SOCIALISM VERSUS SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

An essay by Dr Joe Sampson for Social Action Australia, 2022.

I will use the Macquarie Dictionary definitions of “Socialism” and “Social Democracy” as a starting point in my essay.  The Macquarie Dictionary defines “Socialism” as a theory or system of social organization which advocates the vesting of ownership of the means of production, capital, land, etc. in the community as a whole”.  The Macquarie Dictionary defines “Social Democracy” as a belief in, or a social system based on a limited form of Socialism achieved by gradual reform through electoral and parliamentary procedures”.  As Socialism and Social Democracy are contrasted with Capitalism I give the Macquarie Dictionary definition of “Capitalism”, which is “a system in which the means of production, distribution and exchange are in large measure privately owned”.

Using such definitions the Australian Labor Party would be regarded as a Social Democratic party ;  in its constitution it states “The Australian Labor Party is a Democratic Socialist party”; it goes on to say that the ALP “has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields”.   As the ALP advocates a limited form of ownership by the government (and hence by implication the community) it is not fully Socialist.  Similarly the Australian Greens would be regarded as a Social Democratic party. The term “Democratic Socialist” is sometimes used interchangeably with “Social Democrat” and also with “Welfare Capitalist”; so the Social Democratic state is regarded as a half way house between a total Socialist state and a laissez-faire Capitalist state.

The dictionary definition can be expanded to say that Social Democracy is a mixed economy system , in which some of means of production are privately owned, some are publicly owned and where the state heavily regulates the economy and has an active welfare system (including providing health, education and pensions) in place to correct for the worst problems inherent in Capitalism like inequality, cyclic instability, or the profit motive encouraging people to do things against the public interest.

Modern socialism began in early 19th century Britain and France as a reaction against the excesses of 18th and 19th Century Capitalism.  As a result a number of Socialist parties arose in various countries.  While some advocated overthrow of the State and total or almost total nationalisation and called themselves Communist parties other parties advocated the coming into power of Socialist parties  by parliamentary means and eventually came to advocate only partial nationalisation and were known as Social Democratic parties.

Proponents of Social Democracy say that it combines the best features of Socialism and Capitalism.  Total Socialists criticise Social Democracy saying that as it allows some Capitalism it is not stable.  Proponents of Capitalism say that it is the most productive system; in the Australian Liberal Party document entitled “Our Beliefs” it is stated that “wherever possible, Government should not compete with an efficient private sector; and that businesses and individuals – not Government are the true creators of wealth and employment”.  This Liberal Party statement is not accurate – Government enterprises can create wealth.  While Social Democrats believe that Capitalism can be humanised with economic and social interventions (such as regulations and social welfare programs) that promote equality and social justice, Socialists say that Capitalism can never be sufficiently humanised and that equality in a Capitalist society is not possible.  Socialists see exploitation as central to Capitalism whereas Anthony Crosland in “The Future of Socialism” (1956) argued that under modern Capitalism the old style exploitative relationship of owner/manager versus worker has been replaced by the practice of scientific management with ownership divorced from control and professional managers were more interested in efficient running of businesses rather than exploitation.  Social Democrats aim to create policies within a Capitalist system that curb inequality, poverty and oppression of underprivileged  groups but Socialists say that these issues can never be fully resolved under Capitalism.  While Social Democrats maintain that Capitalism and democracy are compatible Socialists believe that Capitalism is inherently incompatible with democracy and believe that true democracy can be achieved only under Socialism. 

One criticism of Socialism is that Socialist models are inefficient (e.g. in the Soviet Union there was sometimes a shortage of goods in shops).  Some critics argue that countries where the means of production are nationalised are less prosperous than those where the the means of production are in private hands.(e.g. in 1991 the GDP per capita in the Soviet Union was 36% of that of the USA). Others argue that Socialism reduces work incentives (because workers do not receive rewards for work well done) and reduce efficiency through the elimination of the profit and loss mechanism and a free price system and reliance on central planning.  They also argue that Socialism stagnates technology due to competition being stifled.  Some critics say that Socialism is undemocratic because it does not allow people to set up their own businesses.

Socialists have counter-argued that Socialism does not necessarily imply central planning and is consistent with a market economy.  Some Socialists have argued that a certain degree of efficiency should be sacrificed for the sake of economic equality or other social goals.  For example they compare Cuba with the U.S.A. – while the former has a much lower GNP per capita than the latter it has free medical care while the latter has not.  They further argue that market systems have a natural tendency toward monopoly or oligopoly in major industries, leading to a distortion of prices, and that a public monopoly is better than a private one.  Also, they claim that a Socialist approach can mitigate the role of externalities in pricing (e.g. pollution, climate change).  Some Socialists have made the case for Socialism being better to able to manage the environment than Capitalism.

The forms of government in Communist Party states such as the Soviet Union under Stalin, China under Mao Zedong, Eastern Europe, etc. were Socialist according to their rulers because all or most of the economy was under government control.  Critics said that their governments were not truly Socialist as they were not run by the community but rather the Communist Party.  A number of critics have said that Communist Party states were oppressive totalitarian states with mass executions, forced collectivisation, gulags and were inefficient with famines and regular shortages of goods under their centralised planned economies.  These states were either one party states or states in which only the Communist Party had any real power.  One can advocate a Socialist system in which there is a multi party democracy with freedom of speech;  i.e. a democratic Socialism rather than an authoritarian Socialism; Gorbachev was moving towards such a system with his concept of Glasnost.

In Australia the ALP and Greens promote Social Democracy, which involves a mixed economy whereas the Liberals and Nationals while also in favour of a mixed economy favour more power to the Capitalists.  These four parties capture a large part of the vote. Minor parties such as One Nation still favour a mixed economy.  There are a few Socialist parties which very small numbers of people support, e.g. at the recent Victorian election the Socialists got only about 1% of the vote.  

In recent decades in Australia Labor governments both at state and federal level have privatised a lot of government enterprises whereas the Greens have opposed privatisation, which means that the Greens are closer to total Socialism than the ALP. The Liberals have also privatised a lot of public enterprises.  Polls have consistently shown that most Australians oppose privatisation, including a majority of Labor voters and a majority of Liberal voters. 

Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn both self identify as Democratic Socialists.  Corbyn would have moved the UK closer to a Socialist society by renationalising British Rail and the energy companies.  Bernie Sanders said “To me socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means, ; it means creating a nation, and a world in which all human beings have a decent standard of living”; he also said: “I think that democratic socialism means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interests.”

Proponents of Socialism, Social Democracy and Capitalism all say that their system is the best for obtaining high standards of living, health, education and social justice.  What does the evidence say?  The countries with the highest quality of life were announced by the not-for-profit organisation Social Progress Imperative in 2016.were.Scandinavian nations, which are Social Democracies,  scored highly in the "Social Progress Index," but more surprising are the very large countries which came lower down the list — suggesting that a strong GDP per capita is not the only gauge for a high standard of living.  Despite this, all of the top 19 countries are developed nations — so having a strong economy clearly has an impact.  The "Social Progress Index" collates the scores of three main indexes: (i) Basic Human Needs, which includes medical care, sanitation, and shelter; (ii) Foundations of Wellbeing, which covers education, access to technology, and life expectancy; (iii)Opportunity, which looks at personal rights, freedom of choice, and general tolerance.  The index then adds the three different factors together, before giving each nation a score out of 100.  The ranking of the countries was:

  1. Finland; 2. Canada; 3. Denmark; 4. Australia; 5. Switzerland; 6. Sweden; 7. Norway; 8. Netherlands; 9. United Kingdom; 10. Iceland; equal 10th. New Zealand; 12. Ireland; 13. Austria; 14. Japan; 15. Germany; 16. Belgium; 17. Spain;18. France; 19. United States of America.

All these countries have multi party democracies with mixed economies with varying degrees of private ownership and of public ownership with both Social Democratic and Capitalist political parties.  None of the five Communist Party countries, which all call themselves Socialist, are on this list.  So the evidence seems to be that countries with Social Democratic or Capitalist parties have higher quality of life than countries with Socialist parties in power.

But then some people might say that these nineteen countries would fare better with democratically elected Socialist parties in power and that the Communist Party countries all have undemocratic Socialist parties in power.

REFERENCES

Social Democracy (Wikipedia article)

Socialism (Wikipedia article)

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The current war in Ukraine could be considered as being broadly analogous to fascist Italy’s 1935-1936 invasion of Ethiopia.  There you had a nation which was militarily stronger than the country it was invading.  The victim nation (i.e., Ethiopia) fought back heroically against the odds and in doing so won world-wide respect.  Alas, Ethiopia eventually succumbed to fascist Italy and the ensuing guerrilla insurgency was subsequently brutally extinguished.

The narrative of the Ethiopian-Italian War seemed all the more tragic because it was apparent that the world could do little to help Ethiopia (or Abyssinia as it was then called) except to express its moral outrage and to offer in-principle solidarity.  However, had international oil sanctions been imposed on fascist Italy then Mussolini would have been forced to abandon his invasion because the hit to the Italian economy would have been economically unsustainable.   

Similarly, if North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations such as Poland provided Ukraine with its MiG fighter jet planes (as it appeared it wished to do before the NATO / US leadership stopped the proposal) then Ukraine may well have stood a better chance of successfully defending itself, or at least have damaged the Russian military effort even more than it has been able to do so far.  The fact that President Joe Biden vetoed the proposal whereby the United States would have lent Poland its military aircraft so that Polish MiGs could have been passed onto Ukraine is not surprising given his recent abandonment of Afghanistan. 

It is therefore, now imperative that European NATO nations, particularly former members of the Warsaw Pact, move quickly and if necessary without American approval to provide Ukraine with military aircraft.  Such a supply would give the Ukrainians a viable prospect of actually beating back the Russian invasion or at the very least stalemating the war, which could lead to severe repercussions for Putin. 

