On the attacks on freedom of the press in South Africa

We condemn the long ongoing attacks against journalists by the capitalist editors, we condemn the attacks on progressive journalists, such as Suna Venter, by organised thugs and by Motswaneng and co,  we also condemn the attacks by the fascistic BLF on their hit list of journalists who range  from reactionary to bourgeois democrat. All of these attacks narrow down and attempt to roll back the gains won by the working class through revolutionary mass action in the late 1980’s. Two states of emergency could not put out the flame of revolution. The masses unbanned their organizations through mass resistance and won the space of freedom of expression. Marches and protests were a daily occurrence.The formal unbanning of the liberation organizations by the apartheid state and the negotiated settlement that followed in its wake, placed a limit on freedom of expression. This is fundamentally because freedom of expression was tied to private property. The masses have won the formal right to freedom of expression but as the masses do not have access to stocks of paper, printing presses, radio and television broadcasting, the negotiated settlement has limited the right of freedom of expression from the beginning. There are a few community radio and television stations but they are limited in scope and are dependent on capitalist sponsors or donor funding.


When discussing freedom of the press in SA, we need to remember that it is a capitalist state that is a semi-colony, totally under the control of imperialism. The extent of freedom of the press is what has been won in a class war between the working class and the political class, noting that the political ruling class has no independent existence from imperialism.


Up to 1994, the Independent Media group, and the Guardian, were controlled by Anglo American. Since 1994, the face of control of the media may have changed but behind the scenes, imperialism controls the major media, print, television and radio. In other words, the major media have long been captured by imperialism capitalism. Even if the control is sometimes indirect, the very framework adopted by the media is the capitalist framework. The dominant media is beholden to the capitalist advertizers.


The space won by the working class of freedom of expression has not been a gift from the ANC. In fact the negotiated settlement made the ANC a willing partner in placing a limit on it.

Since 1994, the workers’ movement, the bourgeois democrat and leftist journalists have been fighting for more space for freedom of expression. The stagnation of world capitalism has meant that, on many levels, the bourgeois democratic gains won by the masses in hard struggle, are constantly under threat. The biggest industry is the armaments industry- it follows that the capitalist world economy is based on continual war. Journalists who expose the wars and attacks on the masses are under constant threat. One of the few areas left to plunder by big capital is the public sector. In South Africa as indeed in the rest of Africa too and the rest of the neo-colonial world, there is the pressure from the suppressed indigenous aspirant capitalists, to also grow their areas of exploitation and profiteering. In the race to plunder the public resources there are skirmishes between imperialism and the black capitalists. The mainstream press and bourgeois democrats expose the excesses of the Zuma-Gupta gang in order to ensure that they know their place- they should not steal too much. The Zuma-Gupta gang wants to steal more while the Ramaphosa gang knows its place, they know their limits.


The attacks by the Black First-Land First (BLF) on the bourgeois democrats and the reactionary press who expose them, are aimed at advancing the interests of the Zuma-Gupta gang.  This is borne out by their statements:


‘In concrete terms BLF must expand out of parliament activities more so those directed at launching blows on land thieves and white monopoly capital. The ANC must be exposed by not fighting it directly (its not the enemy) but by fighting the enemy and forcing it to come out and defend whites against the revolutionary programme of the people. BLF must support militant direct action and provide ideological justification for people’s revolutionary actions on all available actions.’ https://blf.org.za/revolution-and-parliament-black-first-land-first-perspective/


‘The system of divide and rule has been sustained by creating misunderstandings amongst the oppressed…. Black First seeks to end all divisions and contradictions amongst the people so as to consolidate them into a united strong block against white racism and dispossession.’  https://blf.org.za/policy-documents/blf-revolutionary-call/


The BLF does not see any contradiction between the millionaires who control the NEC of the ANC and the base of workers. Thus they align themselves with the dominant group in the ANC leadership, the Zuma-Gupta faction.


They are also mistaken when they draw a difference between white reactionary and bourgeois democratic editors and those who are not white. Reaction knows no colour. Bourgeois democratic values knows no colour.


Drawing on the lessons of Trotsky in his 1938 work (The Freedom of the press and the working class) https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/08/press.htm , we declare that we do not support the campaign by the BLF on the reactionary press and some bourgeois democratic journalists. Any restriction of the press in bourgeois society will be used against the working class.


We also do not stand for a monopoly of the press, even under a workers’ state. Trotsky lists as one of the principal causes of the degeneration of the first workers’ state, the monopoly of the press under Stalin. We cannot free workers from reactionary ideas by banning or restricting the reactionary press. A state monopoly of the press is the very opposite of the Socialist ethos which is based on the full participation of the masses. A workers’ state implies the allocation of stocks of paper, printing and media resources and equipment to the various tendencies within the workers’ state. The fullest democracy, a workers’ democracy.


Only the greatest freedom of the press can advance the revolutionary movement of the working class. We stand for the establishment and expansion of really independent press and especially the press of the workers’ movement.


Trotsky would have described the attacks by the BLF on some editors as an attempt to infect an already sick bourgeois democracy with a virus of the decadent bureaucracy.


We conclude with the words of Trotsky (from the same article)


‘The real tasks of the workers’ state do not consist in policing public opinion, but in freeing it from the yoke of capital. This can only be done by placing the means of production – which includes the production of information – in the hands of society in its entirety’.


We should drive the BLF out of the workers’ movement. Their fascistic methods undermine the gains of the working class. We should defend the journalists from attacks by editors, from bourgeois thugs and from fascist groups like the BLF.


We remember that the capitalist press suppressed the truth about the Marikana massacre; they hid the second massacre at the second koppie where workers’ were shot in the back;  they painted the workers in struggle as if they were thugs; they protected the murderous role of Anglo American and the other bosses in the Marikana massacre; they sideline many workers’ struggles and discredit them. It follows that there should be a total transformation of the media.


An outline of demands for the transformation of the media


  • All the means of producing and distributing information should be in the hands of society as a whole [this is not to be confused with a state monopoly of the media; we mean the direct democratic control firstly by all the workers and journalists in the production and distribution chain. We stand for the abolishing of the separation of manual and intellectual labour]

  • Editorial boards should be made up of proportionate representatives of all the workers and journalists involved in the production and distribution of information.

  • Abolishing of piece work and outsourcing in the media; full permanent contracts for all involved in information production and distribution

  • Expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy, the mines, the banks and all big capital involved in the direct or indirect control over the media; this is without compensation and for these to be placed under workers’ control

  • Stocks of paper, printing presses, data, all technical assistance and equipment to be made freely available to the masses


Forward to expanding the press of the working class movement!

Forward to the total transformation of the media.

Forward to a new. Revolutionary working class party.

Issued by Workers International Vanguard League/Party

7.7.2017 amended 18.7.2017

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Without exception,ALL the parties taking part in the elections,despite their promises, will deliver a future of more unemployment, lower wages, more hardship, more evictions, more homelessness, more exclusion from education, death and destruction through starvation and Aids.

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