NEFAC interviews the Bikisha Media Collective
South Africa is a country where platformist influence has had a huge impact on the burgeoning anarchist movement. The Bikisha Media Collective is a young platformist organization that formed out of the remnants of the Workers Solidarity Federation, which dissolved in 1999. They have a very active presence in numerous social movements and popular struggles, and continue to provide an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when anarchists get organized. Those of us from NEFAC have always maintained good relations with comrades from the BMC, and we are very pleased to be able to include them in this series. Below is an interview with Michael Schmidt, who is the group’s international secretary.
Interview by MaRK, Class Against Class (NEFAC-Boston)
NEFAC: Could you start by giving a general history of class struggle anarchism in South Africa?
BMC: The first known anarchist activity in southern Africa occurred in the 1870s when the black flag flew over the Kimberley diamond diggings during an industrial dispute. It is thought that several exiled Communards participated in this uprising. Between 1896 and 1905, anarchist militants deported from Portugal spent time in jails in Mozambique. It was there, in the early days of the 20th Century, that the anarchist printer Jose Estevam, having been released from prison, established the first known anarchist organization in the region, the Revolutionary League (RL) of Lourenco-Marques, a city which today is the capital Maputo.
Anarchism emerged in late nineteenth-century South Africa, notably through the pioneer work of Henry Glasse. It was only in the early 1900s that the movement began to assume a more organized form.
The Social Democratic Federation, founded in Cape Town, included anarchists as well as other leftists, ranging from radicals to reformists (the founder of the SDF, Wilfrid Harrison, described himself as a philosophical anarchist). ‘The Voice of Labour’, a weekly radical labor paper, started in 1908 or so and began to cover anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist ideas with increasing frequency, and in 1910 two specifically IWW-style organizations emerged: the IWW and the Socialist Labour Party, each of which identified with a different faction in the IWW split in the US and elsewhere over “political action.” Needless to say, they were quite hostile to one another!
In 1915, a far more significant development took place: the founding of the International Socialist League (ISL), which brought together the veterans of the by-then defunct IWW and SLP as well as a radical anti-war group that had emerged within, and had left, the rightwing South African Labour Party. The ISL soon adopted an IWW approach; never calling themselves anarchists, they were committed to a revolutionary industrial unionism that would unite South African workers across race, ethnicity and skill.
At the time, South Africa’s workforce was divided racially, with most skilled jobs being the preserve of whites, unskilled labor undertaken by blacks (under indenture contracts and strict controls over movement and residence), with Indians, coloreds (“mixed-race”, a large group) and poor whites falling somewhere in the middle.
The ISL tried (without much success, although ISL militants became leading radical unionists in Witwatersrand unions), to reform white craft unions in an IWW direction, whilst also beginning attempts at unionizing other workers: in 1917 the ISL helped found the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA, originally called the IWW but changed after a month or so) in Johannesburg, this being the first trade union for black workers in South African history and probably the first in British colonial Africa; that same year it also founded the Indian Workers Industrial Union in Durban; in 1919 it founded two unions in Kimberly, mainly based amongst the predominantly colored workforce there, these being the Clothing Workers Industrial Union, which also emerged in other centers, and the Horse Drivers Union.
Another IWW aligned group, the Industrial Socialist League (IndSL), which took a strictly anti-electoral line (the ISL saw elections as a platform for propaganda), emerged independently in Cape Town in 1918 as a split from what its founders saw as a passive, propaganda-only SDF. They launched a monthly paper entitled, ironically, The Bolshevik (a term that at that time was synonymous with “insurrectionist”). The IndSL also formed a union, mainly amongst colored factory workers, called the Sweet and Jam Workers Industrial Union. Like their counterparts in the ISL, IndSL members became very prominent in the Cape mainstream union federation, but with little effect in terms of winning the organizations as a whole to anarcho-syndicalism.
The formation of unions amongst blacks, coloreds and Indians from 1917 onwards marked an important step forward for the South African anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. The IWW and SLP had, before World War I, actively opposed racial prejudice amongst white workers, and preached interracial unionism, but remained entirely, it seems, based amongst whites.