If Poland was to pass on its MiGs to Ukraine, then nations such as Hungary and/or the Czech Republic could loan Warsaw their military aircraft instead of having to rely on the United States to do so.  The situation illustrates the need for a degree of inter-European co-operation without American approval, because if Putin gets away with occupying Ukraine, then he will most likely utilize that occupied nation as a springboard base to subsequently invade Central and Eastern Europe sometime in the future (perhaps in five to ten years’ time -if not earlier) once he has brutally subdued Ukraine. 

While it is true that international sanctions will hit the Russian economy hard and adversely affect its people’s living standards, this is unlikely to halt or even to deter Putin.  The Russian dictator has an extensive apparatus of repression in place which he is now effectively applying to crush domestic dissent.   Furthermore, communist mainland China will provide the Russian Federation with sufficient economic support to withstand international sanctions in the short to medium term, if not beyond. 

Of course, Russia should itself be careful not to become too dependent upon Communist China for  the Federation may eventually become a Chinese satellite with its Siberian territory becoming subject to Chinese Communist encroachment.  For in truth Russia’s ultimate destiny rests with the European Union (EU).  The hope is that one day Russia will turn to the West by joining the EU.  Therefore, it is imperative that the Russian Federation be saved from itself and the stupidity of Putin’s policies by Ukraine being provided with military aircraft from the former Warsaw Pact nations now in NATO as a matter of urgency. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has to be countered now before it continues to spread. 

From an Australian perspective the Russian invasion of Ukraine also draws into focus the need for this nation to have parliamentarians of the high standard of the late Kimberley Kitching (1970 to 2022).  This recently deceased Victorian Labor Party senator was a staunch supporter of human rights and democracy around the world.  As such the late senator was the most outspoken voice in federal parliament against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), speaking out in favour of human rights in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xingjiang Province. 

Not only did Senator Kitching give her verbal support to human rights around the world but she also followed her words with actions by helping ensure that the Australian federal parliament passed the Magnitsky Act which sanctions individuals associated with despotic regimes.  Also, in a domestic context she was a staunch defender of trade union and employee rights. 

Although Social Action Australia (SAA) has expressed its support for the Morrison government’s 2022 re-election (‘Why the Morrison Government should be Re-Elected’) this social democratic operation would have voiced its support for Senator Kitching’s re-election had she lived and been pre-selected.  Hopefully, the Victorian ALP will honour the memory of this outstanding late senator by pre-selecting someone with similar perspectives and the courage to express them.

There can be little doubt that had Senator Kitching lived, she would not only be giving her verbal support for Ukraine but also advocating practical measures to help that nation to survive its current trials.  One such practical measure which would vitally assist Ukraine is for the EU to provide the fighter planes as requested by Ukraine. 

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As a social democratic operation, Social Action Australia (SAA) is orientated towards, but not necessarily committed to, the election of Labor state and federal governments. It is with this qualification in mind that SAA advocates the re-election of the Morrison federal coalition government in the upcoming May 2022 federal election.

This advocacy is made on a two-fold basis. First, this federal coalition government has a positive record to draw on based upon its adroit handling of the Covid pandemic.  Second, that the alternative federal opposition led by Anthony Albanese is too great a threat to Australia’s current constitutional federal-state arrangements.

It should also not be forgotten that Australia is still in a socio-economically precarious position as this nation transitions away from the danger-zone of the massive negative impact of the Covid pandemic. Accordingly, an Albanese government cannot be trusted to competently adapt to the dangerous socio-economic situation that Australia finds itself in because the federal opposition leader hails from the hard left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). 

Reference will therefore be made in this article to the veiled economic incompetence of the Daniel Andrews government in Victoria with regard to the ticking public debt bomb because this state government is something of a template which an Albanese government would most probably utilise. 

Why is Australia so Prosperous?

Australia is domestically and internationally known as the ‘lucky country’ as since the turn of the twentieth century this nation has consistently had a continuously high standard of living. A major determinant of this outcome has been consistent international demand for Australia’s primary resources such as wool, beef and minerals. However, other nations also endowed with ample primary resources (such as Argentina at the turn of the twentieth century) have not fared as well as Australia.

A secret to Australia’s success has been that with the massive population influx which commenced with the 1850s gold rushes came a strong services sector, which continues to this very day and continues to underpin and sustains Australia’s still generally high standard of living.

The supply chains which were established throughout the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century based upon primary produce drove the generation of a goods and services sector in which there were comparatively high paying jobs. The dependence upon the primary sector became glaringly apparent when the floor price for wool in the 1890s temporarily collapsed, leading to Australia’s worst economic crisis to date. The 1890s economic depression also precipitated massive industrial unrest.

To adapt to the socio-economic consequences of the 1890s Great Depression the political leaders of the then Australian colonies moved the continent toward federation which became a reality in early 1901.  Paul Kelly in his very important 1992 book The End of Certainty (Allen and Unwin) wrote that the respective colonies of Victoria and New South Wales responded differently to the 1850s gold rush induced population explosion. Victoria responded by adopting an economically protectionist approach while New South Wales adopted a free trade regime.

The Protectionist State: 1904 to 1983

The protectionist paradigm was thankfully adopted federally by Australia’s political leaders and in part was crucially facilitated by the landmark passage of The Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 (the 1904 Act) which ushered in centralized wage fixing following the issuing of a minimum wage which came with the famous Harvester Judgement of 1907.

Business was prepared to accept what became Australian industrial arbitration because this practice allowed craft-based Australian trade unions to effectively represent their members’ interests without having to resort to often unnecessary industrial disputation[1].

To complement and/or reinforce state intervention in wage determination the new nation also imposed tariffs on imported goods, with federal governments also later providing industry assistance to some sectors of the economy especially in the manufacturing sector.

The protectionist state which Australia became between the early 1900s and the 1980s also diversified the economy by value-adding to the primary sector. Consequently, when the was a decline in international demand for Australia’s primary products there was a domestic manufacturing sector to fall back upon which also helped to underpin the employment generating services sector.

The Morrison Government Saved the Vital Service Sector

At this juncture it should be pointed out that the Morrison/Frydenberg federal government in 2020 and 2021 took the correct neo-protectionist policy approach of rescuing the services sector of the economy via the application of the Job Keeper programme in response to the effect of the Covid pandemic.

Job Keeper was essentially a wages subsidy which saved thousands of small to medium businesses in the private sector which otherwise would have ‘gone to the wall’. The payment of subsidised wages prevented the collapse of the services sector of the Australian economy in which an estimated seven hundred thousand jobs were directly saved and probably even more indirectly if an applicable multiplier effect is calculated.

It is ironic, but in all probability the neo-liberal Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating probably would not have applied an economically interventionist programme such as Job Keeper. This is because, Australia adopted an economic rationalist (sic) paradigm following the March 1983 election of the Hawke ALP federal government which had the ultimate effect of greatly diminishing Australia’s domestic manufacturing sector.

Consequently, this nation has become even more reliant upon its services sector. In this context, the Covid pandemic has probably posed a greater economic challenge then when the international price for Australian wool collapsed in the 1890s, because the services sector was so fundamentally threatened by the Covid pandemic.

Australia under the Morrison government has been able to finance the Job Keeper and Job Seeker programmes, due to massive borrowings so that the nation’s foreign debt now stands at over a trillion Australian dollars!

This colossal foreign public debt is currently not a threat to Australia’s socio-economic well-being while this nation retains a strong credit rating (currently triple A) so that international lenders are still prepared to lend to Australia. The maintenance of a healthy credit rating also assists Australia to service its now massive public foreign debt.

Factors which have helped underpin this credit rating have included the current high international demand for Australian primary product exports such as iron ore as well as domestic factors including Australia’s excellent banking sector.

However, Australia’s astronomically high public debt means that it will soon have to be reined in while the country’s economic fundamentals remain sound. The Morrison government will be able to pay down the foreign debt without resort to high interest rates and avoid an inflationary spiral by pursuing policies which continue to safeguard its current strong credit rating.

Victoria’s Ticking Debt Bomb

By contrast, a possible indication of how an Albanese government might mishandle Australia’s fragile economic situation is the high level of public debt which the Victorian state ALP government has accumulated. Victoria by 2025 will owe an estimated $160 billion in state debt![2].

The associated blowout in public works spending will serve to further complicate the servicing of Victoria’s public debt so that it well may be a blessing in disguise for the Victorian Liberals if they lose the November 2022 state election.

The economic picture for Victoria may well be dire but this is not yet clearly apparent to the public.  Therefore, the subsequent question emerges as to whether the ALP can be trusted at a federal level in a time when it is imperative that Australia’s strong credit rating be preserved with the foreign debt so high and in a time of great international uncertainty?

An Albanese government is an unknown quantity to the public because the federal opposition leader has made himself such a ‘small target’ by dealing in platitudes as to what a future government of his would actually do without being prepared at this stage to provide a specific policy programme.  By contrast the public have a clearer picture as to what Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg stand for, particularly with regard to national security.

 

The Chinese Communist Party Challenge

It is stating the obvious that Australia faces a profound national security concern with Communist China, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Prime Minister Morrison has been correct to call into question Anthony Albanese’s national security credentials with regard to mainland China.

This is particularly so in the context of the comments of former Labor prime minister, Paul Keating, that nations such as Australia should acquiesce to communist mainland China’s forcibly taking over the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC). Let Anthony Albanese publicly repudiate Keating’s perspective on Taiwan as a first sign to indicate that the ALP can be trusted to stand up to communist China.

It is now all the more imperative that the federal Opposition Leader publicly support the ROC in the wake of Russia’s February 2022 heinous invasion of Ukraine. Arguably, this egregious violation of international law might not have occurred had US president; Joe Biden not precipitously abandoned the Afghan people to the Taliban thereby signalling weakness to Moscow and Beijing.

