Thursday, January 17, 2013


I am moving my blog to wordpress: the new address is, or click here.

This (blogspot) blog will stay online, but all content is being mirrored at the wordpress site.

All new posts will be made at the wordpress site.

The fundamental reason for the shift is the ability to host PDFs of the articles and papers I  blog.

So, I will be adding PDFs to all previously posted articles, where available, and I will include PDFs in all new posts.

Thanks for visiting!

Now click HERE on to go to the wordpress site.

Best wishes

Monday, October 29, 2012

SPECIAL ISSUE 2012: Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt (eds.), "Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century"

Labour, Capital and Society/ Travail, capital et société 
Volume 44, number 2

Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt (eds.), "Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century"

CONTACT: Lucien van der Walt with enquiries, or regarding copies.

Paper by Pillay and van der Walt ONLINE HERE

This special issue of 'Labour, Capital and Society' was produced in collaboration with the Global Labour University (GLU), and draws from a highly successful GLU international conference  in Johannesburg in September 2011. The papers address some of the key issues about organized labour's current political role and organizing challenges. Countries covered include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia and South Africa, with authors from across the world bringing a range of perspectives to bear in a series of rich accounts.

The studies, the editors Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt argue, demonstrate the on-going importance of unions, despite their contradictions, as an irreplaceable force for progressive social change for the popular classes, not least in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The world today is not in a "post-industrial", "information" phase, or in a post-neo-liberal era; it is instead essentially classic capitalism, with an ever-growing working class majority. Post-colonial ruling classes have been active authors of the neoliberal agenda, at the expense of their working classes. The current context affirms the centrality of unions, and of organized workers more generally, and it demonstrates that union struggles - and alliances with other sectors of the popular classes - make key reforms like the so-called Standard Employment Relationship possible in the first place. The more that the fracturing of the popular classes is challenged by linking unions to other popular class forces, the more successful such struggles become. The more that unions build solidarity within and across borders, the more space is opened for real social and economic change.

While there is a political vacuum in the heart of current labour struggles - in that they are often defensive,  and lack a clear vision of transformation beyond minor reforms - this same situation also opens space for a profound renewal of a left project centred upon participatory democracy. But what form could this take? Should unions participate in state forums and elections, seeking to wield the state (in a more traditional labour / socialist mode)? Or instead, build autonomous and oppositional bodies of counter-power that pressure the state for reforms from outside (while refusing participate in the state), instead stressing forms of mobilization that prefigure a post-capitalist, self-managed, stateless future (in a more anarchist/syndicalist mode)?

Or are there other options? This collection opens these questions, without providing easy answers.

NOTE: Given the large numbers of papers presented at the 2011 Global Labour University conference and their diverse topics, it was no easy matter to make a selection. A number of other papers will thus appear in a forthcoming book edited by Sarah Mosoetsa and Michelle Williams, to be published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).


SUZANNE DANSEREAU, Journal editor's introduction

DEVAN PILLAY and LUCIEN VAN DER WALT, Contributing Editor's Introduction to the Special Issue: "Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century" ONLINE HERE

DANIEL HAWKINS, "The Influence of Organized Labour in the Rise to Power of Lula in Brazil and Correa in Ecuador"

DEVAN PILLAY,  "The Enduring Embrace: COSATU and the Tripartite Alliance
during the Zuma era"

ERCÜMENT ÇELIK, "'World Class Cities for All': Street traders as agents of union revitalization in contemporary South Africa"

PRAGYA KHANNA, "Making Labour Voices Heard During an Industrial Crisis: Workers' struggles in the Bangladesh garment industry"

JOHN FOLKERTH and TONIA WARNECKE, "Informal Labour in India and Indonesia: Surmounting organizing barriers"

ELAINE SIO-IENG HUI and CHRIS KING-CHI CHAN, "The 'Harmonious Society' as a Hegemonic Project: Labour conflicts and changing labour policies in China"

Thursday, September 27, 2012

REPORT: van der Walt, 2012, "Anarchism’s historical role: a global view"

Freedom • February 2012 • pp.12-14

Anarchism’s historical role: a global view

Lucien van der Walt, co-author of Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism

Freedom bookshop was proud to host a talk by Lucien van der Walt, co­author of the groundbreaking Black Flame who spoke at length about all aspects of anarchist history and movements.

A flicker
Me and Michael Schmidt, who is the co­author and a friend and a comrade going back many years, we were trying to understand something about the history of anarchism and of syndicalism, to understand what that history meant in the past and what it meant for movements today. Perhaps because we were in South Africa, where there had not really been a movement in the anarchist or syndicalist tradition since the early 1920s, there was no continuity and I suppose that also meant there were no preconceptions, we didn’t have any assumptions.

Volume one, of Black Flame, is meant to be looking at historical themes in the anarchist movement, issues, like what were the big anarchist organisations? Who were the people who joined these movements? Where was it globally? We wanted to look at it at a world scale and not just look at the north Atlantic. Why did anarchist peasant movements take off in some countries? How did it spread into third world countries? and so on.

The other thing we also wanted to look at was theoretical issues in the movement. That’s the [second] part – what is anarchism?

The [key] thing in the book was to make the argument that it’s important to have a global view of the anarchist and syndicalist movement.

Very often the way we understand the history of anarchism is constructed around the idea of ‘Spanish exceptionalism’ – that, for some reason, anarchism [only] really took off in Spain. [Guiseppe] Fanelli was sent there by [Mikhail] Bakunin – he had a huge impact and the legend goes he couldn’t even speak Spanish, but through his articulate gestures everybody thought 'hey, this is great stuff,' and decided to spend the next 70 years fighting for it in their millions.

Spanish exceptionalism
There’s a whole range of literature on this – ‘why were the anarchists big in Spain’? There’s a range of arguments. The "good" Marxist argument is Spain had a backward economy, anarchists reflect a backward society, put the two together and you have the CNT. You get the national character argument: well, these Latin chaps are quite lively, anarchism’s quite lively, put them together and you get the CNT.

Spanish anarchism/ syndicalism: mighty, but not unique
The problem with the backwardness argument is that Spain wasn’t all that much a backward economy.

Where were the anarchists based? They were based in the huge industrialising cities, that was one of their big strongholds; they had a base in the countryside, and very often where in the countryside? In the huge commercial farms. Barcelona in the 1920s was one of the fastest growing cities in Europe so the backwardness thing just doesn’t work. It’s one of these Marxist arguments that as the working class matures it all becomes naturally Marxist.

The thing about Spanish character doesn’t work either. Spain also produced General Franco. To say there’s some natural Spanish inclination towards anarchism leaves out small things like the Spanish Civil War which was between two different types of Spain, two different types of Spaniard, and two different ideologies in Spain.

Case against
We would argue that, in any case, the notion that Spain was exceptional is incorrect. If we want to look at Spain, of course it had a huge anarchist movement, a huge syndicalist union movement, and of course that movement went back to the 1870s, and of course that movement made a revolution in the late ’30s.

However if we want to look internationally we can actually find movements that were at least as big as Spain.

