Black Neofascism? The Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa.
This article analyzes the EFF through explaining its ascendance and analytically situating it in the conjunctural moment of ANC rule. In South Africa, there is a classification struggle underway about how to characterize the EFF. Some analysts and academics reduce it to a "fascist" political force, while others refer to it as "populist or left populist." These appellations and characterizations reflect powerful insights and normative concerns but also reflects the polarization that the EFF has induced in South Africa's body politic. This article engages critically with these classificatory discourses, while also disengaging to stake out an alternative approach to analyzing and situating the EFF as a neofascist political party in contemporary South African politics.
Fascism has been a modern political movement and ideology. It has its roots in a long history, going back at least two centuries, but expressed itself as a right-wing force in the twentieth century. Fascism remade political orders, nationalist projects, and geopolitical rivalries. The return of fascism in the twenty-first century including in the global south is a crucial challenge for social analysis, given the political stakes. A neofascism embracing an ultra-nationalism, authoritarian capitalism, even religious fundamentalism in some instances, brings serious challenges to both liberal democracies and left politics.
In order to situate the EFF, this article challenges the historiography of fascism as merely a "Western phenomenon" rooted in and exclusive to the centers of capitalism between World War I and World War II. In this article, I argue that there is a second moment of fascism in the twentieth century related to the rise of military dictatorships in the global south, supported by U.S. imperial hegemony and domination. These historical experiences also provide a departure point to argue that the EFF represents a new fascism in the twenty-first century shaped by contemporary South African and global socioeconomic conditions. It does not easily fit into the template of twentieth century fascism and its definitional preoccupations, neither the forms of fascism that emerged in Europe and the centers of capitalism nor the fascisms engendered in the global peripheries through imperial intervention after World War II. In methodological terms, the EFF is not exceptional in the twenty-first century but has to be understood in context and in terms of its particular relational features as it relates to the economic, ideological, and political. It is not the same as right-wing fascism in Europe, the U.S.A., or India, for instance. It certainly shares some features but is distinctive. Contemporary fascism is variegated in the context of a crisis-ridden and globalized capitalism.
THE CRISIS OF NATIONAL LIBERATION HEGEMONY AND THE RISE OF THE ECONOMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS
The emergence of the EFF in South Africa is consistent with the unraveling of the ANC-led alliance hegemony. As noted by Gramsci, hegemony is never a permanent condition and consent to rule, armored by coercion, is constantly under pressure and contested (Gramsci 1998). Moreover, the ANC-led alliance constructed a hegemony through intraclass relations mainly within the working class, interclass relations that included the middle class and sections of capital and through a counterhegemony to apartheid. These planks of hegemony have eroded in the postapartheid period. Central to the ANC's hegemony has been a set of institutions, built to express working-class hegemony of society. These are institutions that gave the national liberation movement a rootedness through mass movements, trade unions, and social forces that supported antiapartheid resistance. All these institutions are in crisis.
After its unbanning in 1990, the ANC entrenched itself as the pivotal political force, aggregated mass power into a mass democratic movement, and formalized a tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party. The ANC has held on to an electoral majority since 1994, with at least 60 percent of the vote across five national elections. In July 2013, when the EFF was established, out of a breakaway from the ANC Youth League and the ANC, it solidified a second rupture in the national liberation alliance led by the ANC. This fissure opened up with the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC on April 24, 2012. The first rupture in the national liberation alliance was the formation of the Congress of the People in 2008, when ANC members broke away after the recall of President Thabo Mbeki. The third rupture in the national liberation alliance was the December 2013 decision by the National Union of Metal Workers (the largest union in South Africa with over 300,000 members) to withdraw electoral support for the ANC, to withdraw its support for the tripartite alliance, and to work toward a workers' party and movement for socialism.