The main body of ISL and IndSL members were also whites, mainly working class as well, with a large number of East European Jews as well as Scots, and Irish represented. However, with the unions formed from 1917, the overall racial composition of the anarcho-syndicalist “movement” (as opposed to specific groups like the ISL and IndSL) changed radically.
The leading black, colored and Indian workers in these unions adopted anarcho-syndicalist ideas, and either joined the ISL, or took these ideas with them into the African National Congress, which on the Witwatersrand had, by 1918, a significant anarcho-syndicalist presence in its leadership, whose views were made felt in the 1918-19 period in particular. For the ISL, the IndSL and the militants in the unions associated with these organizations, revolutionary industrial unions were seen as serving several complementary functions: uniting workers across race and combating prejudice; providing the basis for mass campaigns against racial laws; and laying the basis for a “general lockout of the capitalist class” and worker self-management.
In 1921, the ISL, SDF and IndSL all played a leading role in founding the Communist Party of SA. This marked the death knell of the “first wave” of anarchist organizing in South Africa. Although some key figures in the CPSA continued to hold syndicalist and anti-racist views, such as Percy Fisher. The huge purges that took place in the Party in the 1930s, the weight of Stalinist ideas, boosted by the immense prestige of the USSR, and the rise of Trotskyism and Black Nationalism all contributed to the decline of libertarian currents. CPSA expellees with a libertarian background tended to become Trots (e.g. Frank Glass from the Cape) or move into nationalism (e.g. Johnny Gomas from Kimberely).
It is notable that many of the black, colored and Indian militants in the ISL and IndSL-linked unions, joined the CPSA. The IWA became absorbed into a new black general union, the ICU, founded in 1921 (a successor to an organization of the same name founded in Cape Town in 1919 which had variously co-operated and competed with the IWA section there on the Cape Town docks).
The ICU did adopt a version of the IWW preamble, and the rhetoric of the general strike, but cannot be considered more than quasi-syndicalist: the revolutionary general strike jostled with nationalist millenarianism, Garveyism and traditional ideologies in an unstable (and terribly organized) union melange that survived until the 1940s, but was effectively dead by the late 1920s.
Following the collapse of the ICU, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism maintained only a twilight existence in the shadow of Stalinism and Black Nationalism. During the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, several South Africans fought on the side of the republic against the fascists, as part of the 40,000 volunteers from 53 nations who defended the republic, but it is not known if any of them were specifically anarchist. Research will be done into this aspect.
Although some anarchist materials were available in South Africa in later years – for instance, through the radical Vanguard Books in Johannesburg – and although some anarchist materials were banned after 1950 (in terms of the sweeping “Suppression of Communism Act,” which also banned the CPSA), it was only in the 1980s that the beginnings of a new wave, a “second wave” of organized anarchist activism began.
Following the adoption of the armed struggle in South Africa in 1961 by the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), several libertarians joined in the fight. At least one anarchist, Thomas Meyer, a white teacher of black students in the far north of the country, is known to have joined MK as an anarchist and was involved in smuggling materials into South Africa from neighboring Botswana.
There was a revival of interest in anarchism among student groups in 1968 as a result of the French Revolt of that year which saw students provoke a national crisis that saw 10-million workers go out on strike, many towns become self-managing and the near-collapse of General Charles de Gaule’s regime. At the then whites-only University of the Witwatersrand, for instance, three students ran on an anarchist ticket for the Students’ Representative Council in 1968 and one was elected, but their understanding of anarchism tended to be chaotic and was overshadowed by the Trotskyists and other authoritarian Communist groups.
From the 1973 Durban strikes onwards, the black trade union movement, which had been moribund since the late 1920s (excluding the 1946 miner’s strike) was revived and syndicalist elements again developed. Leading revolutionary syndicalists at this time included Rick Turner, who was assassinated in 1978, apparently by an apartheid death squad.