If we use as a small index the size of anarchist trade unions relative to the overall labour movement, in other words, how much of the organised labour movement was under anarchist or syndicalist influence or control ... we look at Spain and we find the anarchists actually only had half of the trade unions, the CNT of Spain represented roughly half of the industrial unions, in some areas more; but there was large social­ democratic rival, the UGT. So they had about 50%.

Looking globally
Bolivia 1935: the anarcho-syndicalist Sindicato de Culinaria
If we look at countries like Peru, Mexico, Argentina, for a short time the Netherlands, if we look at France, if we look at Portugal, if we look at Chile, if we look at Uruguay, if we look for a time at Brazil, these were all movements where the anarchists were the predominant force in the trade unions.

Cuba is [an]other one. And in the Cuban case for example, ... from the 1880s anarchists and syndicalists led [the] trade union movement until the 1930s. And even in the ’50s when Castro comes in, a lot of the trade unions are actually led by the anarchists, and one of Che Guevara’s actions is essentially to clear the anarchists out of the trade unions, and set up a good government trade union that makes sure workers do what the government wants. Which is not quite an anarchist approach I think!

Why do people treat Spain as exceptional? They only treat Spain as exceptional by comparing Spain to other countries in the north Atlantic. What they say is – if you look at Spain it had a lot bigger anarchist movement than in the UK or than Sweden or Norway or Germany. And bigger than the US.

Okay, that’s fair enough but when we look internationally, when we look beyond the north Atlantic, there are a lot of move­ments that, even measured simply by how big were the anarchists in the trade unions, were bigger movements.

Internationally speaking
So when we look globally and we look at this international level, we find anarchist movements are very big.

I only used the trade union [index] as a quick way to do the comparison.

If we want to look at things like running daily newspapers, having vast networks of schools, forming workers armies, if we want to look at revolutionary uprisings, if we want to look at the impact on the culture of the popular classes, if we want to look at a role in the countryside, if we want to look at a role in anti­colonial struggles, in all of these ways we can make the same argument – that anarchism and syndicalism were very big in Spain, but Spain was not exceptional, and that we have to understand anarchism and syndicalism globally and as a global movement to understand its historical role.

Poor cousin
Mass anarchist union, Federación Obrera Regional Argentina
And from that, we can start to make the argument that anarchism and syndicalism were not, as people often assume, always the poor cousin of classical Marxism or of social democracy.

For example, classical Marxism had no real presence outside of west Europe [before Lenin's rise]. And its offshoots, with the interesting exception of Indonesia, had no real presence elsewhere.

Classical Marxism before Lenin said ‘look, no capitalism equals no socialism’ and this meant, for people who were keen on Marxism in say, Argentina: ‘hold on don’t do anything, wait a bit for a bit more capitalism’.
It’s not a line the working class always likes.

You had these vast, poor working classes and the Argentine Socialist Party would say ‘vote for more reforms’ and the working class said ‘well, first we can’t vote. This is a problem, most of us immigrants can’t vote. Secondly, we are not seeing any reforms, this thing is controlled by an oligarchy. Third we’ve got all the capitalism that we want. So we don’t really want to join’.

Poor marxism
If we look right across South America, anarchists and syndicalists predominated on the left and the radical movement.

If you look in southern Africa in the 1910s, anarchism and syndicalism predominate.

If we look [at] a case like Egypt, where there was an anarchist movement from the 1870s, anarchism had a key role there even into the early 1920s. In fact the Egyptian Communist Party, when it was originally set up, was known in Arabic as ‘the party of the anarchists’. When they joined the Communist International, one of the conditions was: kick the anarchists out of the Egyptian Communist Party.

Mexican anarchists today: an important force
The first Communist parties set up in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and elsewhere, were actually set up by anarchists [and syndicalists] and they were essentially anarchist parties. So anarchism was not the poor cousin of the movement.

It is a very important thing for us to understand about anarchism: it was a very important movement.

Predominance of Marxism as a movement of the left and a movement in the labour circles in many countries is only something that’s achieved in the 1940s; it’s really in World War Two that Communist parties grow into mass parties in many countries. And it’s not like the anarchist and syndicalist movements just die out in 1939 or 1945; in many countries it remains a very powerful influence despite these rivals.

Trade unions
One thing in the anarchist movement’s history that we can appreciate is its pioneering role in founding trade unions [from the 1870s].

One example is the Regional Workers Federation of Spain, set up in 1870s; this was the one inspired by Bakunin’s delegate Fanelli. The second is the General Congress of Mexican Workers, the second of the biggest [earliest] syndicalist unions, 1876.

The next big one was in the United States, the Central Labour Union in Chicago: this is where the Haymarket Martyrs came from. This was the key trade union in Chicago; it was part of an anarchist movement that could pull a hundred thousand people onto the streets – at the funeral of the Haymarket martyrs 250,000 people. And of course Mayday commemorates that. It’s one of anarchism’s little gifts to the international working class.

[The] Workers Circle in Cuba was the next important one.

Isabelo de los Reyes, influenced by anarchism
Second thing, in many cases the anarchists and syndicalists pioneered trade unions in what I’m calling colonial or post­colonial countries – either under direct colonialism or were in some way maybe less formally subject to [the] Great Powers.

Again, when we look here we can see a pattern of an important early role and a long-term presence by anarchists in the mass movements.

Isabelo de los Reyes in the Philippines was a Filipino independence fighter – as the Spanish empire starts collapsing in the 1890s the United States moves in and starts to ... take over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. He’s locked up in Barcelona with Spanish anarchists, he reads a lot of this stuff, he thinks this is pretty good, and he comes back and he sets up a trade union in Manila in about 1904, modeled on the Spanish anarchist trade unions.

Other voices [points here were linked to images]
Liu Shifu in China – his group, the Anarchist Communist Society, set up the first trade unions in China in the 1910s; into the early 1920s, especially in areas of Yunnan, anarchists led the trade unions. Shifu unfortunately died young – he had TB – but his movement was very important. And for a less glorious legacy of anarchism there a young librarian called Mao Tse­tung was in 1919/­1920 an anarchist and identified with the anarchist movement.

In the early 1920s you could get most of Kropotkin’s key writings in China; there wasn’t an official copy of the Communist Manifesto available.

T.W. Thibedi, African revolutionary
T.W. Thibedi in South Africa. His father was a minister, he studied at a church school and he taught in a church school. 1915, he was in a meeting in Johannesburg, of the International Socialist League which was a revolutionary syndicalist group, thought 'this is damn good stuff' and he joined.

And he was the first of a whole wide layer of African, coloured and Indian cadre in South Africa of the anarchist [and syndicalist] movement, and he was a key figure in a syndicalist union there called the Industrial Workers of Africa, which was the first trade union in British southern Africa for black African workers.

China 1927: Korean and Chinese anarchist militants
Shanghai 1927: Korean and Chinese anarchists, they’re involved in a number of joint projects. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule and a hell of a lot of the Korean anarchist movement is actually outside of Korea.

Very often they were in China or in Japan, and this particular wing was involved in the National Labour University and subsequently in something called the Leader College. These were essentially universities under anarchist control, although sponsored by a wing of the Guomindang, which trained people in classes like Esperanto and gardening and anarchist theory. They were also involved in training militias; there was a Movement for Village Self­-defence, they were involved in that.