The EFF emerged out of a split in the ANC due to various specific developments: the expulsion of Julius Malema, who at the time was the leader of the ANC Youth League; failure of the ANC leadership to respond to calls for nationalization from a Malema-led Youth League; fallouts between Malema and the sitting president of the ANC and country, Jacob Zuma; and the social, political, and economic conditions that gave rise to crisis of the ANC's hegemony and the rupturing in the ANC. These conditions are explored further. First, the ideological shift in the ANC from revolutionary nationalism to a modestly redistributive Afro-neoliberalism fed into the creation of the EFF (Satgar 2012). Since the first postapartheid budget in 1994, neoliberal strictures and policy thrusts came to the fore and were finally formalized in a macroeconomic strategy in 1996. The neoliberal approach to the economy has not worked for the majority: South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income distribution. Structural unemployment sits at 40 percent. Nearly half of South Africans aged 15 to 34 are unemployed, including 75 percent of African women under 30 years of age. Thirty million people are classified as poor. Fourteen million go to bed hungry. And an extroverted economy has been unable to recover from the 2007 global crisis such that South Africa has had low growth rates relative to other BRICS countries and is now technically in a recession. (1)
Second, the ANC's nation-building project has been very shallow, involving the "Rainbowism" of the Mandela period, the vaunting of a liberal constitutionalism, calls for an African Renaissance based on deep globalization and more recently, particularly under the recalled President Jacob Zuma, a populist assertion of "radical economic transformation." More than anything, a narrative of reconciliation, megasports events (like the 2010 World Cup), "Hollywoodized" culture and performative elite politics ostensibly provide the cement for holding together a society deeply brutalized first by apartheid and now by two decades of financialization and market-driven neoliberalism. Race, class, and gender have been remade in the context of market-led change and in many ways apartheid era economic patterns of dispossession, exploitation, social reproduction, and racialized social practices have endured, including the rise of xenophobia against African migrants and refugees. Fault lines, flashpoints, and clashes with the state and in society have become more salient in an economically polarized society. Some sociologists refer to these conflicts as the
makings of a "violent democracy" (Von Holdt 2013).
Third, the ANC and state response to the deepening crises facing South African society has been to:
* co-opt opposition, including from within the ANC-led alliance through its electoral machine politics;
* play the authoritarian populist game, including reracializing discourses;
* maintain limited redistribution through measures such as social grants (2);
* split the organized working class that challenges its dominance (3);
* utilize coercive violence--like the 2012 massacre of 36 mineworkers in Marikana; and
* provide license to rampant corruption as part of black economic empowerment.
South Africa has a history of corruption from the apartheid era, but under the ANC it has become systemic and a norm. Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009 till February 2018), South Africa went through a period of brazen looting that has contributed to the fiscal crisis in many parastatals, the destruction of competencies in the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and has undermined the ability of numerous local governments to deliver effective services. The South African state and politics in general have been criminalized. This has seriously weakened the state and created a crisis of legitimacy for ANC rule. (4)
It is in this context, the EFF emerged as the second largest opposition party in South Africa. The EFF is a product of a crisis-ridden South African monopoly, financialized and deeply globalized capitalism as well as the crisis and unraveling of ANC hegemony. In the 2014 general election, the EFF secured 1,169,259 votes or 6.35 percent popular support and 25 seats in the national assembly. In the municipal elections of 2016, it received 1,217,713 votes and a share of 8.13 percent of popular support. It did not win a single municipality outright, but has played the kingmaker role in key metropolitan governments through coalition arrangements with the Democratic Alliance (South Africa's official and largest opposition party). The loss of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay to the opposition was a major blow to the ANC in 2016, and a shakeup in the South African political landscape. When South Africa goes to the polls in 2019, for its sixth general election, the EFF is poised to grow in electoral strength and popular support.