By the time the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was founded in 1985, syndicalism, usually termed the “workerist” tendency, was very powerful. Vigorous debates took place within COSATU between the syndicalists and the SACP-aligned “populists” who wanted it to ally with the cross-class nationalist ANC. Although the populists won the argument, syndicalism remained strong within COSATU at the time.
In the 1980s, white, and to a lesser extent, Indian youth involved in the punk subculture played a role in the revival of anarchism, whilst there were also individual black anarchists in a number of townships. ‘Zines were the main form of anarchist writing at this stage, and analyses of the South African situation were rather weak, with ‘zines reflecting the punk subculture for the most part. The “movement” at this stage had no organizational form, no platforms and no noticeable effect on the big struggles of the period, but did form part of the anti-militarist, anti-racist culture of resistance.
In 1992, two years before apartheid came to an end, but while neo-fascism, state-sponsored death-squad activity, military conscription and murderous large-scale battles between the nationalist “liberation movements” like the ANC were common, an organized group, called the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) was formed. But it was not very coherent and so not very effective. A large section of the organization remained within the counter-cultural ghetto; however, an ARM section at the University of the Witwatersrand campus – which included people associated with the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“RevoltÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ ‘zine, produced in 1992 – consciously focused on work in the student movement and had some success in recruiting an integrated membership, and developing an analysis of South African capitalism that sought to link the struggle against apartheid to the struggle against capitalism, arguing for a workers democracy rather than a bourgeois post-colonial regime. It produced a once-off magazine ‘Unrest’.
In retrospect the student section of ARM was somewhat too dogmatic and extremist. In 1995, following the 1994 all-race general election that brought the ANC to power, the ARM became the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF), which grew by 1999 to around 40 members, around 80% of them black and working class. The WSF was influenced deeply by the platformism of the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, and developed a rigorous set of position papers and materials, which we carry online today under our “pamphlets” section of the Zabalaza website. The theoretical work of the WSF marked an enormous step forward for South African anarchism and continues to provide the basic framework of ideas for current organized South African anarchists. The WSF was originally based in Johannesburg but soon linked up with anarchists in Durban and Cape Town, becoming the first national anarchist organization since the 1910s. The WSF produced the journal ‘Workers’ Solidarity’, which incorporated Unrest. It came out twice a year.
In the early 1990s, the Durban Anarchist Federation (DAF) was formed, consisting of three groups: a propaganda collective, a green collective and a “riot grrl” collective. The propaganda collective was initially known as the Awareness League, then later Land & Freedom and throughout the 1990s, it published the journal ‘Freedom’ which was in English with some articles in Zulu. Land & Freedom continues today as Zabalaza Books (ZB). The DAF initially worked alongside the WSF, but declined an invitation to join it, being far more affinity-based, but a Durban section of the WSF was established. The DAF transformed into the Anarchist Workers’ Group (AWG) in the late 1990s but the AWG collapsed several months later because of internal political and personal differences. I would personally say it’s collapse came about because it repudiated platformism, relying on weak friendship-based affinity group organizing. In practice, what happened was that when members had a falling out, the AWG fell apart because their political “cement” was not strong enough.
The WSF was involved in workers’ marches, student occupations, and propaganda work; it even flirted with the notion of forming a union at one stage! However, it saw itself as a specific political group, and not a union, such as the IWW or CNT. WSF saw itself more as an FAI, and in general aimed to work within existing unions, rather than form new red unions. It also maintained extensive international links, including with anarchists in other African countries, but until the recent signing up with the International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS) we had no contact with Latin American groups, mainly due to language barriers. Thanks to our involvement with the ILS, this is now changing and we see it as important because conditions for organizations like the FAG in Brazil are far more similar to those in South Africa than those of European or North American organizations.
