Brilliant Tactics … But Where Do They Lead?

The Campaign against the Springbok Tour

The leaflet below was first published on 29 August 1981 during a period of sharp social struggle in New Zealand around sporting ties to apartheid-ruled South Africa. There had been a long history of rugby rivalry between the All Blacks of New Zealand and the white South African Springbok team, but in 1981 a massive campaign of disruption, civil disobedience and street-confrontation was mounted against a Springbok tour of New Zealand. The conservative Muldoon government of the day mobilised the police to defend the tour with riot shields and baton charges, while the protesters armed themselves with helmets and primitive body armour. Massive layers of the population, including many new to active politics, came out, intent on stopping the tour. In the event it went ahead, but heavily disrupted. One game, in the city of Hamilton, was stopped by protesters storming the field, which was warmly welcomed by the anti-apartheid movement back in South Africa.

This leaflet, arguing to introduce a class struggle perspective to the anti-tour movement, was published by the Labour Left, a formation in the Labour Party which included militants from a variety of leftist traditions, among them three comrades who later became founding members of the International Bolshevik Tendency.

The Labour Left, unlike the New Zealand Labour Party leadership, gives full support to the campaign against the Springbok tour. We go to all the meetings and demonstrations. We have been batoned and arrested, and no doubt will continue to be batoned and arrested, but we believe that the most valuable support we can give to the anti-tour movement is our criticism.

Any mobilisation against oppression is good. Any growth in consciousness of the role of the state has in preserving the system of oppression is good. Any exposure of the fact that police violence is the real underlying basis for the authority of the state is good. And the 1981 anti-tour campaign has seen the most massive mobilisation against oppression, the greatest increase in consciousness of the role of the state in preserving the system of oppression, and the clearest exposure of the place of police violence seen in this country for many years.

These are great gains – but in our hearts we all know now that they are not going to be sufficient to stop the tour, let alone to end the system of oppression. The people who have been mobilised are insufficient in number and insufficient in social power. And unless the movement is reoriented even the gains which have been made will be dissipated when the Springboks return to South Africa.

The problem with the anti-tour movement is that it is led as simply a struggle of all good people against the evil of apartheid, as an essentially moral struggle using a strategy of moralist liberalism – non-violent civil disobedience. A sometimes inspired, even brilliant, application of such methods has forced the cancellation of games and has produced some satisfying tactical victories in cat-and-mouse confrontations with the police. But we all know that in the present alignment of social forces our victories are either accidental aberrations, or on a triflingly small scale, or are conditioned by the military forbearance of the police. In the present social climate the police have the military means to deal with us when they choose to.

Passivist moralism vs anarchist moralism

Moralism is all-pervasive throughout the movement. Prestige is given to the most morally worthy, and moral worth is an individual thing, tested by brave deeds of individuals and small groups. The most gloried activities are by their nature open only to a rather small part of the congregation. Elitism is inherent in moralism. It is no wonder we have our own ecclesiastical (and mostly male) hierarchy.

The widespread sense that in the end the strategy of the movement will not be successful has led to frustration. For example at COST Plenary Meetings in Wellington the leadership of the movement has been criticised by dissatisfied elements calling for bolder activities. This has been described as a struggle between militants and super-militants, but it is really a struggle between moralists and super-moralists, for the dissidents see the question in the same framework as the dominant section of the leadership. In this framework of moralism the most uncompromisingly determined people have found the strategy of liberal passivist adventurism to be inadequate. They seek to replace it with a kind of ultra-left or anarchist adventurism – a more vigorous challenging of the police, a less assiduous avoidance of violence, a more eager search for the purifying fires of martyrdom.

In a movement of all good people against the evil of apartheid, in a movement dominated by moralism, it is to be expected that the spectrum of strategies will be the spectrum of liberalism – from passivism through to anarchism, which is liberalism at the other extreme. While we admire the consistency and determination of the most uncompromising within this spectrum they cannot be successful. Indeed the more ‘militancy’ there is within this spectrum the more individualist, the more elitist, the more hierarchical and the more bureaucratic will be the practices of the movement, and the less chance there will be of mobilising forces sufficient in numbers and sufficient in social power to achieve our ends.