THE DOMINANT LIBERAL CLASSIFICATIONS OF THE EFF
The ideological and political characterization of the EFF in South Africa has been highly contested in the public domain and has turned out to be a classification struggle. In public discourse, the EFF has been referred to as "fascist," "populist," and even "left populist." Despite the semantic distinctions, the analytical and political stakes are high for each categorization. Understanding the EFF is crucial in the context of an emergent and rising twenty-first century fascism. Fascism is a complex phenomenon; it is sometimes Y and not Y. In its ideological expression, it is extremely contradictory. In the interwar years, fascist ideology articulated with nationalist, socialist, and capitalist elements. There were also variations and differences between Italian Fascists and German Nazis shaped by local socioeconomic and ideological conditions. For instance, Italian Fascists did not have an explicit anti-Semitic aspect to their ideology. Jews were part of Mussolini's party and some even served in his government. However, German Nazi pressure from 1938 forced Mussolini to promulgate racial laws that targeted Jews. But even this did not lead to a wholesale handover of Jews to German Nazis during World War II. This history is complex and the distinctions are important. Moreover, analytical approaches to early twentieth century fascism have been diverse and which has assisted in capturing these distinctions. (5)
The liberal approach to fascism has used a checklist of characteristics, which includes ultra-nationalism, charismatic leadership, dictatorship, racism, a single party, violence (actual or threatened), anticapitalism, antiliberalism, anticonstitutionalism (Passmore 2014:5). In South Africa, there have been two variants of the liberal interpretation of the EFF. The first classifies the EFF as fascist or proto-fascist. The latter categorization suggests that because it is not in power or controlling the state, it cannot be deemed a "mature" fascist force but is already displaying morbid and immanent fascist characteristics. This has been echoed by journalists, commentators, and some academics mainly in the South African press. (6) In this regard, key empirical characteristics are highlighted: the macho male personality of Julius Malema, the cult of tradition, rejection of modernism, the cult of action for action's sake, disagreement is treason, fear of difference, dictatorial disposition, and anticonstitutionalism, to name a few characteristics. Such an analysis of the EFF has located the EFF in a comparative framework, which identifies characteristics it shares with interwar fascism.
The second liberal approach to the EFF treats it as a populist or left populist political force. (7) This understanding of the EFF exists mainly in academic and popular media analyses. (8) Such analysis challenges the fascist list of characteristics to delineate the EFF more as populist but modern racial nationalist, emphasizing performative aspects of the EFF (Mahali 2016), including costume, and its "institutional renaissance" role in parliament through its boisterous challenges to the Zuma-led ANC since 2014 (Calland and Seedat 2015:328). The left populist analysis is grounded in a perspective that the EFF represents a "left break" from the ruling ANC-led alliance by being grounded in an ideological commitment to Marxism-Leninism-Fanonism, commitments to nationalization and expropriation without compensation, and galvanizing of disaffected postapartheid youth (ostensibly a mobilization consistent with international trends and unprecedented in the postapartheid period) (Nieftagodien 2015:446-449).
LIMITS OF THE LIBERAL CLASSIFICATORY APPROACH
Both liberal approaches to classifying the EFF share serious limitations. They have analytical, methodological, and deficient assumptions in terms of a theory of politics. First, analytically characterizing the EFF as fascist (proto) or (left) populist is an expression of deeper normative concerns. That these classifications are so divergent, literally articulated as extremes, speaks to these normative concerns: both great fear of what the EFF portends for South African politics, on the one side, and misplaced optimism about the potentialities and possibilities of the EFF's political orientation for remaking South African politics in a progressive direction, on the other. These abstract attributions and ideological discourses are overreaching. These categories either delegitimate or legitimate. The EFF's contradictory ideological makeup lends itself to such one-sided analytical imputations. But these analytical approaches do not assist in truly comprehending the nature of the EFF.