In August 1998, following a talk given in Lusaka, Zambia, by myself to an audience of about 40 members of the Marxist-Leninist Socialist Caucus and the University of Zambia – Cuba Friendship Association, the Anarchist & Workers’ Solidarity Movement (AWSM) was established by self-taught anarchist Wilstar Choongo. It was the first known anarchist group in Central Africa since the hey-day of the anarcho-syndicalist influenced Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) which peaked at 100,000 members in 1927 with a section in Zambia. The AWSM consisted of both worker and student members. Close relations were maintained between the AWSM and the WSF, but the former appears to have collapsed in mid-1999 following Choongo’s death by malaria.
In 1999, the WSF was dissolved for a range of reasons, the foremost of which were: weak internal education, leading to a degree of organizational ineffectiveness; the view that it was premature to launch a specific anarchist political organization, as our small numbers trapped us in the classic ghetto of the far left (an organization that starts small remains small because it is too small to attract serious attention as an alternative for workers; a Catch-22 situation); and the fact that objective conditions had yet to change within the working class. Over the past two years, those objective conditions have now changed, with the class now starting to mobilize against the neo-liberal regime of the ANC.
NEFAC: How did the Bikisha Media Collective first form?
BMC: The ex-WSF militants chose to focus on building anarchists rather than building an organization. In other words, the strategic focus shifted from trying to win people to an organization, and instead to the broadest possible diffusion of relevant anarchist materials and literature to the widest layer of workers, with an emphasis on the black unemployed youth. The groundwork for future anarchist action could be laid in this way. In 1999, two projects (not organizations) were prioritized: Bikisha Media Collective, founded in 1999, and Zabalaza Books, which was already established in Durban – which worked closely together to produce and distribute a wide range of pamphlets and materials, and, more recently, a journal called ‘Zabalaza’ (issue #4 of which is currently in production).
Militants were expected to be involved in the class struggle: for instance, Bikisha affiliated to the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF) in Johannesburg, and the Zabalaza Action Group to the Concerned Citizens’ Forum (CCF) in Durban. The main objective of the projects is to provide theoretical and practical support for the emergent social movements.
NEFAC: How would you say ‘platformism’ has influenced your activity?
BMC: Platformism has proven to be a vital instrument in welding together an organization of hardcore class-war anarchists over the past decade. It has given us the organizational and intellectual tools necessary to take on the tasks we have and to stay the distance. During the WSF days it enabled us to analyze the South African transition in a non-sentimental light and to focus on practical activism.
Since the founding of the BMC, with the Workers’ Library & Museum, we managed to carve out an independent anti-governmental space in very hostile circumstances (ANC and SACP opposition, financial bankruptcy and corruption). This not only helped establish us as serious, hard-working, practical and constructive activists that communists and others were forced to take seriously despite our small size, but located us at the heart of the new social movements when they developed later. I believe platformism was vital to ensuring we kept cool, focused and self-disciplined enough to weather the storms and reach the point we are at now: ready to form a regional anarchist federation based among the black poor, at the barricades of the social movements.
NEFAC: You define yourselves foremost as a propaganda group. Are there any plans to eventually link up with other South African anarchist groups and developing into a more formal anarchist federation?
BMC: We have all been linked from the outset into a regional anarchist network and co-operate on a number of different projects. Many projects have cross-membership. Briefly, the main elements of the regional network are:
- Bikisha Media Collective (Cape Town & Johannesburg propagandists & activists: ran the Workers’ Library & Museum in Johannesburg, produces new works on anarchism applied to local conditions; fights against housing evictions, water & electricity cut-offs; some involvement in workers’ radio)
- Zabalaza Books (Durban publishers and producers of anarchist pamphlets, flyers, books & T-shirts, publishes Freedom, runs the zabalaza.net website)
- Zabalaza Action Group (Umlazi, Durban township militants: built the anarcho-syndicalist Workers’ Council; runs workshops at the Workers’ College, fights evictions & cut-offs)
- Workers’ Council (Durban rank & file network of 60 workers belonging to different trade unions)
- Forest City Collective (Johannesburg urban ecology group involved in anti-militarism and self-defense)
- Shesha Action Group (Soweto township study group and community food garden)
- People’s Library (Soweto township tool- and book-lending library, study group and community food garden)
- Anarchist Black Cross (regional class war prisoner & refugee/immigrant support, runs the non-sectarian Anti-Repression Network and publishes Black Alert)
- Red & Black Forum (Johannesburg quarterly anarchist discussion group for people interested in anarchist perspectives on social issues)
In addition, there is the Smithfield Study Group (rural group based in the Free State, fighting farm evictions and neo-Nazi farmers. Their emphasis on fascism rather than the capitalist state as the primary enemy makes them the sole local group with a substantial difference to us). There are also individual anarchists in centers like Khayelitsha (Cape Town township), Pretoria and the Johannesburg inner city that we connect with.
