This article seeks to dispel recent fallacious insinuations which have associated us, International Socialists Botswana (ISB) with the BDP’s Socialist International membership. In this short article we try to clear up the confusion about what socialism means.
The BDP ‘socialist’?
First the BDP took the colour red. Red in political history symbolizes the blood spilled by workers who heroically fought for a better life in brutal class struggles and revolutions.Then the BDP student organization GS-26 copied and pasted the fist as their symbol for election campaigns. The fist is emblematic of the power of the working class if they act as a collective. A finger you can break easily, a fist you can’t.Now, BDP is apparently a member of the ‘Socialist International’ and toys with the image to be ‘socialist’.
Kenneth Koma, the founding leader of BNF, always insisted that he was not a socialist, while Karl Marx, declared that he was no Marxist. Why? Both were aware that there were many charlatans around who wanted to claim affinity to socialism because of ulterior motives, the primary reason being to sow seeds of discords within the working class and progressive movements. Thus derailing and betraying the revolution. For all intents and purposes the BDP, is the last party to have any semblance to socialism and the welfare of workers. We recall BDP’s hysteria in the 80s when they tried to scare Batswana off socialism by saying the socialists would take everybody’s small private property.
The ‘Socialist International’ and the ‘Communist International’
The ‘Socialist International’ today is the international association of reformists-socialdemocratic and labour parties, such as Tony Blairs/David Camerons Labor Party in UK and the ANC in South Africa. The ‘Communist International’ or ‘Comintern’ originally gave a living expression to socialism’s guiding concept, through the rallying call for ‘Working people of all countries unite!’ and it represented revolutionary socialists all over the world who were inspired by the uprising of the working class and the liberation struggles that followed the 1917 Russian revolution.
Both ‘Internationals’ arose from its predecessor ‘Second International’, which collapsed at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. While the leaders of powerful ‘socialist’ workers parties quickly abandoned their anti-war resistance and rushed to support the war efforts of their own ruling classes promoting a slaughter which claimed 20 million lives, only a small minority held to the original anti-war stance of the Second International and drew strength from strikes of workers in the ammunition factories, soldiers’ and sailors protests and demonstrations in warring countries.
The ‘Socialist International’ acts in continuum of the reformist labour parties which supported the First World War. This is evident if you look, for example, at the active support of UK’s labour party zealous supportfor every imperialist intervention in the last decades from the Iraq wars to Syria and to the numerous corruption and arms deals the ANC leadership has been involved today.
Though the Comintern was tragically distorted and killed by Stalin’s brutal regime, we as International Socialists Botswana see ourselves in the real Marxist tradition of the early stages of the Comintern where revolutionary socialists, such as Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and Leo Trotskyin Russia insisted on the fact that anti-imperialism is central to workers liberation. In this respect it makes sense for our workers in Botswana to side with the South Sudanese, Syrian, Iraqian, Libyan, Egypt and Zimbabwean working class against the war mongering national regimes pampered by the Chinese and the Western imperialism.
‘Socialism from above’ and ‘Socialism from below’
Politically, the two ‘Internationals’ represented completely different meanings of socialism. In his pamphlet the “two souls of socialism”, the American Marxist, Hal Draper describes ‘socialism from above’ as the idea that social transformation of society can be achieved on behalf of the working class, but without their direct involvement. This type of socialism took the form of Stalinism that ruled Russia and Eastern Europe until its deserved collapse. This also applied to the so-called socialist regimes which existed in Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
They all ruled in the name of ‘workers and peasants’, in the name of ‘socialism’ and in the name of a ‘planned economy ‘and in the name of the politburo. Unfortunately, the collapse of these regimes has been misinterpreted as proof that socialism can never work. When in fact what collapsed was not socialism but state capitalism, as Tony Cliff has rightly asserted.┬á Under state capitalism, the state acted in a similar way as the capitalist class in the market economy. Workers were exploited. They were not in control of the means of production. The plans were not made to produce what people needed. That’s why when these Stalinists regimes collapsed workers had no interest in defending them, on the contrary the celebrated for it was good riddance.
‘Socialism from above’ takes also the form of social democracy claiming that socialism can be brought through parliament. All a worker needs to do is to vote ‘correctly’ and the MP will do everything that is in the interest of workers. The notion of ‘socialism from above’ shaped also various national liberation movements, believing that a guerilla army acting ‘for the people’ can free the mass of humanity from oppression.
The reality is very different. Reformist social democracy or defenders of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as the ANC in South Africa have openly adopted neoliberal reforms, privatization and war drives. All have brought nothing but misery to the workers. Just think for a moment who has cold-bloodedly killed the Marikana workers and why is this callous act not comparable to the Apartheid police Sharpeville massacre? Yet the ANC still proudly sits in the Socialist International. Obviously this is not the ANC of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisuluand Govan Mbeki.
In the case of BDP it is clear that its allusion to socialism is nothing but cynical rhetoric. Who has crushed worker’s protests like the 1976 Phikwe strike, 2006 Debswana strike and 2011 Public Sector Strike, all of which lead to mass sackings of workers? Which party is responsible for the most draconian anti-union laws? Who is talking about ordinary Batswana should pay for water, electricity and education services, which should clearly be provided for free by the government as a welfare benefit?
For us as International Socialists Botswana it is absolutely central that ‘the self-emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself’, as Karl Marx emphasized. Liberal bosses will not free workers, neither will trade union presidents who are eager to co-operate with bosses and later argue that the sell-out was ‘the best they could achieve’. Every significant improvement in the past was not the product of generous MPs but the collective action of ordinary people ÔÇô no matter how short-lived it might have been. Repressive regimes were toppled during the ‘Arab Spring’ not by a parliament bill, but by uprising of ordinary workers who wanted collectively ‘Regime Change’. Liberation is not in the hand of ‘our leaders’ who will act on our behalf. This is the essence of ‘Socialism from below’ to which our organization subscribes. ‘Socialism from below’ is first of all about freedom. Freedom to materialize individual and collective potentials, freedom to have a future that looks promising, freedom of expression and to be free from oppression. The BDP regime violates all these principles. Check out the draconian media practitioner’s bill. And behold-the extra-judicial killings, human rights abuses in the CKGR, trampling on civil liberties, telephone tapping under the guise of national security.
We therefore have nothing in common with BDP. The BDP is not socialist as it is anti-democratic anti-working class and pro-capitalism. Workers have to look somewhere else in pursuit of ‘Socialism from below’. As an existing mass party UDC is not socialist but it is a better alternative in terms of social welfare. For example, they have defended the right to strike and consistently argues for decent wages not the lousy 6% salary increase after 5 years of Domkrag salary freeze. The UDC doesn’t need to join the band wagon of capitalists masquerading as Socialist International. Nevertheless, workers should independently organize in a truly socialist party that seeks the extension of democracy to all spheres including the economy. International Socialists Botswana would be happy to contribute to building such a party.
Chairperson-International Socialists Botswana (ISB)