Methodologically, the liberal approach to classifying the EFF is deeply empiricist. For those arguing the EFF is (proto) fascist, a trans-historical comparison is at work. The EFF is fascist or (proto) fascist because it is like early twentieth century fascism. If it displays characteristics that can be identified, coming from an earlier experience, then the classification is valid. Big man politics, a disposition to violence and its anti-democracy disposition are alleged to imply that the EFF is fascist. Such an approach occludes historical discontinuities, specificity, and contextual conditions. On the other hand, the empiricist limits of the (left) populist classification results from magnifying particular empirical features--like costume or rhetoric--in a manner that is reductionist. The EFF in its essence, its true meaning, is deduced from these characteristics.
Both (proto) fascist and (left) populist classifications of the EFF are grounded in a theory of liberal politics. At its most basic, liberal politics is defined by an enfranchised citizenry, multiparty contestation, the rule of law, and human rights. The crucial conception in this theory of the political is the idea that political parties in a liberal polity function by these rules. For the (proto) fascist classificatory position the EFF is a transgressor, an illiberal political force, violating these rules. However, the assumption that South Africa's postapartheid political order merely authorizes liberal modes of politics, within its democratic frame, is a crude oversimplification. The (left) populist classificatory position assumes that the EFF is still within the bounds of liberal politics, the institutions in South Africa's democracy are strong enough to limit some of its excesses and the EFF might even call the bluff of liberalism's own promises with its calls for nationalization and expropriation without compensation. There are three problems with these assumptions. First, South African democracy is still young and it may not have strong enough institutions that can contain the EFF's antidemocratic political behavior. The EFF might license excesses that delegitimate the entire democratic order. In this regard, South Africa's transformative constitutionalism must be distinguished from the market democracy that has taken root through ANC hegemonic rule. The EFF in its politics does not have this nuance, nor is it willing to make these distinctions in its ideological frame about South Africa's democracy.
Second, (left) populism of the EFF might exaggerate, in a voluntarist manner, the effect of the lived experience of the "people." Speaking for, and in the name of, the people, including youth, might be claimed in a manner that substitutes for the actual needs, desires, and interests of these political subjects. Put differently, in its own self-validating, top-down discourses, the EFF might be out of step with the democratic limits and rights that the people themselves are willing to live with to achieve certain social changes. Democracy in South Africa is a product of a people's history of struggle. The EFF in its brazen disregard of this history and in its opportunism makes claims that even jeopardize democratic gains achieved by the people. The third problem, particularly, with the left populist approach is that it takes at face value the ideological commitments and pronouncements of the EFF. It assumes a depth of ideological commitment, a consistency of theory and practice and ultimately a coherent counterhegemonic project. This naive view believes that the "left orientation" of the EFF has a few contradictions, which if fixed, will be emancipatory and potentially revolutionary for South Africa's democracy and transformation challenges. However, the relational dynamics--economic, ideological, and political--that characterize the EFF are much more complex.
FASCISM AND CONTEMPORARY NEO FASCISM
The political analysis of contemporary fascism encounters three crucial methodological challenges. The first is a break with an ideal-type approach and a static definition. Instead, I offer a minimal definition about how capitalism and fascism are related. This is not a definition of what fascism is. Moreover, such a definitional approach has to be complemented by concrete case studies, in situ, which recognize that neofascism grows through contingencies of the class and popular struggle. (9) The second methodological issue is to recognize that fascism was more than a Western development. A decolonized approach requires an analysis of the role of fascism and authoritarianism in the global south and in Japan. Registering a second moment of fascism in the twentieth century is crucial as it relates to the role of military dictatorships and authoritariansim in the global south buttressed by U.S. imperial power. Today there is a second wave of fascism outside the centers of capitalism, with its own itinerary linked to the crisis of globalized capitalism. This wave of fascism is articulated with U.S. power in some instances and not in others. It also expresses itself as part the emergence of a new twenty-first century fascism. The third methodological issue relates to the crisis of the current stage of global capitalism. Capitalism's crises, particularly general crises, are never the same. There are always particular dynamics in each crisis that also have to be studied (Panitch and Gindin 2010). Both conjunctural and systemic dynamics of crisis are giving rise to a set of political, ideological, and social conditions enabling a new type of fascism to emerge. I now turn to developing these three methodological points.