Anarchist revolutions
In terms of revolutions there are three that, I think, we could reasonably characterise as anarchist revolutions.

First is the movement of the Makhnovists in the Ukraine in 1918 until 1921 (when it gets suppressed).

Next important one is Manchuria 1929.­1932. This is one that’s not well documented in English, [the] key figure here Kim Jwa­jin: he was a general in the Korean Independence army.

Why were Koreans in Manchuria? Well, Japanese colonial rule in the Korean peninsula was extremely repressive, extremely thorough; in the 1930s for example they instructed all Koreans to change their names to Japanese names.

So a lot of the resistance took place in the borderlands of Manchuria. The Korean Independence Army had several strongholds.

Kim Jwajin memorial, South Korea
Kim Jwa­jin was very famous for winning a number of major victories against the Japanese. Himself an anarchist, he devised a plan along with the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria to set up the Korean Anarchist People’s Movement. This was an area run along the same lines as the Makhnovist area with council systems, a degree of political pluralism; they had co­operatives and a militia defending it.

Kim Jwa­jin was assassinated in 1931 by a Communist, and soon after that Japanese forces came up from the south and crushed this [zone].

This was an important case.

He’s called the 'Korean Makhno', but I suppose you could just as well call Makhno the 'Ukrainian Kim Jwa­jin'.

In Korea these are not small facts. All of these major figures are recognised, they’ll tell you about them in school text books, but usually with the anarchism removed. Kim Jwa­jin’s house is a national monument; there’s a statue of him, they have sometimes Kim Jwa­jin Days; a number of important anarchists have been labelled ‘Independence activist of the month’, [have] even been on stamps, but the anarchism is usually elided in that.

And of course Spain 1936.

Now the important thing is two of these revolutions happened in the context of anti­colonial struggles. 

Nestor Makhno statue,  Ukraine
Very often when we look at the Makhnovist movement, we look [at it] mainly in the context of an aspect of the Russian revolution, but I think you also have to understand that Ukraine was one of the key Russian territories. It was the most commercial­ised farmland in Russia, it was one of the big export earners for the Russians, exported a hell of a lot of pasta, it’s a huge wheat growing area which they exported in the form of pasta – the Ukrainian pasta proletarian was an important revolutionary force!

Nestor Makhno himself had, after he came out of jail, been involved in union activity there.

This was a very developed area, and this was an area where the independence movement was strong. If you look at who the Makhnovists were competing with, on the one hand they were competing with the Bolshevik forces; on the other they were competing with the nationalist[s] of Symon Petlitra and the Central Rada.

If you re­read, with this in mind, the history of the Makhnovist movement, part of what they are trying to do is find an anarchist road to independence – how to have independence for a country, that does not simply transfer power from a foreign to a local power elite, how do you do this?

What they were trying to do was find a different road to de­colonisation.

***This is just part of the two­ hour talk Lucien gave; he also spoke of anarchist theory and organisation featured in the book and gave potted histories of several key anarchist figures. These will feature in Freedom at a later date.

Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism", CounterPower Vol.1, by Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, published by AK Press at £18.

TRANSLATION: van der Walt, Bekker, 2011, "Améliorer le mouvement des travailleurs : leçons de la grande grève de 2010 en Afrique du sud

Améliorer le mouvement des travailleurs : leçons de la grande grève de 2010 en Afrique du sud

Lucien van der Walt, Ian Bekker

Terre et Liberté (Mai 2012), n°2

Paru dans Zabalaza n°12, juillet 2011.

Traduction : SI de la CNT

En août et septembre 2010, une grande grève, à laquelle ont participé les anarcho-syndicalistes du Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front, a secoué l’Afrique du Sud.

L’article qui suit est un extrait d’un long retour critique sur cette dernière.

La plus grosse grève depuis la transition parlementaire de 1994 en Afrique du Sud a montré la puissance des syndicats et des augmentations de salaires ont été obtenues. Nous devons nous réjouir de cette grève, en retenant certaines leçons:

• besoin de plus de démocratie syndicale ;

• besoin de faire grève pour lier travailleurs et communautés ;

• besoin d’autonomie de la classe ouvrière ;

• besoin d’agir hors et contre l’État.

1,3 million de travailleurs du secteur public ont cessé le travail en août et septembre 2010, sans rien toucher pendant quatre semaines. Ce fut la plus grande grève du secteur d'État dans l’histoire récente, éclipsant la longue grève de plusieurs mois de 2007 des syndicats de la COSATU[1]. Beaucoup d’écoles et d’hôpitaux ont fermé ; les tribunaux ont été perturbés parce que les sténographes et interprètes participaient à la grève. La police a arrêté des douzaines de grévistes pour « violence publique ».

La grève a été suspendue le 6 septembre et officiellement terminée par la COSATU le vendredi 13 octobre, même si aucun accord avec le gouvernement n'avait été conclu. Le lendemain, 51 % des syndicats en grève n'était toujours pas d’accord pour signer un accord, mais la COSATU s’étant retirée, l'ILC[2] a été obligé de suivre. Cet accord a certes permis une augmentationdes salaires de 7,5 % et une prime de 800 rands[3] mais a aussi démontré de nombreuxproblèmes dans le mouvement syndical.

Ainsi, les demandes d’augmentation des professeurs ou des infirmières auraient dû être liées aux demandes des communautés de travailleurs noirs et pauvres pour de meilleurs services de base. La grève en aurait été renforcée, et l’union entre les syndicats et les organisationscommunautaires aurait commencé à se reconstruire.

La grève a été de loin plus forte dans les écoles et hôpitaux des townships ; ce sont donc les plus pauvres qui ont ressenti ses effets. En effet, les hôpitaux privés n'ont été que peu affectés et les écoles bénéficiant des fonds publics les plus élevés étaient ouvertes comme d'habitude. Ces interruptions de service n’ont donc touché la classe dirigeante qu'à cause del'indignation publique, ce qui lui a permis d'opposer entre eux les travailleurs et pauvres en tant que producteurs, et les travailleurs et pauvres en tant que consommateurs.

C'est parce qu'ils n’ont pas pris en compte cette incidence que les syndicats ont magistralement échoué. Un tribunal a forcé des travailleurs « indispensables » à retourner au travail, sans résultat : à l’hôpital Chris Hani Baragwanath, un cortège de grévistes, principalement des infirmières et des travailleurs du nettoyage, a défilé dans l'hôpital alors que les patients n'étaient ni nourris, ni surveillés. Alors que les examens de fin d'année étaient imminents, les parents des écoliers s'inquiétaient du temps d'enseignement perdu. De telles actions ont été largement médiatisées, permettant à l'État de se présenter comme le gardien responsable du pays plutôt que comme un employeur misérable et hostile aux travailleurs qu’il emploie.