Our regional membership including all groups, for your interest, is about 122 black, 13 white, 1 Indian, 1 colored, of which a minority of about a quarter are women, a distinct weakness at this stage, which we believe will change as we get more involved in the social movements. The “racial” spread pretty much reflects the national population. Most are unemployed urban black youth, but one of our oldest active members is a 42-year-old Class of ’76 township militant.
Experience, clarity of anarchist theory/practice and enthusiasm varies, but we have some really tireless fire-brands who will literally walk for four hours to reach a meeting! Members are mostly working class and come from a variety of political backgrounds, including the SACP, Trotskyist tendencies, PAC, ANC and even the IFP. We have Christian, Muslim and atheist members. We have no armed wing, but our collective military experience is notable: we have members who during apartheid were army conscripts and others who were township militiamen.
On December 16, 2002, at Soweto, the BMC, the Zabalaza Action Group (ZAG), Zabalaza Books (ZB) and the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC-SA) proposed at a meeting with the Shesha Action Group (SAG) and the People’s Library (PL) the founding of a regional anarchist federation to be named the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF). The name reflects the powerful attraction of egalitarian communism in South Africa. The ZACF was proposed because of the rapid expansion of the anarchist movement in South Africa, in the townships of Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town in particular (the movement tripled over the past year); the need to co-ordinate between these groups in order to effectively engage with the dynamic new social movements in both urban and rural areas; the need to unite the southern African anarchist movement, based on clear (anti-)political, tactical and strategic lines in order to provide a home to genuine grassroots revolutionaries; and the need for an effective anarchist strategy for combating capitalist exploitation and state repression and to inject anti-authoritarian politics into the social movements.
We do not wish to merely build an organization for its own ends, but a) because history shows us that specific anarchist organizations are required to form an ideological/practical centre of gravity to weld militant grassroots forces into a libertarian weapon against the elites, even those within the social movements; b) that at times of rapid growth, anarchist education and co-ordination is vital in order to present a solid challenge to Marxist-Leninists and other opportunists on the ground.
The proposal includes the following:
PRINCIPLES: That the ZACF be founded on revolutionary anarchist-communist principles. By anarchism we mean opposition to all forms of authority, be they social, political or economic and by communist we mean a mode of production and distribution based on the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. That the federation stands for direct democracy, functional equality, horizontal federalism, workers’ self-management, and revolutionary anti-capitalism and anti-statism. That the ZACF base itself on the proud fighting tradition of more than 140 years of anarchist-communist history and on those anarchists like Thomas Thibedi, Bernard Sigamoney, Kapan Reuben and Talbot Williams who founded the revolutionary syndicalist unions in South Africa in 1917-1919. That the federation base itself on the 1926 “Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists” federalism, tactical and theoretical unity, and collective action and responsibility.
STRUCTURE: That the ZACF be a horizontal federation of anarchist projects, groups and individuals, networked together in common revolutionary anarchist cause. That each group, project and individual retain its autonomy of action, so long as it is not deemed by a majority of the federation to be in contradiction of federation or anarchist principles. [I envisage that the functions of the various groups – publishing, prisoner support etc – will continue under the ZACF] That the federation decides at its annual congresses on joint projects and that it maintain constant contact with all members to ensure efficient co-ordination of all aims.
