Yossi Schwartz


The Marxist Position on the Durban Conference

(September 2001)

This document is to the best of our knowledge published here for the first time.
Published here on behalf of the Socialist Workers League (Palestine) as a gesture of solidarity with those fighting Zionism and imperialism at the sharp end.
Transcribed by Daniel Rubinstein.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

The hysteria with which the representatives of Zionism and imperialism received the approach of the Durban Conference against racism in South Africa reflects their fear of the revolutionary awakening of the masses all over the world, as shown by the increasing size and militancy of the anti-globalization demonstrations, and, in our region, by the heroic Intifada of the Palestinian people.

The conference revealed that the bourgeoisie of the semi-colonial, so-called “Third World” countries can issue declarations condemning imperialism, but because of its fear of the masses it inevitably ends up selling the struggle and reaching a rotten compromise with the imperialist exploiters. As regards, slavery, the semi-colonial countries finally supported a compromise resolution that failed to condemn colonialism and capitalism as the real causes of the slave trade, and of course left no opportunity for the African countries to demand financial compensation from Europe and the US. As regards Palestine, the resolution failed to condemn the racist and anti-Semitic character of Zionism, and did not even mention specifically the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. Instead, it called for the end of violence and the renewal of the negotiations, i.e. for the defeat of the popular uprising and the submission of the Palestinian people to the racist dictates of Zionism and imperialism.

The support of Europe, Canada and Australia for the compromise resolution should teach the supporters of “international” (i.e., imperialist) “protection” for the Palestinians among the Israeli middle-class “left,” that the attitude of European imperialism towards the Palestinian insurrection is basically identical to the attitude of American imperialism. Much more importantly, the support the Arab and Islamic countries (which at the beginning of the conference presented documents condemning the Zionist apartheid regime) for the compromise resolution has provided the workers of the Middle East with an opportunity to judge for themselves the reality behind the pan-Arabist and pan-Islamist rhetoric employed by the political organizations of the petty bourgeoisie to deviate the masses from the path of the socialist revolution.

The conference also revealed the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, represented in the NGOs forum. As usual in those cases, the NGOs issued a more militant document than the states that participated in the conference, but its formulations were nebulous and ambivalent. Instead of calling for the masses to rise against their imperialist masters, the document calls for the latter to adopt a more “humane” attitude towards their victims. As regards Palestine, the document fails to demand the end of the Zionist state and the establishment of a secular and democratic (not to speak of a socialist) republic in the whole territory of historic Palestine. This ambiguity stems from the ambiguous social position of the petty bourgeoisie, which stands midway between the capitalists and the workers and in moments of revolutionary crisis ends up following one of the two main social classes of modern society – i.e., it either supports the socialist revolution of the proletariat, or the capitalist counter-revolution of the bosses.

Finally, the conference revealed the need for a revolutionary leadership. On August 31 a 40,000-strong demonstration took place against imperialist control of the conference and against the bourgeois and pro-imperialist socioeconomic policy of the African National Congress government of Mbeke in South Africa. Among the demonstrators were workers opposed to the bureaucracy of the South African trade unions (COSATU), landless peasants, and poor people opposed to the collaboration of the COSATU and the South African Communist Party with the ANC. They came also to protest against the so-called GEAR program, which carries out privatizations and increases unemployment in the name of “economic growth.” The demonstration took place two days after a nation-wide general strike against the privatizations organized by the federation of trade unions. It was clear to many of the participants in the demonstration that it was part of the international struggle against global capitalism.

The demonstrators wanted to present their petition to the president of South Africa Mbeki and not to one of his representatives. When Mbeki refused to appear, an internal struggle began within the Durban Social Forum. The more militant activists wanted to occupy the building of the conference, but when the demonstration threatened to clash with the security forces, the representatives of the ANC and the NGOs finally dispersed it. Their surrender to the bourgeoisie began even before the demonstration, when the DSF, under the leadership of the NGOs, adopted the program of class collaboration known as the Porto Allegre program. The rich NGOs, which gave the tone to the DSF, attempt to deviate and as far as possible contain the class struggle against the bourgeoisie because they are financed by the Social Democrats and the Greens of the imperialist countries, the rich churches, organizations such as the Ford Trust, etc.

The petty bourgeoisie of the semi-colonial countries sees in South Africa a confirmation of the Menshevik-Stalinist “stages theory,” according to which the revolution in their countries will take place in two stages: a first one of national liberation, during which only bourgeois-democratic and nationalist demands can be raised, and a second one of social revolution. In fact, the African National Congress, led by tribal prince Mandela and supported by the Stalinists and nationalists, acted as a Popular Front similar to the ones that led to the defeat of the socialist revolution in Spain, France, Chile, etc. In 1994 the black masses were granted formal democratic liberties, but their economic and social situation, as reflected by the continuous growth of disease, criminality, unemployment, etc., continues to deteriorate. The only real difference between the previous apartheid regime and the present “democratic” one is that a very tiny layer of rich blacks was added to the former lily-white bourgeoisie in the management of the South African state.

The defeat of the South African revolution, like the Durban conference itself, reveals the need to build a revolutionary leadership for the revolution to succeed. In Palestine, such a leadership will struggle for the destruction of the Zionist state and for the establishment of a secular, democratic and socialist state in the entire country. In the Middle East, it will issue a call to the masses, and above all to the Arab, Berber, Iranian, Kurdish and Jewish workers, to carry out a social revolution in order to establish a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. Only a reconstructed Fourth International, marching under the banner of working-class internationalism, can provide such a leadership.


Last updated on 21.9.2001