attempts at co-opting his work to justify maintaining the systemic paradigm of monopoly capital by merely transferring its control to black capitalists who are, by the way, and will remain, very few relative to the immense majority of Africans in particular and black people in general (who will remain exploited and therefore impoverished in inequality). Lenin's thesis was, and remains in line with the solution as presented by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The working class (central to which is the proletariat or wage labourers in a capitalist society) must win the battle of democracy and, writes Marx and Engels: "use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible".

The Communist Party appreciated the distinction and relationship between capital and the capitalists (under capitalist production) as far back in its formative years in South Africa. In a resolution first adopted by the Communist International and by the Communist Party in South Africa, the Party wrote: "The development of relations of capitalist production has led to British imperialism carrying out the economic exploitation of the country with the participation of the white bourgeoisie of South Africa (British and Boer)" (1928/1929).

The notion of "white monopoly capital" has been misappropriated to divert attention from the Guptas' brazen smash and grab accumulation regime. There can be no denial about this. And, in the process, that misuse and discrediting of the notion has produced the effect of concealing a holistic view of the global regime of private monopoly capital - imperialism - which is enormously at play in South Africa. Over and above the white bourgeoisie of South Africa who dominate private control of capital in the country, imperialist control of capital has penetrated deeper. It has become more extensive in South Africa since 1994 (By the way the Guptas have, and controversially as it has turned out, and therefore which is still a subject of scrutiny, only recently been naturalised). Imperialist penetration in South Africa post-1994 is now by far more than as analysed in the ANC's 1969 Strategy and Tactics document which identified Britain, (West) Germany, France, the United States and Japan as "major imperialist powers" with "an enormous stake in the economy of our country" and which could pass over from supporting the apartheid regime to active intervention in a situation of crisis. These realities highlight the fact that private capitalist control of capital by both the domestic (overwhelmingly white and male) and foreign capitalists is dominant in South Africa. Nevertheless the point does not mean that black capitalist control of capital is good for the working class, neither does it mean that there is no state controlled capital in the country. As a matter of fact there is state controlled capital in our country, and there must be on an increasing basis under the implementation of the "Freedom Charter" - which we return to below.

Any radical economic transformation that turns a blind eye to imperialism in South Africa will not be genuine. It will be as false as calling outsourcing and privatisation, placing the state and its functions, the production and delivery of public goods and services on tender to sections of individuals or the elite radical economic transformation simply because they are black while the masses directly own nothing but continue to be exploited by both the black and white capitalists either jointly (in black bourgeoisie economic empowerment schemes) or severally and by foreign capitalists economically and politically. The "Freedom Charter" is very clear on what must happen to monopoly capital: "The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people".

Real radical economic transformation must produce economic emancipation. As the ANC's 1969 Strategy and Tactics document states, economic emancipation cannot be achieved in our land "unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals [-] be they White or Black". As the ANC's 1997 Strategy and Tactics document further states: "In some instances what is hailed in the private sector as ‘black empowerment' is symbolic and devoid of real substance... There are possibilities too, that the path to riches for some can be directly via public office, sometimes through corrupt practices. Though such instances may be an exception to the norm, experience in other countries has taught us that, without vigilance, elements of these new capitalist classes [new strata of the capitalist class in our terminology] can become witting or unwitting tools of monopoly interests, or parasites who thrive on corruption in public office."

Sadly, what the ANC thought would be an exception to the norm has become a norm (Vigilance must have elapsed somewhere). This is why we must forge the broadest possible patriotic front to intensify the just struggle against corporate state capture, corruption, rent-seeking and Guptarisation included. This is class struggle. As Marx and Engels said in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, class struggle, which is constantly taking place and therefore uninterrupted a process, is an open process, but it is at times hidden. There are those who, within the ranks of our movement, have joined the bandwagon of defending the rot we are fighting against, and are firmly part of the ideological apparatus of private capital accumulation. No amount of distortion and co-option of revolutionary theory by anyone will ever confuse revolutionaries. The revolution is back on trial. It is obviously not guilty, and must ultimately triumph, regardless of whether the accumulators of capital on a capitalist private basis are white, black or foreign!

* Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo is SACP's Spokesperson. Some notes on references are worth making. Marx's Capital: A critique of political economy was first published in 1867 in German and an English edition in 1887. The Penguin Classics English edition referenced in this work was first published in 1976, with a Reprint in 1990, hence 1990/1867. Progress Publishers, with the 1867 English edition as the source published the book with reprints at several times. The latest proof, referenced in this intervention was made in 2015, hence 2015/1867. Marx-Engels Briefe ÜberDas Kapital" as published in 1954 by Dietz Verlag, Berlin.


Defeat thuggery, even if it employs the names of those who serve in highest offices

By Benson Ngqentsu

Let us recognise the blind spot and the need for greater vigilance on the dangers the smash and grab, toxic and parasitic network poses to our revolution. This smash and grab, rent-seeking parasitic tendency uses all the dirty tricks in the book, including intimidation and murder, to silence dissenting views and dismiss anyone who dares to stand up against its looting spree.

Painfully, these anti-democratic and even criminal practices are carried out under a democratic order, led by the same liberation movement that suffered the same crimes perpetrated by the illegitimate regime of apartheid. These practices have increased in number and severity at an alarming rate. President Jacob Zuma, the head of state does not even border to distance himself from, or condemn these appalling acts perpetrated in the name of defending him. For example he is yet to distance himself from, and condemn the threats directed at Solly Mapaila, SACP Second Deputy General Secretary on 10 April and later at Mapaila's house. A fundamental question remains unanswered. How did a gunman find his way to, and aim a gun at Mapaila at, an event where the head of state was present and had just spoken?

Alliance cadres have been eliminated without any arrests, prosecutions and convictions. In Mpumalanga numerous cadres, including Bomba Ntshangase, were killed. In KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of the Eastern Cape and North West numerous cadres have been assassinated.

The head of state and other relevant authorities owe the alliance and society as a whole an explanation for lack of progress in ensuring arrests, prosecutions and successful convictions. It is also important to explain why the investigation report into the attack of Party members in Mpumalanga at the Joe Slovo lecture by a rented crowd is not has not been released?

Every leader of the SACP at all levels has a duty to defend our revolution, including, and particular, from the dangers of the smash and grab, rent-seeking parasitic factions. In focussing on this blind spot, we must stand united against any attempt to intimidate our leaders. The leadership of the Party must take very seriously any warnings of attempts by anybody to eliminate Mapaila. These claims can be easily substantiated by the apparent threat to his life and threats to his family by a group of lumpen agents who hijacked the name of the MK Foundation. The handlers of those forces must be reminded that the Umkhonto We Sizwe was a military wing jointly established by the SACP and the ANC to respond to the murderous system of apartheid. It must never be used as a proxy in bids for patronage and to intimidate fellow freedom fighters.

These attempts are planned actions by the corrupt blocs of people in our movement and society at large. They clearly identified Mapaila as a key stumbling block to their looting spree. What they should know is that Mapaila is implementing our Party's mandate given to him. All communist and progressive forces must rise in his defence. Importantly, our comrades deployed in the state must learn not to personalise criticism. Exposing and speaking out against the rot destroying the ANC and its support as well as the ANC-led government is not a treasonous act. It is a sign of patriotism. Any thuggery that seeks to vulgarise our revolution must be exposed and defeated. In breaking his silence on these issues, President Zuma owes us answers to the following questions:

What necessitated changes in the Chris Hani Commemoration programme, which saw him speaking first (a keynote address is normally the last) but late (thus delaying the start of the programme) and then immediately leaving the venue after speaking?

  • How far has the investigation into this incident progressed?
  • Why has he both not distanced himself and condemned those who, in the name of defending him, went to Mapaila's house to threaten Mapaila and his family?

With all these incidents, it is clear that our revolution is under attack. The attacks and intimidations are not merely an attack and intimidation on Mapaila individually but on our revolution. We must defeat thuggery, even if it employs the names of those who serve in highest offices.

* Benson Ngqentsu is the SACP's Western Cape Provincial Secretary.


Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class