In South Africa, channelizing Marx towards building a united front

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The 200th birth anniversary of the revolutionary philosopher was commemorated with events aimed at raising political consciousness

By Musawenkosi Cabe / The Dawn News / May 8, 2018

“Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of workers. –
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

On May 5, across the world, celebrations were held marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx – one of the greatest revolutionary thinkers of the 20th century. In the Southern tip of Africa, leading up to and on the historic day, Marx was commemorated by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) – the biggest union in the country – through a range of political activities aimed at various sectors of society.

Influence of Marx in South Africa

Marx refused to be a thinker of abstraction or abstract ideas.  Analysing the world, he rather, preferred to be a philosopher that inspired change. His ideas went beyond the Global North and profoundly influenced the Global South, inspiring a generation of revolutionaries – Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel Castro and Thomas Sankara, among many others.

In South Africa, the apartheid government banned communism and anyone who evoked Marx’s ideas through a parliamentary law in 1950 – the Suppression of Communism Act 44. This piece of legislation saw a number of anti-apartheid activists being detained without trial and many forced into exile.  It is therefore not incidental that progressive workers’ unions, like NUMSA, in South Africa, continue to celebrate and channelize Marx in their day-to-day struggles even after apartheid.

NUMSA celebrated the 200th anniversary of Marx through a series of public lectures, seminars, teach-ins and art exhibitions with the intention of not only celebrating Marx but also raising political consciousness among the working class in South Africa. The seminars focused on Marx’s key teachings and the influence of his ideas in the anti-apartheid struggle and the current state of labor movements across the world.  Movements from the left were invited to take part in the discussions on Marx’s works.

The anniversary was more than a celebration. For NUMSA, it was a recommitment to the ideological and practical struggle for revolutionary organising, in order to continue building the formation of the working class into a class for itself, a representative of the union said,

The events are of  vital importance at a time when inspired by Marxism-Leninism, NUMSA is set to launch “a revolutionary socialist workers party whose mission and task is to fight in the interests of the working class”, before the end of this year.

By forming a political party, NUMSA will be implementing a resolution it took in its 2013 Special National Congress of forming a United Front for the working class and the poor. NUMSA was of the view that the union of workers was used in the ‘alliance by the ANC to rubber stamp neoliberal policies.’

For NUMSA, “as long as the majority of black and African people are still living below the poverty line there is no freedom”.

NUMSA has won a number of victories but understands, as Marx and Engels have cautioned in the Communist Manifesto, that the real fruits of the working class “lie in the ever expanding union of workers”, hence the formation of the party. However, the union understands also that for the total liberation of the working class in South Africa, it will have to go beyond theory and mobilize the working class. This commitment was evidenced by the imprint on the back of the union t-shirts designed specifically for the celebration: “let the ruling classes tremble at a socialist revolution. We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a  world to win. Workers of the world unite.”

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