Cette hypocrisie consistant à décrire les travailleurs mal payés dans des équipements décrépis comme avides et déraisonnables servait les intérêts des multimillionnaires de l'ANC, mais n'excuse pas pour autant tels grévistes qui ont barricadé les entrées de l'hôpital. La condamnation de la grève par Zuma a eu un certain écho précisément parce que de telles actions sont largement et facilement condamnées à l'intérieur même de la classe ouvrière. Un jeu tactique plus imaginatif aurait aidé. En l'occurrence, si la grève était inévitable, les grévistes auraient dû ajouter d’autres revendications aux leurs. S’ils avaient rendu publiques ces demandes d'amélioration des écoles et hôpitaux publics et les avaient incorporées dansleur plate-forme, il aurait été possible non seulement de capter l'opinion, mais aussid'amener parents, étudiants et groupes communautaires à les rejoindre.

De la même façon, il était essentiel que l'accord dans l'éducation comporte une re-programmation des examens de fin d'année, ce qui n’a pas été fait, faisant s’évaporer le soutien de nombreuses catégories vulnérables.

La COSATU a raison de dire que les « défis nationaux massifs » ne seront pas résolus dans un cadre néolibéral. Mais elle se trompe clairement en plaçant ses espoirs dans une alternative avec le gouvernement, l'ANC ou des tables rondes tripartites. L'espoir réside dans ce que Bakounine appelait « les grands et bien-aimés gens du commun ».

Les syndicats d'Afrique du Sud jouent un rôle majeur dans la protection de la classe ouvrière. Mais les syndicats font face à de grands défis. Beaucoup d'efforts et de travail seront nécessaires pour amener les syndicats à travailler sur les causes des problèmes sociaux, et sur les liens entre les luttes des travailleurs et celles des chômeurs, entre les syndicatset les mouvements communautaires, développant ainsi un large front des classes opprimées vers une égalité et une sécurité économique et sociale, une démocratie participative et une justicesociale. Ce qui veut aussi dire que les syndicats ont besoin d'une vision claire de la transformation socialiste et libertaire, et que les syndicats eux-mêmes doivent rester sous le strict contrôle de la base.

(1) Congress of South African Trade Unions

(2) Independent Labour Caucus, qui regroupe 11 syndicats des services publics

(3) 800 rds = 78 euros environ

My new work webpage (mirror and link)...

Click here to go to my new work webpage, at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.

This is also mirrored below, in case:

Professor Lucien van der Walt, BA, BA Hons(Wits), PhD (Wits)

Labour and left history, movements, politics and theory
Political economy and economic sociology, with a focus on neo-liberal restructuring and development policy
The sociology of work and industry

Research interests:Labour history, with particular reference to anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and post-colonial world, and questions of transnationality;
The sociology of contemporary labour movements, with particular reference to trade unionism and labour struggles in southern Africa;
Political economy, with particular reference to the neo-liberal restructuring of the state sector.

Lucien van der Walt is a prize-winning scholar,who has published in a wide range of local and international journals, newspapers and bulletins, as well as in reference works. Besides his chapters in peer-reviewed books, he has published in African Studies, Anarchist StudiesArchiv fur die Geschichte des Widerstandes und der Arbeit, Capital and Class, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Labor History, Mundos del Trabalho, Politikon, Refractions, Safundi: the Journal of South African and American Studies, and Society in Transition, presented over papers at more than 80 events, and serves on four editorial boards. Lucien has also published over 90 popular articles, in papers such as the South African Labour Bulletin, and has produced several books. 

He published the acclaimed Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism (with Michael Schmidt 2009, nominated for the CLR James Prize) and (with Steve Hirsch) the edited Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of class struggle, national liberation and social revolution (2010, Brill). Lucien also served as southern African editor for Blackwell's International Encyclopedia of Protest and Revolution: 1500 to the present (2009). Lucien won the international prize for the best Ph.D. dissertation from Labor History, the pre-eminent journal for historical scholarship in its field in the world, as well as the CODESRIA prize for best African PhD thesis. 

In between this work, he has been involved in the working class movements, including serving on the executive of the Workers Library and Museum, serving as a media officer for the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and serving as a union educator through the Global Labour University, DITSELA, and the Wits/ NUMSA programme.

Nominated for the Wits Vice Chancellor Award, Lucien's supervision and teaching has consistently been ranked in the top 10% at Wits. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

REVIEW: Triumph and Tragedy of a South African Communist: Ray Simons, 1914-2004 - review of Ray Alexander Simons, 2004, 'All my Life and All my Strength', [2007] Lucien van der Walt

van der Walt, Lucien, (2007), "Triumph and Tragedy of a South African Communist: Ray  Simons, 1914-2004 [review of Ray Alexander Simons, 2004, All my Life and All my Strength]," Khanya: a journal for activists, number 13

The previous link to the review went down.

The PDF is now online here or here, and the text version follows below:

van der Walt, Lucien, (2007), "Triumph and Tragedy of a South African Communist: Ray  Simons, 1914-2004 [review of Ray Alexander Simons, 2004, All my Life and All my Strength]," Khanya: a journal for activists, number 13

Ray Alexander Simons, 2004, All my Life and All my Strength STE Publishers, Johannesburg, 378 pages, soft cover, edited by Raymond Suttner, with introduction by Iris Berger, ISBN: 1-919855-12-2, ZAR 160.00

Lucien van der Walt looks at the life of one of the veterans of the South African anti-apartheid struggles.

Monday, January 23, 2012

JOURNAL: van der Walt, 2011, “Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism"

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism," International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130 , pp. 193-207.

PDF from hard copy edition, with page numbers, is online here and here

The online version is reproduced below, from here.

For a much-expanded version of this paper, see this blog here.

Counterpower, participatory democracy, revolutionary defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism
Lucien van der Walt, International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130,

This article responds to criticisms of the broad anarchist tradition in International Socialism, an International Socialist Tendency (IST) journal.1 I will discuss topics such as the use of sources, defending revolutions and freedom, the Spanish anarchists, anarchism and democracy, the historical role of Marxism, and the Russian Revolution.

Monday, January 16, 2012

JOURNAL: van der Walt, 2011, "Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town's multiracial working class, 1904-1931"

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, "Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town's multiracial working class, 1904-1931," Labor History, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp. 137-171

The Cape Town docks in 1919, site of the joint strike between the syndicalist
 Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU).
The two later merged, the ICU adopting the IWW Preamble.
 This paper examines the development of anarchism and syndicalism in early twentieth century Cape Town, South Africa, drawing attention to a crucial but neglected chapter of labor and left history. Central to this story were the anarchists in the local Social Democratic Federation (SDF), and the revolutionary syndicalists of the Industrial Socialist League, the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA), and the Sweets and Jam Workers' Industrial Union. These revolutionary anti-authoritarians, Africans, Coloureds and whites, fostered a multiracial radical movement - considerably preceding similar achievements by the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) in this port city. They were also part of a larger anarchist and syndicalist movement across the southern African subcontinent. Involved in activist centers, propaganda, public meetings, cooperatives, demonstrations, union organizing and strikes, and linked into international and national radical networks, Cape Town's anarchists and syndicalists had an important impact on organizations like the African Political Organization (APO), the Cape Federation of Labour Unions, the Cape Native Congress, the CPSA, the General Workers Union, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU). This paper is therefore also a contribution to the recovery of the history of the first generation of African and Coloured anti-capitalist radicals, and part of a growing international interest in anarchist and syndicalist history.