Fascism is a complex phenomenon to pin down analytically. The twenty-first century version is certainly not the same as the fascism of the early twentieth century. While there might be similarities, there are context-specific conditions and contingencies that define it as well. Working with reductionist definitions of fascism and putting these to work in a new context runs into problems. A checklist approach to fascism, a typology or model, are blunt instruments for comprehending what is happening now. Working with ideal types of fascism and its variations, including in the contemporary context is methodologically limited and not analytically precise. In his study of interwar fascism in the twentieth century, Mann (2004) defines fascism as follows: "fascism is the pursuit of a transcendent and cleansing nation-statism through paramilitarism" (p. 13). But Mann recognizes that his definition is not trans-historical and will not work with contemporary fascism. My definitional approach to fascism, which is not a definition of fascism, is simply this: it is a tendency within the monopoly and contemporary transnational techno-financial stages of capitalism, enabled by particular conditions of crisis and takes on an organized form as part of the struggle to achieve a monopoly on state power. How this tendency expresses itself in particular contexts, the features and particularities, have to be studied. Such studies can span the long histories of right-wing and fascist formations but should also include more conjunctural analyses. (10)
Most of the mainstream historiography and historical sociology of fascism in the twentieth century has reduced it to a Western phenomenon, particularly originating in Europe. (11) It was a political and ideological project that emerged in Italy, Spain, and Germany and spread from this spatial-temporal context. While these studies are valuable for their insights and provide a crucial starting point for understanding fascism in the twentieth century, they tend to be the only reference point. These studies occlude an understanding of fascism and authoritarianism in the peripheries of capitalism, particularly after World War II. The failure to register the second moment of fascism, the military dictatorships within the global south, within the academic literature has to do with three issues. First, the history of U.S. intervention in the global south is a "hidden history." The liberal standard of U.S. leadership and its myths about advancing freedom are central to its hegemonic and supremacist role. Yet during the Cold War, the United States engaged in some of the worst forms of state-sponsored violence to advance its national security interests, for which there has been no reckoning. This included supporting coups, military dictatorships, and military destabilization through proxy wars. Many of the military dictatorships produced fascist regimes that engaged in mass murder, such as Argentina, Chile, and Indonesia to even genocide like in Guatemala with 200,000 indigenous Maya wiped out. (12) U.S. imperial support also extended to the kleptocratic Mabuto military regime in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and geopolitical alliances with apartheid South Africa at the height of military rule in the 1980s. In places like Columbia rightwing paramilitaries still hold the "democracy" hostage. Brazil had one of the oldest military dictatorships in Latin America from 1964 to 1985, and today it is ruled by President Jair Bolsanaro who venerates this past and is fully supported by the military, neofascist ideologues in the United States, the U.S. Presidency, and other right-wing social forces.