Similarly, an Albanese government might convey weakness to the Chinese Communist Party by adopting the Keating line with regard to Taiwan. The Morrison government by contrast has effectively moved to safeguard Australia’s national security by forming the AUKUS alliance constating of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The recent development of the Quad formation of Australia, the United States, India and Japan is also testament to the Morrison government’s proactive approach to foreign affairs and national security. Such an approach is required if Australia is to safeguard her independence from an increasingly bellicose and threatening communist mainland China.

It is a matter of urgency that a bi-partisan commitment to sending lethal military aid to the Republic of China on Taiwan should be in place in the event that the ROC comes under attack from the communist mainland. A pre-emptive public commitment by Prime Minister Morrison that Australia will come to Taiwan’s aid should be unequivocally supported by the federal Labor leader.

 

The Threat of Regionalisation

With the stakes so high it is bewildering that there well may be elements within the federal coalition which covertly desires an Albanese government on the basis that it will introduce Regionalisation. The issue of Regionalisation has been analysed in previous SAA articles as well as the associated issue of past inter-party collusion to advance the

Regionalisation agenda.

The most dramatic example of this interparty collusion was the 2007 fall of the Howard government to try and ensure that there would be a transition to Regionalisation so that states would be gradually phased out. The replacement of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in June 2010 by Julia Gillard stifled the regionalisation agenda as did Malcolm Turnbull’s September 2015 deposition of Tony Abbott as prime minister.

Not only did the respective advents of Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull delay the introduction of Regionalisation but both these leaders were opposed by political forces that want to dismember Australian states, (especially the Greens Party). It should not be forgotten that in late 2009 Malcolm Turnbull lost the Liberal Party leadership due to his courageous support for an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). 

Almost inexplicably, the Greens voted down the proposed ETS legislation in their balance of power position in the Senate in early 2010. However, nearly two years later the Greens voted in favour of a Carbon Tax which consequently doomed the Gillard government. Perhaps, the Greens regarded a Carbon Tax as being a superior environmental tool to that of an ETS to counter climate change.

However, another interpretation of the Greens’ voting intentions was that their senior leadership desired there to be a future Abbott government so that Regionalisation could later be introduced. As analysed in previous SAA articles there was probable collusion between anti-state elements within the two major parties to co-ordinate the outcome of the August 2010 federal election. Knowing this, Prime Minister Julia Gillard made her public declaration during the campaign that if elected, a government which she led would not introduce a carbon tax.

The breaking of this no Carbon Tax promise by Prime Minister Gillard with the passage of such legislation in early 2012 destined the Gillard government to future political demise. It is widely accepted that, had Julia Gillard faced the voters in 2013 as prime minister, her government would have been voted out in a landslide.

The Greens could have saved the Gillard government by voting against a Carbon Tax on the basis of their advocating an ETS. This did not occur because the senior leadership of the Greens probably wanted Regionalisation introduced by an Abbott government. Thankfully, Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015 so that the agenda of dismembering Australian states was disrupted.

The respective advent of strong-willed persons such as Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister may have disrupted the onset of the Regionalisation agenda but has not yet necessarily terminated it. There can be little doubt that should Anthony Albanese put his mind to it as prime minister that he will aggressively pursue a Regionalisation agenda in accordance with the long- term strategy of the hard left of Australian politics.

 

The Hard Left’s Long-Term Agenda

A brief overview of the hard left’s strategy for political power and economic control is therefore undertaken to gain a possible insight into the probable policy direction of an Albanese government.

The hard left of the Labor Party and the union movement back in the 1980s enunciated a policy of trade union amalgamation with the 1988 release of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) Australia Reconstructed report.

The model of Australian trade unionism fundamentally changed in the 1990s, as in accordance with Australia Reconstructed there was a transition away from craft-based trade unions to super amalgamated trade unions.

The transition to amalgamated trade unions saw a mass exodus of union members from the Australian union movement in the 1990s because the former membership did not feel an affinity with and were isolated by the new amalgamated unions.

Nevertheless, the creation of so-called super unions such as the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) saw a new concentration of power develop within the Socialist Left (SL) of the ALP. It is therefore a plausible scenario that under an Albanese government that regional fiefdoms could be created which would be dominated by hard-left industry unions such as the CFMEU[3].

Consequently, an Albanese government could intend to implement Regionalisation according to a hard-left agenda because post-Morrison Liberals and Nationals will have little if any political leverage to affect the Regionalisation process.

Why Regionalisation Threatens the Coalition Parties

Furthermore, those elements within the Liberal and the Nationals parties which hanker for Regionalisation should realize that their respective parties will probably not survive the onset of Regionalisation in their current form. This is because political parties such as One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP) will probably gain access to the patronage of the newly created super regional councils. As a result of this, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and the UAP will be able to institutionalize themselves within Australian politics at the expense of the Liberal and Nationals parties.

The Nationals Party is even more at risk than the Liberal Party should Regionalisation be introduced. In addition to the One Nation threat to the Nationals, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF) will impose an existential threat to the Nationals’ existence if able to gain access to the expected regional largess arising from the adoption of Regionalisation generally. and the subsequent creation of new regional fiefdoms throughout the country.

For in truth, the Liberal and Nationals parties owe their dominance, if not their survival, to the operation of a Westminster parliamentary system which is conducive to a two-party political system. Should Regionalisation be introduced at the expense of states (which have Westminister parliamentary systems) then Australia will transition from a two-party political system to a multi-party system.

Sabotage Watch

The above scenario is canvassed on the basis that officials and politicians within the Liberal and Nationals parties will sabotage the Morrison government’s 2022 re-election campaign. Already, the UAP have run newspaper ads referring to Barnaby Joyce having ‘trashed’ Scott Morrison which is an indication that discord on the centre-right can actually constitute (or be converted into) political sabotage.

The UAP may have failed to win any federal parliamentary seats in the 2019 federal election despite all the money the money spent by Clive Palmer. Nevertheless, it does appear that the UAP’s 2019 campaign contributed to the Morrison government’s upset election victory. 

That the UAP’s advertising, now adopting a clearer anti-coalition stance for the 2022 federal election campaign, may well be an indication that Clive Palmer expects an Albanese government to introduce Regionalisation. A party such as the UAP will find it easier to win access to political patronage via super regional councils than in winning parliamentary representation in state and federal parliaments.

Similarly, it may seem politically more expedient for the Nationals to off-set their relatively low (but reliable) nationwide voting base by helping to engineer a transition to Regionalisation. Nevertheless, there are still leaders within the coalition who will fight to actually win the 2022 federal election including the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. 

The late January 2022 memorial service in Melbourne for former Liberal federal leader Andrew Peacock (who died in April 2021) was probably utilized by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as an opportunity to lobby senior Victorian Liberals to remain loyal to their party in the upcoming federal election. 

Similarly, the Western Australian Liberals (who were reduced to a mere two seats in the state lower house of parliament following the March 2021 state election) may see Regionalisation as an attractive option. However, all Regionalisation will ultimately serve to accomplish is the institutionalisation of the dominance of the hard left (i.e., the SL of the ALP and the Greens) in Australian politics with the political right becoming rent-seeking scavengers.

Regionalisation will be a gradual but inexorable process as resources and functions will be transferred from the states to new super-regional councils which will ultimately be linked to Canberra. Such a process will be a protracted affair which will endanger Australia’s sound credit rating, the maintenance of which will be essential if this nation is to economically survive and service the massive public foreign debt which accrued due to the Covid pandemic.

With socio-economic stakes so high the Morrison government cannot afford to lose the May 2022 federal election. Because Prime Minister Morrison controls the federal and state Liberal Party secretariats, he can wage a bona fide campaign to overcome potential sabotage within the coalition’s ranks.

Therefore, the Morrison government can conduct a truthful election campaign warning the Australian people of the economic dangers which Australia is currently facing due to the astronomical public foreign debt that this nation has accumulated as a result of the exigencies wrought by the Covid pandemic.

The ACTU’s Version of Work Choices (sic)

The other area which Prime Minister Morrison can campaign on is industrial relations (IR). The ACTU has released an IR policy advocating that wages be set on an industry/occupation basis. Such a radical policy shift can only be facilitated by utilizing the corporations power of the Australian constitution.

This ACTU policy deviates from the current system in which enterprise bargaining determines wage levels underpinned by award minimums with this safety net extending to those employees not covered by Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs).

The Liberals are understandably wary of campaigning on IR issues given the public’s memory of the Howard government’s 2005 Work Choices (sic, No Choices) legislation.  However, Prime Minister Morrison could graciously publicly pay tribute to Julia Gillard for her facilitating the passage of the 2009 Fair Work Australia legislation which thankfully repealed the No Choices IR regime.

A Liberal Party campaign in which the current Fair Work Act (2009) is endorsed would send a clear signal that the current IR system will be retained by the federal coalition. The current Fair Work Australia IR system achieves a brilliant balance between socio-financial equity and economic flexibility due to the high importance which is assigned to enterprise bargaining.

By contrast the ACTU’s current IR proposals are socially and economically dangerous because they will impose too much of a high wages burden on employers as Australia transitions to a post-Covid context. Historically, the hard left of the Australian union movement argued that the arbitral supports which the 1904 Act ushered in created an over-reliance by unions upon arbitration which undermined union effectiveness, - the so-called Howard Dependency Syndrome.

It is therefore ironic that the ACTU is now advocating a statutory enhancement of union power when the hard left of the labour movement had previously derided state sanctioned arbitration as an impediment to union effectiveness.

The ACTU should also be careful as to what they wish for with regard to utilizing the constitution’s corporations’ powers as the New Zealand experience attests.

A New Zealand Labour government passed the Employee Relations Act (

ERA, 2000) which paradoxically facilitated further de-unionisation! The ERA’s detailed statutory employment minimums had the effect of removing the need for enterprise bargaining in the private sector so that there was consequently a decreased scope for union interaction with their members.

If there is to be an Australian union resurgence let it be by dent of unions engaging with employees via enterprise bargaining. There is sufficient scope for enterprise bargaining to occur under the Fair Work Australia Act (2009) so that Australian unions can reach out to employees to effectively represent (and to recruit) them.