Paper (PDF) available online, or via university portals, or from author lucien.vanderwalt(at)

See comments for more links.

Monday, September 12, 2011

JOURNAL: Lucien van der Walt, Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920

Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920

Lucien van der Walt

Mundos del Trabalho, volume 2, number 4 (Brazil), pp. 174-218.

PDF: here

Cena de 1918 do protesto contra em Witwatersrand, na qual Cetiwe e Kraai foram figuras chave.

Este artigo examina a história inicial do anarquismo e do sindicalismo revolucionário na África do Sul, uma sociedade colonial que se industrializou no final do século XIX, e nos arredores da região sul-africana. A África do Sul era caracterizada, nessa época, por um movimento sindical militante, mas que era dividido nacional e racialmente, e pela opressão nacional das pessoas de cor, que constituíam a maioria da população. Em oposição à opressão nacional e à segregação, mas também assumindo uma posição crítica ao nacionalismo africano e de cor, os anarquistas e os sindicalistas revolucionários desenvolveram uma análise da opressão nacional cada vez mais sofisticada, recrutaram e treinaram um quadro multirracial, formaram sindicatos gerais pioneiros e revolucionários contra as pessoas de cor e continuaram a influenciar o trabalho regional, branco e negro, e a esquerda, em geral, após a formação do Partido Comunista da África do Sul (South African Communist Party - CPSA) em 1921.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

JOURNAL: Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt , "Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925"

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt

"Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial  Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925"
Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies
Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69-96



In two of the planet's most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or "Wobblies"), were remarkable. A key revolutionary syndicalist current operating globally, aspiring to unite the world's working class into a  revolutionary One Big Union against capitalism, the state and economic and social inequality, the Wobblies operated in contexts characterized by white supremacy and deeply divided working classes. Yet they not only  condemned racism and segregation in theory, but actively engaged in the challenging work of organizing workers of color including black Africans, African Americans, Asians, Coloureds and Latinos, against both  economic exploitation and national/ racial oppression. 

Although the literature on race, ethnicity, and labour in both countries is  voluminous, remarkably little has been written regarding the IWW on race  matters. Yet the Wobbly tradition's impressive commitment and achievements largely unappreciated; the myth that left anti-racism started with Marxist communism in the 1920s remains pervasive. This article develops a comparative analysis of these two IWW experiences, bridging the North/South and industrialized/developing country divides  in the (labor) historiography, and deepening our understanding of IWW politics and of labor, race and the left in countries with heterogeneous working classes. Given the centrality of sailors and dockers in the Wobbly movement, particular attention is paid to Philadelphia (US) and Cape Town (SA). 

In short, this article seeks to correct omissions in the literature of both countries' labor and left movements by exploring how  and why the IWW did what so few other unions were willing or able to do-organize across the color line, reject working class and official racism, with both remarkable achievements (if some limitations) in its emancipatory project. In doing so, this paper recovers a history of  revolutionary unionism and politics amongst workers of colour, and of their organisations, like the General Workers Union, IWW, Industrial Workers of Africa, Industrial Social League, and the Industrial and  Commercial Workers Union of Africa. The broad anarchist tradition,including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Key words:
anarchism, Bakunin, Black struggles, Cape Town, communism, colonialism, dockers, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), global labour, labor unions, Kropotkin, longshore workers, Philadelphia, race relations, sailors, strikes, South Africa, syndicalism, transnational labour,  United States

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dunbar, Thibedi, Sigamoney: Three figures in the IWW in South Africa

From Industrial Worker, May 2011, no. 1735
Three Figures in the IWW in South Africa

Lucien van der Walt

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, the Wobblies) was the main influence on the radical left in South Africa in the early twentieth century. But who were the South African Wobblies? This article looks at three key figures.

Andrew Dunbar
blacksmithing at the
age of 80 (in 1960)

Andrew Dunbar (1879-1964)

Andrew Dunbar was general-secretary of the IWW in Johannesburg, established in June 1910. A hefty Scots immigrant who arrived in 1906, he worked in the Natal railways as a blacksmith, leading a mass strike in 1909. This cost him his job, and he went to work on the Johannesburg tramways. These were the IWW’s stronghold, with a powerful presence amongst the white workers, and led big strikes in 1911. In 1912, Dunbar was ousted from the IWW, which faded away soon afterwards.

From 1914, he was in the War on War League, which set up the revolutionary syndicalist International Socialist League (ISL) in September the next year. The ISL campaigned for One Big Union, and fought against the oppressive laws applied to African workers, the majority of the working class: indenture, pass controls, housing in closed barracks etc. It also opposed the discrimination being applied against the Coloured and Indian minorities.

From June 1917, Dunbar was part of an ISL team running study groups in downtown Johannesburg amongst African workers, advocating civil disobedience and One Big Union against African oppression and capitalism. This led to the Industrial Workers of Africa, an African union modeled on the IWW. As interest in the Russian Revolution rose, Dunbar and others formed Africa’s first Communist Party in October 1920 –on a basically syndicalist platform; he was general-secretary. In 1921, this merged into the official Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), but Dunbar headed a syndicalist faction. Later expelled from the CPSA, he faded from union and socialist work.

TW Thibedi,
South African syndicalist

T.W. Thibedi (1888-1960)

The son of a Wesleyan minister, Thibedi William Thibedi was one of the most important African syndicalists in 1910s South Africa. Hailing from the small town of Vereeniging, he trained as a school teacher and worked at a church school in Johannesburg. Around 1916, he joined the ISL, its first major African leader.

In September 1917, Thibedi was involved in organizing an ISL-sponsored conference that led to the formation of a “Solidarity Committee,” intended to reform the orthodox trade unions. These generally excluded people of colour (except in Cape Town), tended craft unionism, and were prone to binding no-strike agreements. Thibedi served on the Committee –which was not however a success.

From 1918, Thibedi was involved in the Industrial Workers of Africa in Johannesburg, arguing for One Big Union, united on class lines across the races, and mass action. Along with other figures in the union, he also promoted these views in the leftwing of the African nationalist South African Native National Congress (SANNC). When a failed general strike in July 1918 led to a crackdown on the ISL, Industrial Workers of Africa and SANNC leftwing, it fell to Thibedi to revive the union in Johannesburg. The union drew its members from across the African working class, and was more a General Membership Branch than an industrial body.

The key African in the early CPSA, Thibedi put his syndicalist background to work when he ran the party night school in Johannesburg, and became a full-time organizer and unionist. When the CPSA expelled him in 1929, the communist-led Federation of Non-European Trade Unions forced his reinstatement; he was expelled again in 1931. Later Thibedi flirted with Trostkyism, before drifting away into anonymity.

Bernard Sigamoney
in later years

Bernard L.E. Sigamoney (1888-1963)

 Bernard Lazarus Emanuel Sigamoney was the grandson of indentured Indian farm labourers, Pariah Christians who arrived in South Africa in 1877. His family managed to secure him an education, and he worked as a teacher at Estcourt Indian High School and then St. Aidans' Boys’ School.