Second, military dictatorships in the global south have been lumped together with patrimonial states, client states, and other forms of "failed states." This characterization of military dictatorships and other forms of rule in the global south became hegemonic in the academy because of the annexation of the social sciences by the West during the Cold War (Bilgin and Morton 2002). Ultimately, countries in the global south were explained by domestic pathologies and endogenous factors; the role of imperial intervention to advance geopolitical imperatives did not feature. Third, to use "fascism" to characterize military dictatorships in the global south has been reduced to a popular usage, which does not capture the rigorous academic standard and tight definitional focus established in the literature on interwar fascism. Amin (2014:1-2) argues that fascism in the global south shared two core characteristics with fascisms in Europe: (i) they did not challenge core institutions of capitalism such as private property and (ii) they were antidemocratic. Moreover, he recognizes that fascism did travel to the south; particularly in his characterization of fascism in Latin America and how it integrated into global capitalism. He observes:
Concurrently, forms of political control of the masses were "modernized" by establishing dictatorships, abolishing electoral democracy, prohibiting parties and trade unions, and conferring on "modern" secret services all rights to arrest and torture through their intelligence techniques. Clearly, these forms of political management are visibly similar to those of fascism found in the countries of dependent capitalism in Eastern Europe. The dictatorships of twentieth-century Latin America served the local reactionary bloc (large landowners, comprador bourgeoisies, and sometimes middle classes that benefited from this type of lumpen development), but above all, they served dominant foreign capital, specifically that of the United States, which, for this reason, supported these dictatorships up to their reversal by the recent explosion of popular movements. (2014:9-10)
For Goldfrank (1978, 1990), like many sociologists such as Mann (2016) and Paxton (2004), true fascism involves a movement that emerges among the nonelites and then contends for power and allies as it moves up toward state power, whereas authoritarianism is an expression of power struggles among elites. While this approach, with its distinguishing characteristics, assists with nuancing how we think about the rise of fascism and its relationship to authoritarianism in the global south, this does not mean a U.S.-supported fascism did not take root in the global south in the twentieth century. As I have argued, fascism in the twentieth century had a second coming in the global south, informed by conjunctural dynamics of crisis and resistance, and requires its own historiography and historical sociology understanding of how fascism and authoritarianism were expressed. Recognizing this second moment also provides for another reference point for historical cases and contemporary comparisons. Moreover, the bottom-up or top-down approach to understanding fascism and its relationship to authoritarianism is still useful to understand contemporary fascism on a global scale, including contemporary Brazil and South Africa.
The third methodological issue relates to how we understand the current crisis of contemporary capitalism that is facilitating the emergence of a new fascism. There is a definite similarity and analogy to the crisis from 1929 to 1944 and from 2007 until the present, particularly in terms of marketization. However, the conjunctural and systemic dynamics of the contemporary crisis have to be distinguished. At a conjunctural level, the class project of globalizing and financialized capital, neoliberalism, has gone through phases of hegemonic neoliberalism (1980-2000), dominant co-optive neoliberalism (2000-2007), and has increasingly become authoritarian (2007 to the present). (13) Neoliberalism's crisis as a class project deepened from 2007 and despite shallow recoveries in some places, it is worsening with currency crashes, stagnating growth, and trade wars. As a class project, driving deep globalization, in the global north and south, neoliberalism is coming up against its limits. (14) However, despite Trump's "drain the swamp" rhetoric, global finance is still central to organizing the crisis-ridden and marketized global political economy. As a class project neoliberalism is in crisis but ruling classes are refusing to abandon it. In this context of universal capitalism, albeit uneven, a host of forces are rising including a new twenty-first century fascism. At a systemic level, the contemporary crisis of capitalism has to be understood in the plural. Global capitalism is afflicted with multiple systemic crises including financialized inequality, climate change, food system crises, resource scarcity, and the hollowing out of market democracies (Satgar 2015). These crisis tendencies interconnect and reinforce the precarity and insecurity in societies. There is fear, uncertainty, and deep social anomie. The systemic crises of capitalism also exacerbate the crises of neoliberalism as a class project, which does not have solutions for these systemic contradictions. Global capitalism today is going through a civilizational crisis.
THE NEOFASCISM OF THE EFF
Consistent with the methodological approach set out above, the tendency for a new fascism to emerge in a deeply globalized and crisis-ridden South Africa are very likely but not inevitable. Central to the conjunctural crisis in South Africa is the political crisis of the ruling ANC and the unraveling of its hegemony, as specified above. The degeneration of revolutionary nationalism, its shift to Afro-neoliberalism, and its failure to structurally transform South Africa's deeply racialized and gendered apartheid economic patterns through deep globalization have unleashed realignments in the national liberation bloc, fractures in the intraworking-class and interclass alliances, and has engendered a crisis of political leadership. South Africa's embrace of the "globalization game" and homegrown structural adjustment have led to an abandonment of historical commitments to fundamental transformation and instead have entrenched the financialized power of U.S. imperialism within its political economy.