The statutory minimums of Fair Work are also sufficient to protect employee rights and to allow employees to be effectively represented by unions without causing an undue burden for employers so that there will not consequently be a substantial increase in unemployment. By contrast, too many employees may well lose their jobs as a result of the ACTU’s IR policies being implemented by an Albanese government.

A massive increase in unemployment will place too great a strain on a social security system which is now already too reliant upon overseas borrowing. Further massive indebtedness would also only serve to jeopardize Australia’s sound credit ratings.

This coalition federal government has already demonstrated great competence in adroitly handling this Covid pandemic. Consequently, the Morrison/Frydenberg federal government has a campaign narrative by which to appeal to the Australian people to trust this leadership team to steer Australia out of the profoundly dangerous socio-economic waters which this nation currently remains in.

 

[1] There were of course exceptions to this pluralist industrial relations regime such as the Australian waterfront

[2] The Australian, Guy turns down the volume and sharpens Liberals’ focus, John Ferguson, page 32, 26-27th February 2022,

[3] The CFMEU is now known as the CFMMEU because of further amalgamations with the addition of the maritime and textile unions under its expanded banner.

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The recent American airstrikes around Kandahar against Taliban positions raise the prospect that the United States will provide sustained and co-ordinated airstrikes after its final withdrawal date on August 31st 2021 so as to help prevent a bloodbath in Afghanistan.

The following article was written before these US airstrikes on Kandahar in the hope that the United States would not abandon Afghanistan.

The impending Taliban takeover of Afghanistan resulting from the precipitous American withdrawal from that nation should be causing angst around the world. During their previous time in power (1996 to 2001) the Taliban gained a reputation as the cruellest regime in the second half of the twentieth century since the infamous Khmer Rouge (KR) in Cambodia between April 1975 and January 1979.

What is frustrating about the KR’s ascent to power in Cambodia in 1975 and the Taliban’s impending return to power in Afghanistan in 2021 is that this was (and will be) primarily due to an American abdication in leadership in world affairs because of the Vietnam Syndrome. This way of thinking maintains that the United States cannot successfully sustain prolonged military action abroad when it is not in America’s direct interest to do so. The public policy failures of the United States’ twenty-year commitment in Afghanistan have led to a resurgence of the Vietnam Syndrome with tragic consequences for the Afghani people who are about to be re-subjected to a Khmer Rouge style regime.

It is therefore helpful that a retrospective over-view and comparison between Cambodia and Afghanistan (with reference also to Vietnamese history) be undertaken to put the US policy into perspective and to hope that by so doing it will become apparent that American air power can still be applied to save Afghanis from the ghastly horrors of the re-imposition of Taliban rule.

Afghanistan: The Monarchists’ Republic

The first major mistake with regard to the American led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was the installation of the so-called Rome Group to power that year. The Rome group was formed from the exiled families who were loyal to Afghanistan’s deposed king, Zahir Shah, who had reigned between 1933 and 1973 and who was then resident in Rome.

It was not a mistake for the Rome Group to have initially led Afghanistan’s provisional government because the exiled Zahir Shah was then by far that nation’s most popular figure as most Afghanis were at that time desirous of a reinstated constitutional monarchy. This was because the turmoil which had followed the king’s 1973 deposition had led most Afghanis to look back upon the monarchy with nostalgia, if not rose-coloured glasses. However, on a practical note, the era of monarchy had been one during which Afghanistan was administered along decentralized tribal lines with the monarchy being the metaphorical glue which held the nation together.

Had a Loya Jirga (or tribal assembly) been called to vote in favour of a monarchical reinstatement (which could have been followed by a popular referendum to validate this decision) then the American led occupation of Afghanistan could have been considerably shorter and might have been successfully concluded.  Unfortunately, and ironically, the Americans took the advice of the Rome Group – the core of which was Afghanistan’s deposed royal family- against reinstating the monarchy!

The Rome Group advised that its preferred option was to rule over a centralized republic with an executive presidency. This republican model was preferred by the Rome Group because it wanted to exercise power in order to enrich its supporters. Furthermore, the Americans blundered because the Afghan republic was (and still is) centralized in its structure so that there would be greater scope for corruption.

The establishment of a centralized republic also served to alienate Afghanistan’s multi-ethic tribal based society so that the Taliban rebounded in the countryside. Consequently, the United States led occupation found itself fighting a never-ending insurgency as Washington poured billions of dollars in aid money into Afghanistan, much of which went to a corrupt regime, whose other main skill (beside that of corruption) was to maintain the trappings of democracy as witnessed by the numerous competitive electoral processes in place in the country.

The Vietnam Parallel

The situation in Afghanistan (2001 to 2021) has been eerily similar to French ruled Vietnam between 1949 and 1954. Because of the communist victory in China in 1949, the French re-called Bao Dai the former Vietnamese emperor to power in late 1949. This was done because the Chinese communists were now in a position to supply the communist Viet Minh with arms. Consequently, the French needed to rally non-communist Vietnamese support if they were going to hold-off against Ho Chi Minh’s communist Viet Minh forces.

There was initially substantial support for Bao Dai, particularly in the north of Vietnam due to memories of the terror campaign which the Viet Minh had undertaken against nationalist Vietnamese in that part of the country between 1945 and 1946.

Although initially possessing a degree of popular support, the Bao Dai government’s constitutional/legal status was ambiguous, because the former monarch ruled over Vietnam as a ‘free state’ in ‘association’ with France. The reality of this ambiguity was continued French domination. Nevertheless, as the Viet Minh made military gains against the French, Bao Dai was able to obtain concessions from the French government including, the establishment of a Vietnamese National Army.

Bao Dai’s constitutional relationship with his citizens/subjects was also ambiguous.  Technically he did not rule as an emperor but rather as chief of state and was to do so until elections to a constituent assembly were held which would resolve whether Vietnam was to be a constitutional monarchy or a republic. In the interim, Bao Dai possessed the prerogative of appointing cabinets so that he ruled more akin to an absolute monarch than to a constitutional one. The benefit of this arrangement, from Bao Dai’s perspective, was the scope (similar to contemporary Afghanistan) for the former imperial family to corruptly enrich themselves. Had Bao Dai instead called elections (which the communists would have been excluded from) to a constituent assembly they probably would have been won by the northern based Dai Viet Party. Because this party had borne the brunt of Ho Chi Minh’s brutal 1945-1946 purge its anti-communism was unabashed.

A Dai Viet majority constituent assembly probably would have voted for a constitutional monarchy therefore depriving the imperial Nguyen clan of its capacity for self-enrichment.  Bao Dai stubbornly held off against such elections to a constituent assembly to avoid such an outcome.

Despite Bao Dai’s personal flaws there was still potential for him, as chief of state to continue to exploit Viet Minh military successes to gain concessions for his government and to thereby gradually advance Vietnam toward full independence. Unfortunately, the abrupt and stunning Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 terminated this Bao Dai strategy for eventually gaining full Vietnamese independence.

The consequent collapse in French will-power to hold onto Vietnam (and Indochina) which came with their defeat at Dien Bien Phu caused the division of Vietnam at the seventeenth parallel into a communist North and a non-communist South in June 1954. Perhaps, realizing that he would not survive without the French to prop him up, Bao Dai decided against returning to Vietnam in 1954. This decision doomed the by now discredited Nguyen clan, and just over a year later in October 1955, Ngo Dinh Diem, whom Bao Dai had appointed as prime minister in 1954, established a South Vietnamese republic.

The historic Vietnamese and contemporary Afghan parallels are uncanny in that there is a tale of two respective royal families which forewent the opportunity of constitutional monarchical reinstatement so as to corruptly enrich themselves together with their cronies.

South Vietnam:  The United States Applies the Wrong Military Strategy

South Vietnam’s presidential republic (The First Republic, 1955 to 1963) was authoritarian but was nowhere near as repressive as Ho Chi Minh’s regime in North Vietnam. President Diem had his strengths and his weaknesses as a ruler. Unfortunately, he over-centralized power in his Ngo clan which caused considerable unrest, so the United States backed military coup in November 1963 in which President Diem and his brother Nhu sadly lost their lives.

Whether the Kennedy administration should have backed or indeed instigated this coup against President Diem is a moot point. Nevertheless, whatever President Diem’s faults, the post-coup context led to political chaos which enveloped South Vietnam between 1964 and 1965. It was into this vacuum that Allied soldiers led by the United States, entered South Vietnam reaching over half a million troops by 1968!

Whether there would there have been such a massive deployment of troops had President Kennedy not been assassinated in November 1963 is an intriguing speculation. Being an intelligent man, President Kennedy took advice from intelligent people.  He was advised by perhaps America’s most brilliant of generals, Douglas McArthur, not to fight a land war in Southeast Asia. This did not necessarily mean abandoning South Vietnam but instead looking at an alternative strategy to the one employed.

Why the Wingate Military Strategy could have been a Winner

An alternative military strategy which could have been applied by the United States in Indochina was the approach, devised by the British general, Orde Wingate. General Wingate maintained that the key to military success was not to engage on the enemy’s terms which often happens when fighting a guerrilla war.

The Wingate strategy could have been applied in the Vietnamese context in the 1960s. For example, American ships and/or aircraft carriers could have been stationed off the coast of South Vietnam. If communist forces took a centre, such as Danang, then American troops stationed on the offshore ships could have been landed in that port city to drive out the communists before then evacuating in favour of the South Vietnamese army, (the Army of the Vietnam Republic, the ARVN).

Furthermore, priority should have been given to the United States bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail because it was through this ingenious network of thousands of jungle pathways meandering through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam by which thousands of North Vietnamese regular soldiers, posing as southern Viet Cong guerrillas, inserted themselves into South Vietnam.