Apartheid and the international capitalist system

The anti-tour movement must seek a new constituency. It must tap new social forces, and this will require a change in strategic framework. We must look behind apartheid as an evil, we must look at the job it performs, the people it serves. And we must look at the people whose interests are opposed to it, because it is from among them that the anti-tour movement can find a new constituency.

Apartheid is South Africa's specific form of capitalism, a specific way of entrenching a ruling class, a specific method by which to keep wages low and profits high, a specific set of techniques for splitting up those with a common interest against the system, a specific form of limiting the ability of the people to organise against exploitation and oppression, a specific excuse for abridging even the normal minimal rights.

Sometimes the specific and unique character of apartheid tends to hide the underlying truth that at bottom we are dealing with a particular manifestation of a worldwide phenomenon, and that the oppressed in South Africa and the working class in New Zealand have the same enemy – the (international) capitalist system. The struggle takes very different forms in the two countries, but it is nevertheless two phases of the same struggle.

Even at the level of wages (the central concern of a class consciousness attenuated by misleadership) the New Zealand working class would do well to support our class sisters and brothers overseas. Low wages elsewhere keep wages here lower than they would otherwise be. Anything which strengthens the oppressed in South Africa against the ruling class, anything which allows them to fight more effectively, even if only for higher wages, strengthens the international working class. And on the other hand the South African ruling class is by no means peripheral to the international economic and military network which maintains capitalist power internationally, so anything which weakens the South African white ruling class weakens the capitalist world order and prepares the way for its replacement.

The working class and the anti-tour campaign

The anti-tour movement has neglected its potential working-class constituency. That neglect has not been absolute, but one has only to look through the journals of the different groups claiming the mantle of Marxism, the groups whose special province it should be to present the issue to the working class, to be sure that even these sections of the movement are making no serious or systematic attempt to present the issue as one of class. Indeed even token gestures in this direction are rare. The claimants to the banner of Marxism are as much involved in the politics of moralism, the politics of mobilising all good people against the evil of apartheid, as are the confessed liberals.

While individual representatives of the working class (especially from the layer of union officials associated with it) may become involved in politics of the liberal-moralist spectrum, on the whole the masses of the working class are not deeply affected by it. It is in the interests of New Zealand workers to get involved as a class in the anti-tour movement, but they're not going to get involved in their masses on the basis of liberal moralism. Indeed a very large proportion of the working class at present, as a result of the liberal-moralist framework of the campaign, remains in favour of the tour, including large sections of militant unionists. In Tokoroa, one of the most working-class towns in New Zealand, on the day of the first game there was a massive pro-tour demonstration. In the absence of any systematic presentation of the real interests of the working class, large section of it are being mobilised against their own class interests. A wedge is being driven between the more political and progressive, if liberal-moralist, representatives of the class and massive layers which are being allowed to remain backward in this issue.

Just as at one pole the futility of the liberal-moralist framework of the anti-tour movement leadership has prepared a breeding-ground for the development of ultra-left and anarchist tendencies, so at the other pole, by avoiding a class orientation, they prepare the breeding-ground for dangerous right-wing politics within sections of the working class.

It is in the interests of the New Zealand working class to support the fight against apartheid, and the working class actually has the social power to stop the tour. General strike action in any city where the Springboks planned to play would soon bring it to an end. Those who are frustrated with the futility of the anti-tour movement's present strategy – and they are among its most dedicated and uncompromising supporters – have open to them a far more militant path, a far more revolutionary path, than one of adventurism in small groups, for the use of the social power of the working class on the tour issue would necessarily start to pose the possibility of the replacement of capitalist rule with working-class rule.

It is true that the working class is not prepared to take such decisive action against the tour tomorrow. Preparations must be made: systematic education, agitation and organisation is necessary, explanation of the links between apartheid and the system that exploits the working class and so on. This is not a strategy for the impatient. But we've been in this struggle against sporting links with South Africa for more years than we care to remember. A working-class perspective has always been rejected on the grounds of the urgency of the matter. Yet treating it with this kind of ‘urgency’ has always prevented us gaining sufficient social force to make lasting or important gains. A re-orientation of the movement is necessary.