Terry Bell


Nationalise the mines. That is a demand taken up loudly in recent months by the Economic Freedom Fighters. It is a demand long made by many in the labour movement and it has been given added impetus with the Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) deision to dispose of, or close down, some of its older underground mines.

But those both for and against nationalisation tend to see this demand as “socialist”, as an alternative to the present capitalist system. It is not.

In fact, to equate nationalisation with socialism is as erroneous as blaming the Amplats decision to dispose of mines on the recent strike and on the wage demands won by miners. Yet this blame game is in full swing, peppered with jargon that owes more to blind emotion than rational thought.

In a public relations sense, it is convenient for Amplats that its decision is blamed on the strike and higher wages. But the truth is that the move has long been on the cards — and makes economic sense for the company.

As part of the global capitalist system, Amplats needs to compete as efficiently and effectively as possible in order to accumulate the profits that reward shareholders and are ploughed back into making the business more profitable. Competition and accumulation. This is the underlying dynamic that defines the system, nothing else.

The only real alternative to this would be a co-operative system based on community needs. But for this to operate would require the extension of democratic control to all aspects of society: political, economic and social. In fact, the egalitarian ethos of the South African Bill of Rights fits the bill and, in the correct sense, can be seen as socialist.

But Amplats functions successfully in the existing system and is aware that unless some new use for platinum can be found, the boom days for the metal are probably over. So it has sought out cheaper means of mining in order to maintain profitability, achieving this with a 137 sq km mining right in Limpopo.

The staffing ratio to production is minimal at the heavily mechanised mines at Mogalakwena 30km outside Mokopane. So the prospect of up to 20 000 job losses now looms — and will have disastrous consequences for many communities.

If, for example, 20 000 jobs are lost, up to 200 000 men, women and children will be directly affected. And then there is the knock-on effect to those who provide goods and services to miners and their families.

This is extremely serious. So there are now growing demands that something be done, that solutions be found. And nationalisation is again trumpeted — to be hailed or condemned as a “socialist” solution.

Whether or not some form of nationalisation would provide any solution is doubtful, but would not be socialist. And proclaimed socialists, who often refer to themselves as Marxists, should be be aware of this.

Back in 1880, Frederick Engels, collaborating with Karl Marx, noted: “But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces.”

Engels went on to point out that the more the state takes over the productive forces “the more citizens does it exploit”. In cases of this kind — and the various “socialist countries” as well as apartheid South Africa provide good examples — the states have (and had) a high degree of nationalised industry coupled with a dearth of democracy.

This fusion of state and capital is merely, to use Engels’ term, “national capitalist”. But this also means that the inevitable conflict between employers and employees becomes revolutionary: workers versus the state.

And it is in such national capitalist states, North Korea being the best example, followed perhaps by China, that trade unions become adjuncts of the state and ruling party, just as they were in the former Soviet Union and its satellites. These were once described by the late SA Communist Party chairman and our first minister of housing, Joe Slovo, as “socialism where the element of democracy was missing”.

But democracy, according to the philosophers Slovo followed, is not some optional ingredient in socialism. It is essential; without democracy socialism cannot exist.

So members of the National Union of Metalworkers, who plan to traipse off to Latin America to seek possible solutions to what is a global economic crisis, might do better by staying at home and trying to implement the egalitarian — democratic — principles of the Bill of Rights.


Pic Credit: Striking platinum mine workers by Delwyn Verasamy

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