Media Misreporting

Instead, between 1965 and 1968 the United States (as well as South Korea, Thailand, and Australia) sent troops into South Vietnam to fight as a garrison force against communist guerrilla forces. Public support in the United States for the Vietnam commitment remained strong until the Tet offensive of February 1968. It was the accepted custom during the annual Tet Vietnamese New Year celebrations that military hostilities temporarily ceased. However, in 1968 this arrangement was violated by communist forces who had surreptitiously entered South Vietnamese cities to launch attacks at this time on key military and government installations, including the US embassy in Saigon.

Despite the South Vietnamese people declining to rally to support these attacks and the fact that the communists suffered massive casualties, media misreporting fostered the perception that the war situation was out of control and was beyond the point of redemption. This media misreporting on the Tet offensive resulted in President Lyndon Baines Johnson announcing in March 1968 that he would not seek a further presidential term.

President Nixon Seeks Peace with Honour

The political ramifications of this misreporting on the Tet offensive were such that the successful Republican presidential candidate, Richard Milhouse Nixon, was compelled to run on the campaign theme of ‘peace with honour’. This slogan meant that as president, Nixon would be required to withdraw American troops from South Vietnam by the end of his first presidential term but without sacrificing South Viet Nam to the communists. The achievement of this almost contradictory goal would take all of Nixon’s considerable political acumen to achieve. What is incredibly frustrating is that Nixon may well have achieved ‘peace with honour’ had it not been for post-1973 US congressional sabotage.

Nixon’s stated objective of ‘peace with honour’ did for a while abate the vitriol of the so-called ‘anti-war’ protest movement against his administration during its first six months of office in 1969. This abruptly changed when the administration did not take up the opportunity of the July 1969 Paris peace negotiations (not to be confused with the Paris peace negotiations in January 1973) to create a coalition government between the communists and non-communist interests in South Vietnam.

Had the Nixon administration foisted a coalition government on South Vietnam (which would have been tantamount to a communist takeover) between the Saigon regime and Hanoi’s satellite the National Liberation Front (NLF) and abruptly withdrawn Allied troops in 1969, then the US position in the Third World would most probably have collapsed. The international position of the United States would have been so undermined, and the Soviet Union would have been so strengthened that its empire’s life span could well have extended beyond 1991.

The fact that the communist triumph in Indochina in 1975 did not prolong the Soviet empire between 1989/1991 was due to the ramifications of Nixon’s opening to communist China in February 1972, which fundamentally shifted the balance of power in the world so that Moscow was unable to consequently maintain its then globally important strategic position.

Cambodia Enters the Vietnam War

Frustratingly, the United States endured agony as it attempted to disengage militarily from Indochina without creating a vacuum which Hanoi could fill. Therefore, the Nixon administration invaded North Vietnamese occupied eastern Cambodia in late April 1970 so as to interdict supplies into South Vietnam in order to bolster the Vietnamization policy of withdrawing Allied troops so that the ARVN could effectively fill the vacuum.

Anti-war critics/historians have argued that this American led ‘invasion’ of Cambodia brought the ravage of war to this country. The war actually came to this Southeast Asian nation when the Lon Nol government (which had constitutionally deposed Cambodia’s avowedly neutralist chief of state, Prince Sihanouk in March 1970) decided to occupy eastern Cambodian territory following the withdrawal of American/South Vietnamese forces in May 1970.

Notionally, it was not unreasonable for a sovereign nation to re-occupy its own territory. However, it could be argued that this action was foolhardy because it entailed the much weaker Cambodian army taking on the might of the North Vietnamese army between May 1970 and March 1972. During this time period the North Vietnamese army greatly weakened Cambodia’s armed forces thereby paving the way for the Peking backed communist KR guerrillas to be on the brink of capturing the Cambodian capital Phnom Penn in January 1973. This would have occurred had the Nixon administration not flown in emergency supplies and attacked the KR positions from the air.

Richard Nixon Almost Saves Cambodia

Utilizing its increased leverage with the Cambodian regime, the Nixon administration compelled President Lon Nol to banish his brother and Eminence Gris, General Lon Non into temporary exile and to form a new cabinet in May 1973 headed by In Tam (who had run against Lon Nol in the discredited June 1972 presidential election). Again, as a result of an American initiative, legislative and executive power was vested in a newly formed High Political Council. This executive was composed of one -time domestic opponents of President Lon Nol but who had also previously helped instigate Prince Sihanouk’s deposition in March 1970.

Between April and June 1973, the United States and Peking entered into negotiations concerning a political settlement in Cambodia under which Lon Nol would be eased out and Prince Sihanouk reinstated as chief of state with the prince sharing power with the High Political Council. Had such, an arrangement been arrived at then Peking would have cut off aid to the KR by giving its support to a restored Prince Sihanouk thereby denying those genocidal guerrillas access to power.

US Congressional Sabotage leads to The Cambodian Genocide

Alas, at the time American-Sino negotiations were taking place in May and June of 1973, ‘anti-war’ US legislators led by Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mike Mansfield, were moving to cut off funding for the bombing of KR military positions. In June 1973 Senator Mansfield went so far as to threaten to defund the American government unless the bombing was stopped in Cambodia. Consequently, President Nixon was compelled in June 1973 to sign a bill which terminated the bombing of KR positions after August 15th 1973.

This termination of the bombing not only thwarted the reaching of an American-Sino political settlement for Cambodia but doomed that nation to nearly four years (1975 to 1979) of genocidal hell under the KR. If any non-Cambodian deserves the opprobrium for the Cambodian Holocaust in which nearly half the population of this tragic nation perished due to killing and mass starvation it is Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana[1]!

The situation in contemporary Afghanistan is now distressingly similar to Cambodia because American air power is not being applied to save this nation from an impending holocaust. It should also be pointed out at this juncture, for those who argue that foreign intervention in Afghanistan is foredoomed to failure, that the Soviets were not defeated militarily in their earlier foray into that nation.

Although the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in early 1989, they enabled the communist regime of Mohammad Najibullah to hold onto that nation’s cities by continued air support in which supplies were transported to government held urban areas. It was only with the demise of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 that external aid to the Najibullah government came to an end which resulted in the subsequent fall of that regime in February 1992. Ironically, the communist Kabul regime, which owed its existence to Moscow, had briefly outlived its patron.

How Afghanistan can still be Saved

The current situation in Afghanistan is similar to when the Soviet troops were withdrawn in early 1989. Continued air support enabled the incumbent government to hold on. Similarly, if the United States provides air support to protect the regime of President Ashraf Ghani, then his government will also stand a strong chance of survival.

The Biden administration can continue to maintain air bases in Afghanistan so that Taliban positions can be bombed so as to keep those murderous guerrillas at bay. Instead of scaling back its embassy in Kabul the United States should have an activist mission in Afghanistan (similar to the embassy in Phnom Penn between March 1974 and April 1975 under Ambassador John Gunther Dean) in order to engineer needed internal reform so that the Afghan government can initiate a strategy to retake the countryside.

Because the golden opportunity for a reinstated Afghan constitutional monarchy is unfortunately gone, Afghanistan is an executive presidential republic. A benefit of such a system of governance is that talented political outsiders can be brought into government. There is a critical mass of understandably frightened but brilliant Afghans who could be brought into government service at the behest of the Biden administration.

The United States by providing air cover to Afghanistan’s cities would not only have the leverage (as the Nixon administration did in Cambodia in 1973 with the Lon Nol regime) to inject Afghanistan’s government with needed talent but also, more importantly, to prevent a Taliban takeover.

A United States State Department official, Kenneth Quinn, attempted to warn the world in 1974 of how disastrous a KR victory would be in Cambodia. The world does not need another Kenneth Quinn to warn of the evil consequences for Afghanistan should the Taliban return to power now. Furthermore, the Taliban will not be content just with ruling Afghanistan. They will also provide Jihadists with a base to try and bring down pro-American regimes such as Saudi Arabia. The United States should appreciate that its position in the Third World will also be fatally undercut vis a vis Beijing if America cuts and runs from Afghanistan. Already the People’s Republic of China is sounding out the Afghanistan government with offers of military assistance in its battle with the Taliban.

President Biden may think that he will become a folk hero by abandoning the Afghan people to the Taliban and therefore ‘ending the war in Afghanistan’ but America’s problems around the world will just get worse as a result of the reasons which have been cited in this article.

The United States does not have to perpetually station troops in Afghanistan. Rather, America can utilise air support (as the Soviets did between 1989 and 1991). This would not only render an invaluable service to the people of Afghanistan but would also prevent President Biden from becoming to that nation what Senator Mike Mansfield became to Cambodia!

 

[1] American Professor Noam Chomsky in a disturbing monologue in the documentary Manufacturing Consent ludicrously revised down the number of Cambodians who were killed by the KR regime and erroneously claimed that more Cambodians were killed by the American bombing of Cambodia.

 

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Contemporary South Africa has massive problems including appallingly high crime rates and unemployment/underemployment levels of over forty percent! However, what South Africa does have going for it, despite these severe socio-economic problems, is a strong attachment to democracy. South Africans cherish their right to vote in democratic multi-party elections which seems to ensure that this nation’s problems will ultimately be resolved by democratic means.

This attachment to democracy exists even though most of South Africans did not have the right to vote until April 1994. Perhaps it is this historical denial of suffrage on racial grounds which has endowed the current universal right to vote with such a strong sanctity that South Africans will not countenance this right being taken away from them.

It is for this reason that it was so important that South Africans were able to vote in universal elections in April 1994 when this constitutional right commenced on its path to becoming so engrained. However, the April 1994 elections almost never took place. This was because Joe Slovo (1926 to 1995) the white leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP) nearly succeeded in provoking the far right into staging a military coup that would subsequently and consequently provoke a revolution from below.

Such a revolution would probably have succeeded in establishing South Africa as a Marxist-Leninist state even though communism had become so discredited nearly five years earlier (1989) with Eastern and Central European nations throwing off such regimes. That an arch-strategist such as Joe Slovo failed in provoking a military coup and a subsequent revolution was due to the tactical, cool level headedness of a white retired army general, Constand Viljoen (1933 to 2020)[1].