During the First World War, Sigamoney became increasingly involved in politics, addressing public meetings on the growing food shortages in Durban. He soon encountered the local ISL, which founded an Indian Workers’ Industrial Union on IWW lines in March 1917. Sigamoney joined the ISL, and was the union’s first secretary. The union claimed members among Durban’s large Indian population, notably on the docks, in garment work and laundries, painting, hotels, catering and tobacco workers. There were efforts to unite it with the Industrial Workers of Africa. Meanwhile, Sigamoney and other ISL figures supported the independent Tobacco Workers’ Union, and its big strike in October 1920, and the 1921 strike of Indian furniture workers.

Sigamoney did not join the CPSA. Instead, he left radical politics, going to Britain in December 1922 to study as an Anglican pastor, and returning to work for St. Anthony's Indian Mission in Johannesburg in 1927. He was viewed as a troublemaker by the authorities, partly because he associated with the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, a union influenced by both the IWW and Marcus Garvey, and the SANNC. Sigamoney’s remaining years were focused on work in the church, in promoting Indian sport, and in promoting the civil rights of people of colour.

The multiracial IWW tradition in South Africa threw up some remarkable militants, These there men – one white, one African, one Indian – exemplified the high moral character and dedication it evoked, and its staunch and unwavering opposition to the country’s barbaric racial capitalism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Build a Better Workers’ Movement: learning from South Africa’s 2010 mass strike [2011], van der Walt and Bekker

Build a Better Workers’ Movement: learning from South Africa’s 2010 mass strike
Lucien van der Walt and Ian Bekker
Zabalaza: a journal of Southern African revolutionary anarchism, no. 12, 2011, pp. 11-15

The biggest single strike since the 1994 parliamentary transition in South Africa showed the unions’ power. It won some wage gains, but it threw away some precious opportunities. We need to celebrate the strike, while learning some lessons:

• the need for more union democracy
• the need to use strikes to link workers and communities
• the need for working class autonomy
• the need to act outside and against the state
• the need to review our positions: against the Tripartite Alliance, for anarcho-syndicalism


Monday, July 4, 2011

JOURNAL: Anarchism, Black Flame, Marxism and the IST: debating power, revolution and Bolshevism

Lucien van der Walt, 7 April 2011, Detailed reply to International Socialism: debating power and revolution in anarchism, Black Flame and historical Marxism 

**The following paper substantially expands arguments I published as “Counterpower, Participatory Democracy, Revolutionary Defence: debating Black Flame, revolutionary anarchism and historical Marxism," International Socialism: a quarterly journal of socialist theory, no. 130 (2011), pp. 193-207.  

ScribD link here (you can only download and keep if you can log-in via Facebook or Scribd)

Google Docs link here (this will open the PDF in an online viewer. To download and keep, click File on the bar just above the document, and choose Download Orginal - see below)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lucien van der Walt: counterpower to neo-liberalism, by Peter Kenworthy (Denmark, 2011)


Lucien van der Walt: counterpower to neo-liberalism
by Peter Kenworthy (Denmark, 2011), Africa blog

In neo-liberalism the expansion of the market has become an end in itself. The market must engulf all areas of society. Neo-liberalism is therefore much more of an all-embracing life philosophy than classic liberalism. The economic crisis of the early eighties, the collapse of the communist bloc, and the succession of right-wing governments throughout Europe and elsewhere helped entrench a belief in neo-liberalism as a universal remedy. This belief was epitomized by Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” theory and is only slowly beginning to crumble as people throughout the world slowly come to understand that neo-liberalism and neo-liberal policies have only brought inequality, waste, financial and political instability, and a potential imminent ecological disaster.

But as anyone who has ever tried to change anything in the real world knows only too well, there is a long way from knowing something is wrong to being able to change it. And as anyone who has tried to apply a rigid idea or theory also knows, one must allow for certain contextual differences when applying any theory.
Lucien van der Walt, a lecturer at the Sociology department of the University of Witwatersrand, and Michael Schmidt discuss the problems of achieving such change in “Black Flame.” According to them, any attempt at moderate reforms of neo-liberalism is doomed to fail. Change must be widespread, all-encompassing, and lasting.

In communicating with the author of this blog, Lucien van der Walt also insists that strategies for countering the excesses of neo-liberalism must necessarily vary from country to country – especially when seen in a North-South context. This is because the effects of neo-liberalism are much graver and more easily felt and explained in South Africa than Denmark. “The precise forms of counterpower – and the programmes that they should embody – vary by context.  If I had to compare Denmark and South Africa, obviously there are some key differences to consider: demands would differ e.g. in South Africa, mass job creation would be critical, given 35% unemployment; racial inequality would need to be dealt with as well; the country is also semi-industrial, so it would be necessary to grow the economy (I do not mean capitalist growth, but growth in the sense of expanded output of appropriate goods and services in a anarchist communist economy) to be able to produce, inter alia, more bricks and other construction materials; better infrastructure; more electricity etc. In Denmark, I would imagine the attack on the welfare state by the ruling class would loom large; we don’t really have anything comparable for the rulers to attack, for example.”

Unfortunately, the struggles against neo-liberalism have so far been “primarily defensive, directed against the effects of neoliberalism, rather than addressing its causes and developing an effective, lasting solution,” according to van der Walt and Schmidt. There is an upside to the pervasive spread and dominance of neo-liberalism and its rollback of the state, however: That continuous and over-whelming discontent and clear-cut injustice always tends to lead to resistance. “The global rollback of welfare has given rise to significant popular resistance, playing a crucial role in the rise of the antiglobalisation movement.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: an Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative, Lucien van der Walt [2010]

COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: an Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative
Lucien van der Walt, in Zabalaza: a journal of southern African revolutionary anarchism, no. 11

South African unions, centred on the 2 million-strong Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have consistently articulated a policy vision that breaks with crude neo-liberalism. This is remarkable – but is it enough? Just how viable and desirable is this vision, particularly as the neo-liberal era lurches into a serious slump? And is there an alternative?

This question is posed particularly acutely by the hammer blows of the global recession from 2007. Despite the rather predicable pretence that South Africa is unaffected (notably by Trevor Manuel), the country is far from immune.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remarks to the 2010 NUMSA/ Wits graduates, Monday 6 December 2010

Professor Lucien van der Walt
Remarks to the 2010 NUMSA/ Wits union graduates
Monday 6 December 2010
Hofmeyer House, University of the Witwatersrand

Thank you. I will say a few words, if I may. In the first place, let me say a few ‘thank you’s:

- To the comrades who attended the course studied hard and achieved; if you learnt from me, I learnt from you as well
- To the union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which made the course possible, and which has made a commitment to the course continuing; such cooperation, between academics and the working class movement is an essential part of a progressive transformation in society
- To the university, which has opened its doors to this new type of student; this, I think, is a critical part of the university fulfilling its commitment to engagement with the broader society

Why education like this matters
In mounting this course, we – that is, my colleagues, Michelle, Devan, Vishwas, Louise – did not aim to provide just another accreditation, just another certificate. There are many others who do that. Certainly, it was not to replace the unions’ own education programmes.

We aimed to develop a course that stressed critical thinking and that empowered students through intellectual skills.