The EFF case study is crucial to understanding neofascism as a dynamic developing in the context of the contemporary crisis of South Africa and the uneven but contemporary global conditions of accumulation giving rise to a new twenty-first century fascism. Instead of deriding the EFF as a twentieth century fascist force or embracing it as left populist, this intervention situates the EFF analytically as a distinctive neofascist force, organized through a party formation and making claims on state power. The EFF is certainly not like European fascist parties in the first moment of twentieth century fascism and neither is it an expression of the second moment of twentieth century fascism based on military dictatorships in the global south. The EFF is part of a new wave of twenty-first century fascism, emerging in the global north and south. It shares features with contemporary right-wing fascism but is also distinctive, with certain historically specific features derived from the South African context. My conclusion will revisit the comparative aspects of the EFF and contemporary fascism. Moreover, the historical and materialist grounding of this conjunctural case study focuses on the relational aspects of the EFF in terms of economics, ideology, and politics. This means the material interests the EFF represents, its ideas and political practices are analyzed as it relates to (i) class and capitalist affinities, (ii) race hatred, (iii) hypermasculinity, (iv) nativist nationalism and revenge, and (v) violence and constitutional democracy.
Class and Capitalist Affinities
The EFF has declared itself a Marxist-Leninist-Fanonist political organization. It claims an ideological affinity for a Marxist disposition that is deeply vanguardist, conscious of race, and committed to revolutionary politics. This kind of declaratory ideological orientation has been subsequently jettisoned with the expulsion of one of its ideologues. In addition, its evoking of left discourses including "economic freedom in our life time," calling for nationalization, wearing red political costume (including berets and overalls), and more recently calling for "expropriation of land without compensation" have led many to refer to the EFF as a left-wing party. But we must ask where does the EFF fit in the South African class structure? Whose interests does it serve? As a self-declared vanguard party, the EFF does not have deep roots in the organized working class. It is not seeking to build intraworking-class unity. Instead, it has not reached out to actively build alliances with organized sections of the working class. It has an antagonistic relationship to left working-class formations like the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. In its attempts to make inroads among the organized working class, the EFF has misled workers into wild cat strikes and even jeopardized the jobs of workers with these kinds of populist moves. This has earned the ire of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, which has publicly acknowledged the importance of joint campaigns with any party supportive of worker interests but has condemned the destructive role of the EFF within its ranks, including highlighting that it would stand firm regarding its independence as a workers organization in its relationship with political parties. (15) Within the wider political field, the EFF has also eschewed the building of relations with movements of the working class (unemployed peoples movements, rural movements, land and food movements, for instance), but has merely garnered some working-class discontent in the platinum belt after the Marikana massacre of mineworkers, and has added its voice to the in-sourcing of labor. In general, the EFF is anti capitalist profit making as it relates to some experiences of the working class but is not pro-working class beyond this. Its dominant rhetoric is not class based but rather centered around the notion of the "people." (16) The electoral practices and logic of the EFF place it in a top-down relationship with the working class in South Africa, with the EFF leadership hungry to conscript workers where it can, thus displaying a lack of organic rootedness among the working class.
In terms of interclass alignments and relations, the EFF is strongly disposed to align with two fractions of the new middle class in South Africa. South Africa has about 9 million new African middle class. This is a middle class that is professional, in the public sector, entrepreneurial small business owners, upwardly mobile students at university, politicians, and the transactional middle class constantly securing deals from the state for its survival. Moreover, South Africa's new middle class is very precarious, financialized, and desperate in the context of a tight labor market. The first fraction the EFF aligns to and whose interests it expresses the most is the newly educated and professional middle class. For instance, the top leadership of the EFF does not come from the ranks of the working class. It is a party led by the new African middle class in the main. Its top four leaders, Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Dali Mpofu, and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, are all degreed from higher education institutions. Currently, the EFF student command has been developing a growing presence at several universities in the country, which has also become a crucial feeder of membership into the EFF (Peter 2018a). Within nationalist politics in South Africa, this has been a consistent feature. The African middle class are "the people," which substitutes for the working class. The EFF is no different from the ANC or Pan Africanist Congress, for instance.