The establishment of a communist South Africa would have been a triumph for Cuba’s despotic leader Fidel Castro (1926 to 2017). The Cuban dictator had previously succeeded in the 1970s in crucially helping to facilitate communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique in southern Africa. For Castro, the establishment of a communist South Africa would have been the culmination of an objective which he and fellow totalitarian revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1928 to 1967) had so assiduously worked toward, since the 1960s.

 Revolutionary Contexts: Cuba and South Africa Compared

This following sectional overview of Cuba’s pre-1959 political context is undertaken to help convey the level of political sophistication which would be replicated nearly two generations later when the Cuban communist backed Joe Slovo similarly moved to sabotage national elections from occurring in South Africa in 1994. The fact that the 1994 elections did take place is illustrative of how voting in democratic elections can prevent a revolution from occurring.

It should also be pointed out that Fidel Castro had himself also previously succeeded in manipulating the then former Cuban president, Fulgencio Batista, into staging a military coup in Cuba in March 1952 so that he (Castro) could consequently instigate a revolution on that Island which culminated in this would be dictator coming to power in January 1959. The cornerstone of Castro’s success in generating this revolution was his solemn and unambiguous promise that he would hold democratic elections once the revolution was successful. Ironically, the success of Castro’s 1959 revolution has ensured that since then Cubans were thereafter never able to vote in democratic elections.

Pre-communist Cuba, similar to contemporary South Africa had deep seated problems. Indeed, Cuba had had a revolution in 1933 in which the dictator Gerado Machado had been removed from power.  The post-1933 political context in Cuba was complex but in essence the revolutionary strongman who emerged, Fulgencio Batista (1901 to 1973) successfully conciliated the opposition by holding elections to a constituent assembly in 1939.

The constituent assembly drew up the democratic constitution of 1940 which thereafter became deeply revered by most Cubans. It was under this constitution that Batista was democratically elected president in 1940. President Bastia received considerable kudos amongst Cubans for not only respecting this constitution by stepping down as president when his presidential term expired in 1944, but for also for ceding power to the opposition Autentico Party which had unexpectantly won the elections that year.

Alas, the nearly eight years of Autentico Party misrule in Cuba (1944 to 1952) were exceedingly corrupt. Disenchantment with Autentico Party corruption reached a peak in August 1951 when the opposition senator, Eddy Chibbas committed suicide when he was unable to substantiate allegations of corruption against a government minister. The outrage which ensued was directed against the ruling party so that one of the opposition presidential candidates, Roberto Agramonte who belonged to Chibbas’s Ortodoxo Party had a strong chance of winning the June 1952 presidential election.

Indeed, Agramonte probably would have won the June 1952 elections had Batista not returned to power in March that year via a military coup. That Batista returned to power in this coup was due to Castro’s pre-election machinations. Castro (who was then an Ortodoxo candidate for Congress) between December 1951 and February 1952 made credible allegations of corruption against the outgoing presidential administration of Prio Socarras which ironically were published in the Batistano newspaper Alerta. Castro even went before the Supreme Court to make allegations of corruption directly against President Prio.

The future Cuban dictator (i.e. Castro) correctly calculated that President Prio, who had become addicted to wealth and luxury, would not want to risk the opposition Ortodoxo Party coming to power on an anti-corruption platform. However, due to a 1943 election code it was impossible for President Prio to rig the elections in favour of the Autentico Party’s presidential candidate Carlos Hevia. Nor could President Prio suspend the constitution to perpetuate himself in power for to have done so the president knew would have sparked a revolution against him.

The wily Castro also knew that the above cited options were closed off to President Prio. However, Castro was aware that President Prio could arrange for an avowed opponent of his in the person of Fulgencio Batista (who was then also running for president in the 1952 elections) to return to power via a military coup with President Prio’s covert connivance. Although Batista’s return to power meant that President Prio would have to temporarily go into exile he knew that due to the pre-arranged nature of the 1952 coup that his assets would be left untouched and that he would not be prosecuted for corruption.

The near bloodlessness of the March 10th, 1952 coup was testament to the fact that President Prio had helped engineer his own overthrow. This secret collusion between Batista and Prio with regard to the 1952 coup might not have been fatal to Cuban democracy had this event not fitted in with Castro’s grand strategy of preparing the groundwork for his revolutionary route to power so that he could proceed to establish a totalitarian regime.

How Castro subsequently exploited the 1952 coup to facilitate his revolutionary rise to power will not be detailed in this article. Nevertheless, the overall point needs to be made that by denying the Cuban people a vote in the scheduled June 1952 elections the March coup created the pre-conditions for Castro to come to power via a revolution.

As flawed as the Cuban political establishment was in the early 1950s, Cuba’s steep socio-economic problems would not have led to a revolution had there been no democratic disruption. That such a disruption occurred was due to Castro’s strategic genius not only in instigating the 1952 coup but also in exploiting the subsequent conditions to generate a revolution by January 1959. Joe Slovo with a similar degree of manipulative skill would move in 1994 to engineer events so that a revolution would ensue by provoking a right-wing military coup to prevent the scheduled April elections from proceeding.

The ANC Moves to a Revolutionary Context

Indeed, Castro demonstrated his similar capacity for political foresight by envisioning the potential to establish future totalitarian regimes in Africa by initially guiding anti-colonial resistance movements in Portuguese Africa and the anti-racist movement in white minority ruled South Africa in the 1960s.It was the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in March 1960 which marked a turning point for the anti-apartheid movement away from the non-violent approach which had previously been adopted by the African National Congress (ANC) under the leadership of the Zulu chief, Albert Luthuli (1897 to 1967).

De facto leadership of the ANC following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre passed to Nelson Mandela in June 1961 when he founded the armed wing of that organisation called the Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’). Umkhonto we Sizwe was crushed by 1963 by which time Nelson Mandela had been captured and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The most prominent ANC activist who had escaped detention was Oliver Tambo who headed this anti-apartheid organisation in exile. It was in exile following the success of the clampdown by South Africa’s security forces that the ANC was restructured in the early 1960s with the active counsel of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. These two totalitarian revolutionaries ensured that the ANC’s alliance with the SACP (which dated back to 1946) was consolidated so that communist influence became predominant within the ANC.

A major base of communist influence within the ANC at a grassroots level in South Africa during the apartheid era was amongst urban based Zulus in Natal Province. This was partly because of the harsh nature of industrial laws which denied (until the Wiehahn Commission in the 1970s) basic labour rights to non-white South Africans. This substantial support for SACP in Natal Province’s urban areas amongst Zulus was countered in rural areas where traditional tribal structures were well entrenched and reverence for the institution of the Zulu monarchy remained strong.

Zulu support in rural areas for their monarchy was manifested by the prevailing influence of the Inkatha Party (later the Inkatha Freedom Party, IFP) which was founded and led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha Party controlled the Kwa Zulu (Zululand) Bantustan (Homeland), which was created in the 1970s, as a one-party-state.

The apartheid regime was unable however to establish other black homelands which had genuine support amongst the Xhosa ethnic group (which Nelson Mandela belonged to) as most Xhosas were supporters of the ANC. SACP influence within the ANC in Xhosa areas was less structured and pervasive as it was in urban Zulu areas, but it was still there.

To counter support for the ANC /SACP amongst the Xhosas and other ethnic groups the apartheid regime in the 1970s established so-called ‘independent’ homelands which were scattered across South Africa. The ‘independent’ homelands were Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Transkei and Venda as well as a ‘self-governing’ homeland of Qwa Qwa.

The 1984 Constitution Produces Political Polarization

Having utterly failed to garner any support amongst non-Zulu black South Africans by creating these homelands the apartheid regime in 1984 promulgated a nominally multi-racial constitution which notionally extended full civic (including voting) rights to Coloured and Asian South Africans. A tricameral parliament was created respectively representing whites and the other two aforementioned communities. The real and lasting innovating dimension of the 1984 Constitution was the establishment of an immensely powerful executive presidency which was first held by PW Botha (1916 to 2006) who had previously (since 1978) led South Africa as prime minister.

The promulgation of the 1984 Constitution precipitated a massive anti-government civil disobedience campaign which was directed by an ANC front organisation, the United Democratic Front (UDF). The harsh response by the apartheid regime to this civil disobedience campaign fuelled an international campaign to place international economic sanctions against South Africa. It therefore seemed that South Africa was heading for a violent revolution which would probably result in a Marxist-Leninist regime.

The political polarization which ensued as a result of the civil disobedience campaign was such that in the May 1987 elections there was a shift to the right by the white electorate. This was manifested by the Conservative Party (a 1982 National Party breakaway party established to oppose the extension of political rights to Coloureds and Asians) displacing the liberal Progressive Federal Party (PFP) as the official parliamentary opposition.

The racist Conservative Party would have won the September 1989 elections had the popular Foreign Minister Pik Botha not succeeded in persuading enough white liberal Anglo voters to transfer their support from the Democratic Party (the successor to the PFP) to the National Party. Paradoxically, had the National Party continued to perpetuate white minority rule the probable result would have been that the Conservative Party would have won the next minority election.

The realization that white minority rule itself was not a viable option was appreciated by F W De Clerk who had succeeded PW Botha as president in August 1989.  De Clerk’s ascension to the South African presidency had been assured in January 1989 when the National Party’s parliamentary caucus had chosen him to succeed PW Botha as party leader after Botha was severely affected by a stroke.

Although De Clerk would be instrumental in bringing apartheid to an end, he was not in a National Party context from that party’s relatively ‘liberal’ wing. Rather he was from the pragmatic predominantly centrist faction of the National Party. Indeed, PW Botha for all his intense anti-communism and authoritarian personality was actually (in a National Party context) a party liberal. Under his presidency, petty apartheid had been abolished with inter racial sex and marriage being permitted.