Let me quite clear on what I mean by this. By critical thinking, I do not mean teaching people to criticize everything, teaching people to be negative, teaching people to become cynical. There are enough people who just complain, who use their bleak view of the world as an excuse to do nothing, people who glory in negativity.

By critical thinking, I mean a way of thinking

- that examines issues carefully,
- that is accurate and precise, and not led astray by empty words and slogans,
- that weighs evidence, considers explanations and draws careful conclusions
- that enables clear goal setting, through clearly identifying the problem in order to find the solutions
- that draws on a knowledge of debates in the social sciences

This was supplemented by skills development: skills in analysis, in substantive writing and in close reading.

Our aim, in short, was not simply to teach a bunch of facts. Comrades know many things, and comrades can teach us many things too. Facts matter – but facts need to be understood correctly, their significance judged, their sources assessed, their political implications considered.

Our aim was to provide the tools to judge facts, to find facts, to wield facts. It was to teach comrades to think more scientifically. It was not to tell people what to think, but to show comrades what many people have thought, what many people do think – and to show comrades how to think through these issues.

Why education like this matters to the working class movement in particular

Let me answer this question from my own perspective.

The NUMSA programme at Wits does not push any particular view, it has no ‘party line’ besides a commitment to an open, critical education, and to opening the university to the working class movement. It has no party line, but instead it exposes comrades to a range of views – and arms them with the knowledge needed to make up their own minds.

So what is my view?

We live in an unjust society, a society in which, as the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin said, power is in the hands of a few “so long as human society continues to be divided into different classes as a result of the hereditary inequality of occupations, of wealth, of education, and of rights.” So long as this persists, “there will always be a class-restricted government and the inevitable exploitation of the majorities by the minorities.” [1867, "Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism"]

Knowledge is power – the task, then, is to start to transfer that power into the hands of the “majority” of which Bakunin speaks.

Ideas change the world – we need more access to ideas.

The university is one of the most – perhaps the most – effective instruments that humankind has yet developed to develop new knowledge and to impart new knowledge - and here, again, I stress, when I am talking about knowledge, I am talking about knowledge not simply as an accumulation of facts – important as that is - but also, knowledge as the skills needed to wield facts as a weapon.

A key task, then, is to break the class stranglehold over knowledge that disarms the masses of the people. Programmes that provide access to university education – real university education, I mean, not simply a rollout of short courses to increase numbers and revenue – can make an important contribution to that process.

Universities research– that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed. Universities produce abstract knowledge – that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed. Universities educate people - – that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed.

Science is a glorious thing, the heritage of all humankind. Why should it be in the hands of a few?

We need a comprehensive education, available to all on the basis of inclination, interest and social needs - not income, not greed. A comprehensive education available to all people.

This programme is one small step – a tiny step but every journey involves many steps – in the right direction.

To open up that vast repository of information to the working class movement – that is a vital task. In opening the university, we help the working class movement. In strengthening the working class movement, we can continue to change the university, and through all of this, we can continue to change society for the better, to escape from the “hereditary inequality of occupations, of wealth, of education, and of rights” of which Bakunin speaks.

The broad working class is a class preparing for power. And knowledge is power.

I thank you.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"2010 Anarchist Survey" - notes for a critical assesment

"2010 Anarchist Survey" - notes for a critical assessment
Lucien van der Walt,  December 2010

Recently, an "Anarchist Survey" was run online, with the results appearing around August 2010. You can visit the survey here.

This is a very interesting, indeed important, inititiative - let me stress that. However, it is let down by some important flaws in research design and data analysis. The use of the internet to deliver the survey also some inherent problems. Because of these issues, the survey cannot be considered representative and it cannot be considered a solid basis from which to draw conclusions about anarchism today.

[FROM OLD FILES] Neo-liberalism comes to Wits University - 600 jobs on the line, Lucien van der Walt [2000]

[I wrote this as part of the campaign against the neo-liberal Wits 2001 restructuring at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in South Africa. The plan cut jobs, mainly in support services, sought to commercialise reserach and teaching, and imposed a series of mergers and managerial reforms. We lost, but when we went down, we went down fighting. Anarchists, Trotskyists, autonomists and others were critical to the struggle. The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), of which I was a founder member and a media officer, emerged from a merger of our Wits Crisis Committee and the Anti-Igoli 2002 Forum, which was fighting Johannesburg city's neo-liberal restructuring. The paper below is a good general critique, but does not really capture the anti-capitalist, proletarian, and libertarian character of a lot of the struggle we waged at Wits - Lucien]

Neo-liberalism comes to Wits University - 600 jobs on the line

By Lucien van der Walt
Umsebenzi: voice of the South African Communist Party, May 2000, here 
Neo-liberalism has come to the University of the Witwatersrand through retrenchments, commercialisation, and privatisation.

Hundreds of workers at the University will lose their jobs after management decided on 25 February 2000 to retrench more than 623 employees in building care, catering, cleaning, grounds, maintenance, and transport. Sub-contracting companies will take their jobs by July 2000.

There will also be restructuring and rationalisation of academic staff and departments. The 9 faculties will be reduced to 5, the 99 departments will be merged into 40 "schools," and "redundant" courses will be cancelled. A second wave of retrenchments affecting academic and administrative staff will be implemented from September 2000.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

JOURNAL: Ian Bekker, Lucien van der Walt, [2010] "The 2010 Mass Strike in the State Sector, South Africa: Positive Achievements but Serious Problems"

Ian Bekker and Lucien van der Walt,
"The 2010 Mass Strike in the State Sector, South Africa: Positive Achievements but Serious Problems"

Social.History Online / Sozial.Geschichte Online, open access journal
Issue 4 / 2010
pp. 138-152

Article in PDF here
Journal  issue here

The August-September 2010 mass strike in the South African state sector demonstrated remarkable working class unity across racial and ideological lines, as 1.3 million workers of all colours stopped work for four weeks despite severe economic recession. The strikers' determination reflected growing frustration with low wages and at the glaring political corruption and enrichment of the elite, plus the drive - by African, coloured and Indian workers specifically - to attain living conditions breaking decisively with the oppression and immiseration of the apartheid past. Yet the strikers' partial victory was tarnished by tactics that divided strikers from the larger working class - notably, hospital disruptions - and a failure to raise demands that linked union and community struggles against both neo-liberalism and the apartheid legacy. The top-down manner whereby the strike was ended makes workers cynical about their own unions, demonstrating the alarming bureaucratisation and centralisation that has arisen, in large part, due to union leaders being enmeshed in the African National Congress (the neo-liberal governing party) and state industrial relations machinery. Unions should re-orientate towards other working class movements, outside and against the state, to fight for a libertarian and socialist transformation, from below. The ideas of anarcho-syndicalism - raised at the 2009 COSATU Congress - provide a useful starting point.

Monday, November 1, 2010

South Africa after Apartheid [1997] Lucien van der Walt, "Le Monde Libertaire "

Translated from Lucien van der Walt, "Afrique du Sud apres l'apartheid," 13-19 November 1997, Le Monde Libertaire, no. 1100

Historically, South Africa epitomized the poverty and oppression associated with capitalism and racism. The first non-racial elections to parliament in April 1994 gave many hope for the redress of the injustices of the past. The holding of elections open to all people, and the replacement of racist laws by basic democratic and civil rights was a big victory for the struggle in South Africa. But the new government of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) has consistently failed to address the demands of the Black working class for equality and the redistribution of wealth.