MEMBERSHIP: That membership of the ZACF be restricted to reliable, convinced anarchist revolutionaries who agree to abide by the federation’s principles and who are active in the radical social movements. That membership be on an individual basis [by invitation only, I propose], but that a group that has all its members join be confirmed as a member section of the federation.
FUNCTIONS: That the primary functions of the ZACF be to a) provide theoretical and practical support to revolutionary working class autonomous organization and to defend the class against political opportunists; b) provide theoretical and material support to the broader anarchist, autonomist and anti-authoritarian left movement in the region; c) maintain regular continental and international contacts with the global revolutionary anarchist movement.
CONGRESSES: That the ZACF should hold regional congresses once a year which will set the entire federation’s tactics and strategy for the forthcoming year. That a majority of the federation can call an emergency regional congress within a month if needed. That sub-regional meetings be held in the main centers of activity four times a year or more frequently as required. That the founding congress establishes the rules of decision-making at congresses and meetings (including what is meant by terms like “majority”), so long as they conform to anarchist and platformist principles. That decision-making be as far as possible by consensus. That congress can elect immediately-recallable commissions to cover federation projects such as printing its journal. That groups and projects convene their own meetings as frequently as they deem necessary to ensure efficient operations.
Anarchists and anarchist groups from across the country are currently being polled on the proposal with the intention to draw up a draft constitution for debate at the founding congress of the ZACF later this year, possibly around May Day.
NEFAC: What are some of the main difficulties class struggle organizing in post-apartheid South Africa?
BMC: There are two sets of problems; practical and political. Practical problems include the extreme poverty of the people (75% of all homes don’t have food security, hence the anarchist community food gardens). This means that our activists and those they work with are often hungry and too broke to pay for transport and telephones, which in turn makes networking and meeting difficult. Poverty also means that practical projects are delayed because of a lack of funds and that BMC and ZB (which have employed members) have had to provide things such as building materials or tools. Another practical problem is the migrant labor system, combined with traditional duties which urban sons & daughters often have to perform at home in the rural areas. This means comrades sometimes simply disappear for months on end, not having been able to phone to alert us, only to reappear in some distant part of the country.
Political problems include the aggressive attitude of the ruling neo-liberal ANC, which is in government with the social-democratic SACP and Zulu chauvinist IFP towards the “ultra-left”. This has involved over 500 arrests last year, many of them pre-emptive, police attacks on peaceful marches, assaults on comrades in jail by police, the threatened or actual deportation of foreign-born activists, demonization of the social movements in the mainstream media, and spying and harassment by National Intelligence Agency spooks. Another political problem is the demobilization and demoralization of civil society: the ANC-aligned COSATU has had its militants silenced by internal gagging orders and its militant unions rendered ineffective by gerry-mandering, that the mass-based alternative structures (people’s militia, street committees, radical civics, rank & file worker networks) have largely been disbanded, often by the ANC which feared grassroots opposition. A third political problem is the “savior” status of the liberation movements, especially the ANC and particularly that of Nelson Mandela among poor South Africans, with capitalist media choirs singing their praises.
Fortunately the new social movements have grown out of and away from these authoritarian parties, usually around nuclei of hardened street activists. Fourthly, there is the usual game being played by the Trotskyists – the largest active political left faction – who are attempting to monopolize and command the new social movements, transforming them into a Workers’ Party. Fortunately, there is muuch rank & file opposition to this opportunism. Finally, unlike Latin America, we have no elder anarchist movement to rely on for experience. All the other liberation movements in the region were and are authoritarian. It is difficult to spread the anarchist message in a country that has forgotten its anarchist past. The advantage of this is we are starting from scratch and do not have to deal with lunatic fringe terrorist or primitivist factions. More broadly speaking, South Africa’s level of development by comparison to its neighbors puts it in a position where its social-political resistance is forced to develop in a virtual vacuum, with similar movements in neighboring countries which have tiny industrial proletariats forced by necessity to also be tiny.
NEFAC: What sort international relations does the BMC maintain?