PW Botha was probably intelligent enough to realize that the National Party’s introduction of apartheid following its election to power in 1948 had, with the benefit of hindsight, been a mistake. However, PW Botha himself was wary of majority party rule on the basis that he feared that a communist takeover of South Africa would have resulted.

Francois Mitterand Counters Fidel Castro

The statesman who had the political nous to stymie Fidel Castro’s objective of establishing a communist South Africa was the then French president, Francois Mitterand (1916 to 1996). Mitterand as the under-secretary for African affairs in France’s Fourth Republic in the 1950s had orientated a generation of Francophone leaders away from the French Communist Party’s (PCF) orbit toward pro-western regimes and their ideologies when independence was granted in the 1960s.

Furthermore, Mitterand had displayed remarkable political skill in the 1970s to ensure that his French Socialist Party (PS) supplanted the PCF as the main party on the left, therefore helping to consolidate French democracy following Charles De Gaulle’s departure as president in 1969.

It was at Mitterand’s instigation that the South African government commenced secret negotiations with Nelson Mandela between 1987 and 1989 on the issue of majority rule. The major anxiety that Nelson Mandela had to address when negotiating with the South African government was how to ensure that the SACP did not utilize the ANC as a Trojan Horse by which to come to power should the right to vote be extended to all South African adults.

Nelson Mandela undertook to his captors to apply the operational principles which Francois Mitterand advocated to keep the South African communists in check should majority rule be conceded. The application of these Mitterand operational principles was illustrated in the 2009 film Invictus where President Nelson Mandela retains most of De Clerk’s presidential staff and bodyguards to the amazement of his close associates. Actions such as this were more than gestures because they enabled President Mandela to utilize pre-existing power networks to keep SACP at bay without having to disassociate from that party.

Convinced of Nelson Mandela’s sincerity about keeping the SACP in check, President De Clerk in his state of the nation address in February 1990 announced Nelson Mandela’s unconditional release later that month as well as the immediate unbanning of the ANC and SACP. These dramatic actions on President De Clerk’s part marked the commencement of a turbulent four-year transition to majority rule culminating in Nelson Mandela being elected and inaugurated as president of South Africa in May 1994.

One of the major obstacles which was overcome in this four year period between 1990 and 1994 was white consent for majority rule with a white’s only referendum held on the issue in March 1992 in which the over sixty-eight percent of the electorate voted in the affirmative. Nevertheless, there were still major obstacles to be overcome, particularly regarding inter-Zulu violence between the IFP and SACP during this time.

Despite the continuing violence, Nelson Mandela and FW De Clerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993. Although Nelson Mandela and President FW De Clerk were worthy recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, this prize for 1993 should perhaps also have included President Francois Mitterand because his strategic advice and mediation had crucially laid the groundwork for the ending of apartheid.

 

 

Potential Barriers to Majority Rule:  The Formation of the so called ‘Freedom Alliance’

However, the real test of whether peace would ensue in South Africa was whether democratic elections would be held in April 1994. A major potential obstacle toward holding those elections arose with the formation in October 1993 of the Freedom Alliance, which was composed of the Conservative Party, the IFP as well as the homeland governments of Bophuthatswana and Ciskei.

Also included in the Freedom Alliance was the Afrikaans Volksfront (AVF) which contained over twenty Afrikaans organisations. The AVF was chaired by Constand Viljoen who emerged as one of the most important leaders in the Freedom Alliance. His importance was derived from the fact that as a retired commander of the South African Defence Force (SADF), Constand Viljoen could potentially utilize his still strong influence within the armed forces and the police to stage a military coup to prevent the April 1994 elections from proceeding.

To help encourage this eventuality (i.e. a military coup) to occur, SACP leader Joe Slovo moved to instigate the overthrow of the regime of Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana in March 1994 in order to provoke a national right-wing military coup response. Had such a coup occurred the succeeding national government probably would have been multi-racial in that it would have been composed of members from the Freedom Alliance.

However, the overwhelming majority of South Africans would inevitably have rejected such a government therefore leading to a massive revolt by the African population which could not have been put down without bloodshed on a considerable scale. Indeed, even had such a coup succeeded in the short term, in the long term such a government would eventually have succumbed to a violent revolution resulting in a probable Marxist-Leninist totalitarian regime for South Africa.

The scenario which confronted South Africa in 1994 was similar to the situation which Cuba faced in 1952 where Fidel Castro also manipulated pre-election events so that Fulgencio Batista staged a coup in response. The disappointment that many Cubans felt about not being able to vote in the 1952 elections ultimately laid the groundwork for Castro’s January 1959 revolution.

High Stakes Political Chess: Joe Slovo versus Constand Viljoen

Similarly, Joe Slovo by having masses of ANC supporters converge on Bophuthatswana’s capital Mmabatho in early March 1994, tried to provoke the highly trained commanders of the Freedom Alliance to intervene so that a national coup would ensue. However, ill-trained and ill-disciplined white militiamen of the fascist Afrikaner Resistance Front (AWB) precipitately arrived in Mmabatho before Freedom Alliance troops had reached this homeland capital.

This precipitant action by the AWB caused a mutiny in the Bophuthatswana armed forces. Two AWB members were shot dead by Bophuthatswana security forces and this was shown on the nightly national news.

The De Clerk government reacted quickly to this deteriorating situation in Bophuthatswana by despatching a delegation of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) to meet with President Mangope on March 12th to have him formally re-incorporate this homeland into South Africa so that national elections could proceed there in April 1994. The rapidity with which Bophuthatswana was reincorporated into South Africa undermined the scope for a far-right national military coup to occur.

Another crucial factor which upended the prospect of a national military coup occurring was General Constand Viljoen’s swift action on March 16th of submitting candidates of a new political party, the Freedom Front with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). By breaking with the AVF and the Freedom Alliance to register the Freedom Front, General Constand Viljoen in a masterstroke had appropriated the voting base of the boycotting Conservative Party while also ensuring that the far-right did not fall into Slovo’s trap of staging a national military coup.[2]

General Constand Viljoen’s decision to participate in South African national and provincial elections in April 1994 was a paradigm shift as this conveyed the far-right’s acceptance of the emerging new constitutional order. Indeed, as the politics of post-Franco Spain in the 1970s also demonstrated, that seemingly intractable national problems can often be overcome by the holding democratic national and regional elections.

Contemporary communist Cuba’s ruling nomenklatura could also extricate themselves from riding the tiger of being a dictatorship by holding multi-party elections to a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution of 1940. The benefit of conducting future elections to a constituent assembly is that Cuba’s ruling communists could gauge their legitimate bases of support without having to immediately cede executive power.

Last Minute Deals:  The IFP Enters the Electoral Fray

The importance of holding elections to resolve seemingly intractable problems was also shown in South Africa when the Kenyan academic Professor Washington Okumu persuaded his friend Chief Buthelezi to participate in the April 1994 national and provincial elections. The IFP’s agreement to participate in these elections was made on the basis that considerable autonomy would be granted to the new province of KwaZulu Natal and that if Chief Buthelezi’s party won ten percent or more of the national vote that it would be represented in the national cabinet.

The IFP’s last minute decision (April 15th) to register and participate in the joint national and provincial April 27th, 1994 elections was facilitated by the IEC’s decision to attach that party’s logo to the bottom of the national and provincial ballots. It should be pointed out at this juncture that South African voters in the 1994 elections were handed two ballot papers with which to vote- a national ballot and a provincial ballot.

Post-apartheid South Africa now has nine provinces and the decision to retain a federal system of government has been an important ingredient in that nation having a viable working democracy by preventing the concentration of power with the central government. By contrast contemporary Australia is faced with the prospect of Australian states being dismembered by a process known as ‘regionalization’ which would ultimately concentrate power in the national government.

It should not be forgotten that in the last days of the Gillard government in 2013 that legislation was passed authorising a referendum on local government recognition in the Australian constitution by which the regionalization process could be facilitated in the future. It would be an ironic pity that Australia might throw away a system of government that has served the nation so well while a nation such as South Africa which has fought so hard to become a majority democracy now appreciates the value of having a federal system of government.

The struggle to engineer a transition to majority democracy in South Africa was such that as historic as South Africa’s 1994 elections were, the provincial and national vote in KwaZulu Natal was probably rigged in favour of the IFP so that it won control of the new province and gained national cabinet representation with Chief Buthelezi subsequently serving as the federal Home Affairs Minister.

For Nelson Mandela, the political benefit of the IFP holding office in KwaZulu Natal was that this helped to keep the SACP in check because its base was in the ANC’s urban Zulu areas. Nelson Mandela therefore publicly and ‘paradoxically’ welcomed the IFP’s electoral success as being conducive to needed national unity.

In the overall April 27th, 1994 national elections, the ANC predictably came first with just over sixty-two percent of the vote. While over ten percent of the successful national parliamentary candidates of the ANC were covert members of SACP the fact that the ANC had had a democratic national vote among its members in December 1993 to preselect its national candidates prevented the communists from dominating this party.

The National Party came in second with a respectable twenty percent of the vote followed by the IFP winning just over ten percent of the vote. The Freedom Front and the Democratic Party respectively garnered over two and one percent of the national vote in the 1994 poll among a relatively small minority of white voters.

Alternative History: What Could have Been Had the United Party Prevailed in 1948

While the Democratic Party’s national vote in the 1994 election was a low one it still gained parliamentary representation. During its coverage of the 1994 South African elections The Age newspaper in Melbourne Australia ran a series of short ‘talking head’ interviews with South African voters from various racial groups. Interestingly, one of those interviewed was a black man who said that in the ballot for the national government he would vote for the ANC but that he would cast his provincial vote for the Democratic Party on the basis that it was the only political party participating in the elections which really believed in democracy.

This anecdotal endorsement for the Democratic Party and the support that the Democratic Alliance (the successor to the Democratic Party) has received in the 2000s from a substantial minority of African voters illustrates that such a ‘wrong turn’ was taken in 1948 when the then white electorate voted in the National Party.