Friday, September 24, 2010

South Africa: Looking back at the Rio Summit farce, Lucien van der Walt [1992]

A discussion of the  first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, which proved an absolute failure in terms of attempts to halt environmental destruction. I wrote this for a short-lived anarchist paper called Revolt, published in Johannesburg in  1992 (it appeared in issue #2; there wasn't, in fact, an issue #1!). There is other material from that issue of Revolt here. It was one of the first I ever published (I was just getting into activism) and, if its imperfect (which it is), it still has some good points.

80th anniversary of Kronstadt Uprising: 18 March 1921/ 18 March 2001 - Lucien van der Walt [2001]

A-Infos News Service, 18 March 2001

80 years ago, the workers' movement and rebellion at Kronstadt, near Petrograd in Russia, was bloodily suppressed by the state-capitalist regime of VI Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

The article below, produced for the old Workers Solidarity (South Africa) in 1996, outlines the story. Further online references and links, including an online Izvestiia, newspaper of the “Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Sailors, Soldiers and Workers of Kronstadt” are listed below.

Comments, debate etc. welcomed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Collectives in Revolutionary Spain [1998], Lucien van der Walt

From an unpublished paper on "How an anarchist economy could work", written in 1997, presented in 1998 (and hopefully to be revised one day and published). Mirrored here and in Greek here.


The anarchist movement, which emerged in the 1860s in the working class and socialist movement, aimed at a new society, based on:

The democratisation of all areas of social life: the revolutionary reconstruction of the family and interpersonal relations, on the basis of cooperation and equality; direct democratic control of the means of production, coercion and administration by all humankind by means of a federation of worker and community councils (not corporations and states, but participatory councils in workplaces and neighborhoods, linked through mandated delegates, ultimately on a global scale); and, finally, self-management at work (not hierarchical command), the development of a global economic plan developed from below through a process of participatory planning through the councils (not market or bureaucratic allocation), and the distribution of key resources on the basis of need (not markets i.e. by ability to pay, or state welfare i.e. by bureaucrats).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Towards a history of anarchist anti-imperialism: "In This Struggle, Only The Workers And Peasants Will Go All The Way To The End", Lucien van der Walt, [2001]

First published in the Against War and Terrorism compilation (2001); besides numerous reprints in English, it has also been translated into French - here and Greek - here.

The anarchist movement has a long tradition of fighting imperialism. This reaches back into the 1860s, and continues to the present day. From Cuba, to Egypt, to Ireland, to Macedonia, to Korea, to Algeria and Morocco, the anarchist movement has paid in blood for its opposition to imperial domination and control.

However, whilst anarchists have actively participated in national liberation struggles, they have argued that the destruction of national oppression and imperialism can only be truly achieved through the destruction of both capitalism and the state system, and the creation of an international anarcho-communist society.

This is not to argue that anarchists absent themselves from national liberation struggles that do not have such goals. Instead, anarchists stand in solidarity with struggles against imperialism on principle, but seek to reshape national liberation movements into social liberation movements.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"The tradition of all the dead generations": some critical notes on Che Guevara and the Cuban mirage [2008]

      Unfashionable truths are still truths. Cuba is a state-capitalist dictatorship, even today despite shifts to neo-liberalism; Che Guevara helped establish that regime, and played a key role in its early crackdowns on opponents. His forthright opposition to US imperialism was commendable, and accounts for much of his reputation. He has, of course, also been attacked by all sorts of right-wing writers - most recently we can mention the tracts of the neo-liberal Álvaro Vargas Llosa. This has, of course, merely enhanced his stature for many.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

JOURNAL: Globalisation, the Market University and Support Service Outsourcing in South Africa: class struggle, convergence and difference, 1994-2001, [2003], Lucien anv der Walt, Chris Bolsmann, Bernadette Johnson, and Lindsey Martin

van der Walt, Lucien (and Chris Bolsmann, Bernadette Johnson, and Lindsey Martin), (2003), "Globalisation, the Market University and Support Service Outsourcing in South Africa: class struggle, convergence and difference, 1994-2001," Society in Transition, volume 34, number 2

Online here

Against Corporatism: the limits and pitfalls of corporatism for South African trade unions, [1997] Lucien van der Walt

van der Walt, Lucien, (1997), "Against Corporatism: the limits and pitfalls of corporatism for South African trade unions", version presented at African Studies Association of South Africa Third Biennial International Conference

Online here

GEAR versus Social Security, [2000] Lucien van der Walt

van der Walt, Lucien, (2000), "GEAR versus Social Security," South African Labour Bulletin, volume 24, number 5

Online here

University Restructuring: whose gain, whose pain, whose transformation?, presentation to COMSA, [2003] Lucien van der Walt

van der Walt, Lucien, (2003), "University Restructuring: whose gain, whose pain, whose transformation?" presentation to Combined Staff Association, University of Durban-Westville, 2 July 2003

Online here in PDF (scan) and here in text format.

'Fix It or Nix It?' The anti-globalisation movement - review of J. Brecher, T. Costello and B. Smith, 2000, 'Globalisation from Below: the power of solidarity', [2001] Lucien van der Walt

van der Walt, Lucien, (2001), "'Fix It or Nix It? The anti-globalisation movement [Review of J. Brecher, T. Costello and B. Smith, 2000, Globalisation from Below: the power of solidarity],"  South African Labour Bulletin, volume 25, number 5

Online here


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

‘Subcontracting is just a ploy to woo votes’, [2009 interview]

‘Subcontracting is just a ploy to woo votes’
Vuvuzela, 27 February 2009

Masibulele Yaso reports

The ANC’s policy on outsourcing and subcontracting is ‘just a ploy to woo voters’, according to sociologist and lecturer in the Sociology Department, Dr Lucien van der Walt.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Afrique du Sud: Résister à l'université bourgeoise", [2008], Lucien van der Walt

This was written in support of student protests at the University of the Witwatersrand in October 2007. I also gave several speeches. 

L'augmentation des frais d'inscription et la privatisation planifiée du logement étudiant ont suscité des protestations importantes à l'université du Witwatersrand à Johannesburg, début octobre.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Soviet Mirage, Lucien van der Walt [revised 1999 paper]

Revised version of paper prepared by Lucien van der Walt for Lesedi Socialist Study Group, Wits University, 8 October 1999

The “Russian question” – the debate on the nature of the Soviet Union – goes straight to the heart of the challenges facing socialists on the eve of the twenty-first century. The “Russian question” raises the big questions for socialists today: what is socialism? What is the role of the working class in socialist transformation? Was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 a defeat or a victory for the working class, or something else entirely?

This paper will raise these issues, developing its argument in response to comrade K.’s intervention “Let’s Refute Myths about the Soviet Union”. As comrade L. pointed out, definitions are important in any discussion of these sorts of issues, so I will begin by putting my (party) cards on the table.