BMC: We have had intermittent contact with the Awareness League (AL) in Nigeria, whose book ‘African Anarchism’ we have kindly been allowed to reprint in a cheaper edition for southern Africa, and have recently made contact with comrades in the Anti-Capitalist Convergence of Kenya (ACCK), a newly-formed joint anarchist and socialist network. But overall, anarchist contacts are few and far between in Africa and war, poor communications, poverty and migrant labor make maintaining contacts difficult. The CNT-Vignoles and the IWA-AIT cover most groups in Francophone countries such as Morocco and Burkina Faso. Bikisha’s militants have involved themselves in at least one international event a year, believing practical internationalism to be vital to the successful creation of a coordinated global anarchist movement.
At home, we have participated in the mass protests against the bourgeois-capitalist events of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in August 2001 and in the protests against the World $ummit on $ustainable Development (W$$D) in Johannesburg in August 2002. We have maintained close links with, in particular, the SAC (Sweden), the CNT-Vignoles (France), the Federation Anarchiste (France/Belgium), the WSM (Ireland), the CGT (Spain) and NEFAC (USA/Canada). Bikisha and Zabalaza Books were both signatories to the international platformist/anarcho-communist statements issued at some of the anti-globalization actions in recent years and sent delegates to the “Other Future” international anarchist gathering in Paris, France, in April/May 2000, the anti-Eurotop anarchist congress in Gothenburg, Sweden, organized by the SAC in June 2001, and ILS meeting at Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2003. It was at the “Other Future” event in Paris that Bikisha took part in the international discussions that suggested the forming of a new network to link the large anarcho-syndicalist unions that fell outside the IWA-AIT and smaller anarchist political groups such as ourselves that fell outside the IAF-IFA. Bikisha and Zabalaza Books endorsed the founding of International Libertarian Solidarity (ILS) in Madrid, Spain, in May 2001, and today, both organizations, plus the Zabalaza Action Group based in Durban, are members of the ILS. Our approach has always been deliberately non-sectarian towards all genuine anarchist formations, so we remain on friendly terms with, for instance, both the IWA-AIT and the expelled anarcho-syndicalist organizations now grouped under the ILS.
NEFAC: What are your future plans for the group?
BMC: Specifically, in the African context, our objectives are to:
- Write new anarchist pamphlets that analyze the challenges facing the southern African working class, peasantry and poor and which provide anarchist solutions to these;
- Provide these theoretical materials to the emerging social movements, and in particular to fight against the attempts of the Marxist-Leninists in the Social Movements Indaba and the Landless People’s Movement to transform these formations into a Workers’ Party, that tried-and-failed authoritarian non-option;
- Provide practical support to the emerging social movements, by liberating those jailed, broadcasting information about social struggles, working in community gardens, providing material aid like building materials, participating in actions against the police and other thugs sub-contracted by the state;
- Network all Anglophone anarchist groups on the continent, help them with materials and enable them to contribute discussion pieces to our journal, with a view to not only producing new African anti-authoritarian practices, but practical intercontinental solidarity;
- Establish the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) as the ILS representative in South Africa. The ZACF would probably also seek membership of the International of Anarchist Federations (IAF);
- By doing all of the above, re-establish South Africa’s recently-lost fighting tradition of grassroots militancy – township militia, street committees, autonomous civics, rank & file syndicalist networks, the very popular organizations that brought apartheid to its knees – in order to meet the challenges of the domestic and global neo-liberal regimes. From this strong, horizontally federated base, the South African poor would have the ability to launch a social revolution that would outflank our bourgeois communists and resonate across Africa and the world.
This interview is from the “The Global Influence of Platformism Today” series in The Northeastern Anarchist #6 (Winter/Spring 2003). Further interviews include platformist-influenced anarchist groups from Ireland, United Kingdom, Italy, France, Czech Republic, Brazil, and Chile. The NEA is the English-language magazine of the Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and analysis in an effort to further develop anarchist-communist ideas and practice.