Counterfactually, South Africa could have evolved into a majority multi-racial democracy had the United Party under General Jan Smuts won the 1948 elections.  General Smuts (1870 to 1950) led a remarkable life in which he went from being a leading anti-British guerrilla leader during the Boer War (1899 to 1902) to be the founder in 1918 of Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) at the time of the First World War (1914 to 1918).

This statesman also wrote the Covenant of the League of Nations in 1919 and was the main author of the United Nations General Charter in 1945. While Jan Smuts was in an international context unquestionably a liberal, in a domestic South African context his role was more ambiguous. For Smuts the issue of race relations was not a question of white versus black but rather the need to achieve reconciliation between Afrikaners and white Anglos.

It was in pursuit of the above objective that Smuts supported the creation of the Union of South Africa as a dominion of the British Empire in 1910 in which the four provinces federated. [3] During the First World War General Smuts and Prime Minister Louis Botha took their nation into the Allied side, crushed a military coup attempt by pro-German elements within the armed forces and conquered German South West Africa (Namibia) in 1915.

Representing South Africa at the negotiations at the Treaty of Versailles in1919 where the victorious Allies imposed a peace treaty on a defeated Germany it was General Smuts who modified this treaty so that it was less harsh than was proposed by other members of the alliance (including Australia). Later that year (1919), General Smuts succeeded to the prime ministership of South Africa upon the death of Louis Botha.

General Smuts’ main innovation during his first prime ministership (1919 to 1924) was his unsuccessful attempt to bring in the self-governing neighbouring British colony of Southern Rhodesia (contemporary Zimbabwe) as a province of South Africa in 1922. This proposal was rejected in a referendum by Southern Rhodesia’s white electorate. This consequently deprived General Smuts of a potential extra voting base among white Anglos by which he might have been able to have held onto office. Instead he lost the 1924 elections.

The 1924 elections were won by a National Party/Labour Party coalition led by J. B.M. Herzog which pursued racist policies such as shutting out African workers from skilled work in the mining sector so that this employment could be reserved exclusively for whites. Realizing that it was inevitable that Africans were eventually going to urbanize and that it was going to be impossible to exclude them permanently from industry, Jan Smuts during his time as federal parliamentary Opposition Leader (1924 to 1933) formulated the concept of apartheid.[4]

Jan Smuts conceptualized apartheid as a system where industrial and urban development would occur separately among the different races of South Africa. From Smuts’ perspective apartheid was a liberal policy because it recognised that there would be industrial and urban development amongst the African majority. In fact, Smut’s outlook was essentially racist because he could not (at this point until the 1940s) envisage that blacks, whites, Coloureds and Asians could integrate in a context where there would be majority rule.

Ironically, the concept of apartheid would after 1948 be appropriated and utilized by the National Party government of D. F. Malan to perpetuate white minority rule based upon an obsessively rigorous and systematic policy of racial separation. However, for Jan Smuts the issue of race was one in which the objective was to achieve reconciliation between Afrikaners and white Anglos so that his mindset did not at this stage envisage majority rule.

Jan Smut’s then relatively narrow mindset was reflected by taking his South Africa Party into coalition government with Hertzog’s National Party in 1933 to help solve the steep economic challenges which confronted the nation due to the onset of the Great Depression. While Smut’s South Africa Party and a majority of the National Party merged in 1934 to form the United Party an intransigent minority of the National Party continued on under the leadership of F. W. Malan.

Co-operation between Jan Smuts and J.B. M. Hertzog however became impossible due to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 as the latter favoured South African neutrality due to his pro-Nazi sympathies. The South African parliament’s vote in September 1939 to enter the Second World War on the Allied side led to Hertzog’s resignation and Smut’s return to power as prime minister as head of pro-Allied coalition government composed of the United Party, the Labour Party and the Dominion Party.

Lost Opportunities:  The Potential for Earlier Democratic Reform

The second Smuts government (1939 to 1948) achieved much during the Second World War as South Africa made an important contribution to the Allied war effort with South African troops serving with distinction in Ethiopia, Somalia, Libya, Madagascar, Greece, and Italy. Despite opposition by a militant minority of Afrikaners to the war effort, South African industry was efficiently converted to war production needs and in 1943 the Smuts led coalition was returned to power in a landslide election victory.

As an important allied power during the Second World War there was of course no question about South Africa joining the United Nations (UN) in 1945 as a founder member. However, during South Africa’s membership of the UN between 1945 and 1948 under United Party rule, the government of Jan Smuts was most put out by criticism of its racial segregation policies in the UN General Assembly.[5]

As a brilliant man who was susceptible to international criticism an argument could consequently be made that if South Africa had retained the United Party government in 1948 that by the 1960s this nation would already have given way to black majority rule.

The main indicator that the above scenario would have come to fruition was the United Party government’s plan to have a massive post-war influx of migration from Britain, Italy and Greece so that when black majority government was granted by the 1960s the ratio between black and white would have been that for every white there were two blacks instead of the then ratio of six to one .

J.M Hofmeyr:  The Great ‘could have been’ of South African History

Another indicator of the United Party’s possible liberal intentions was a post-war plan to extend social services to all races as envisaged by Jan Smuts’ overworked deputy, J.M. Hofmeyr (1894 to 1948). Among the string of Hofmeyr’s portfolio responsibilities was that of Immigration Minister.  Indeed, Hofmeyr in opposition to the National Party had supported Jewish migration to South Africa in the 1930s and proposed to undertake a massive programme of post-war immigration. Due to overwork and perhaps because of his intense disappointment that the United Party had lost the May 1948 general election, J.M. Hofmeyr unfortunately died in December 1948.

Contemporary South Africa needs national ministers of the calibre of J.M. Hofmeyr to serve in portfolios such as education and training as well as urban development so as to lift millions of South African blacks out of poverty. Putting massive resources (both material and human) into South Africa’s education and training systems will prove to be the antidote to systematic inequality which apartheid bequeathed. Furthermore, the provision of microcredit to spur on the growth of small business generated employment should also be a national priority because this has the potential to be poverty circuit breaker.

The advocacy of these above cited policies might not have been necessary, had the National Party not won the 1948 elections. Indeed, the 1948 general election victory of the National Party (in which Jan Smuts lost his seat) was a surprise. This upset can be attributed in part to the 1946 census results which indicated that over forty percent of black Africans were urbanized which consequently frightened enough Afrikaners to shift their vote to the National Party to deliver this racist party victory.

A Myriad of Party Splits

Had the United Party instead won the 1948 election this party would have gained the electoral support of new white migrants who would then have provided a continuing electoral support for the ruling party to eventually enable it to transition to black majority rule. As it was the ambiguous stance which the United Party adopted in opposition in relation to apartheid precipitated four major splits within this party over the next thirty years.

It was in 1954 that the racist element within the United Party broke away to form the Conservative Party, which is not to be confused with the party of the same name which was founded in 1982 following a split within the National Party. A liberal element within the United Party broke away in 1959 to form the Progressive Party and for years its sole member of Parliament was the courageous Helen Suzman (1917 to 2009).

In 1975 other liberal members of the United Party again departed to form the Reform Party which later that year merged with the Progressive Party to establish the Progressive Reform Party. This new party in 1977 joined with the continuing liberal elements within the United Party to become the PFP which became the main white parliamentary opposition party. The PFP in turn merged with two minor white liberal parties in 1989 to found the Democratic Party in that year.

The Democratic Party (which following the 1999 South African general election emerged as the major parliamentary opposition party) merged with the Democratic Alliance (DA) in 2003. Since then the DA has been South Africa’s main opposition party. Indeed, between 2015 and 2019 the DA was led by a black African, Mmusi Maimane, which illustrated the potential for this party to become a viable alternative to the ruling ANC.

The overview of the above cited political machinations concerning party formation is illustrative of the counter factual perspective that had the United Party won the 1948 general election there could have been a more peaceful transition to black majority rule earlier than ultimately occurred (possibly by the 1960s).

As it was there was still a transition to black majority rule in the 1990s, which was more hazardous resulting from the spectre of a Marxist-Leninist takeover of South Africa. However, as a result of the courage, foresight and magnanimous wisdom of Nelson Mandela as well as the positive political skills of FW De Clerk and Francois Mitterand, South Africa transitioned to majority rule in 1994. Furthermore, Constand Viljoen’s refusal to fall for the Castro/Slovo trap of staging a national right-wing military coup in March 1994 was also instrumental in ensuring that there was ultimately a transition to a majority democracy.

MagazineWithout voting there can be no Democracy

Overall, the moral of South Africa’s story between 1910 and 1994 is that if you deny people the right to vote then a revolution will become inevitable. Seemingly intractable problems can usually be overcome if people are granted the right to vote. Even though contemporary post-apartheid South Africa faces profoundly serious problems such as deep-seated poverty, these challenges can eventually be overcome because the people have the right to elect their representatives at a federal and a provincial level.[6]

 

[1] The role of Abraham (‘Braam’) Viljoen, Constand’s identical twin brother in influencing him, might have been a factor in ensuring that the far-fight did not fall into the Castro/Slovo trap of staging a military coup. Braam Viljoen was a prominent liberal academic.

[2] The AVF and the Conservative Party were wedded to the futile idea of creating an ill-defined Afrikaner homeland or Volkstaat.

[3] Unfortunately, General Smuts initially, and thankfully unsuccessfully, advocated that this new dominion be a unitary state. 

[4] Apartheid is Afrikaans for ‘apartness’ but has often been translated into English as ‘separate development’. 

[5] South Africa was expelled from the UN in 1968.

[6] Land reform is one of the issues which confronts post-apartheid South Africa.  The smart approach to this issue would be to allow white farmers to continue to own and manage their farms so long black farm workers are well remunerated and their working conditions are decent.  In this context, South African trade unions have an important role to play.

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