The second fraction the EFF aligns to is the transactional middle class. This is an aspirant middle class seeking speedy class mobility and engaged in class formation through parasitic accumulation relations with the state, business, and politicians. It is in this murky nexus that corruption thrives. In this regard, the EFF has been linked to two major corruption scandals involving this new middle class. The first has to do with the ransacking of a bank in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, known as the "VBS Heist." News reports have linked the deputy president of the EFF, Floyd Shivambu, his brother, and the EFF to this scandal involving millions. Parliament's Ethics Committee and opposition parties have called for an investigation into alleged corruption by the EFF leader (Gerber 2018). More recent investigative media reports have linked the leader of the EFF, Julius Malema, directly to looting of the VBS Bank (van Wyk 2018). The second corruption scandal involves an engineering tender to the value of R12 billion in the City of Tshwane. (17) It would seem the City Manager, an EFF supporter, swung a tender to a company linked to the EFF. With the EFF being a coalition partner in this Metro, it seems to have used the threat of withdrawing support for the ruling DA, to secure support for its transactional politics (Mngxitama 2018). All of these corruption scandals swirling around the EFF undermine its self-righteous calls in parliament for the corrupt former President Zuma to "Pay Back the Money."
In terms of the EFF's relationship to monopoly and transnational capital, it seems to have not aligned with big capital yet. In its formative moments, including its registration as a party, the EFF was funded by cigarette smugglers (Zulu 2018). The racketeer Adriano Mazzotti also gave a loan of R1 million to the EFF leader, Julius Malema, through his company, which the EFF leader publicly acknowledged (Friedman 2018). The same racketeer also owed large sums of money (estimated at R600 million) to the SARS, which seems to be the reason the EFF leaders have had a concerted attack on senior Treasury officials, including through racial slurs, to weaken its capacity to deal with illicit traders who support the EFF. However, besides its backdoor dealings with organized crime syndicates, it would seem that the EFF has publicly positioned itself not in opposition to the key institutions of monopoly and transnational capital. While the EFF spouts and trumpets the importance of nationalization, as full-blown state ownership and control, it has in public engagements consistently qualified this as part of its vision of state capitalism. For instance, the EFF leader Julius Malema when debating a leading scenario planner for South African business, Clem Sunter, argued strongly for employee stock option schemes, giving workers shares in businesses, as part of a state-led stakeholder capitalism. (18) More recently, the deputy President of the EFF, Floyd Shivambu, has publicly argued for a Sovereign Wealth Fund (Shivambu 2018). He and the EFF view it as a countercyclical tool, a reserve for postresource (such as coal and fracking) extraction and most importantly, such a fund is understood as crucial to developing the "forces of production." Central to the state-led stakeholder capitalism of the EFF, is a twentieth century conception of productivism and carbon capitalism, which clashes with contemporary ecological limits and will further hasten the climate crisis.
The EFF has fundamentally broken with a politics of nonracial nation building. Part of its rejection of this framework has to do with the perceived failure of the ANC's nonracial nation building to advance a transformed society. Ideologically, the EFF has positioned itself in opposition to the "official" and shallow nonracialism of the ANC and state. In the main, it advances a politics of race informed by "ontologies of color." This means biological racism, with all its essentialism, is at work in the EFF approach to race. It easily generalizes and attributes racism to particular "race groups" or individuals who become objects of race hatred for the EFF. This is a deeply polarizing and reracializing politics. Not only are these assertions unconstitutional but it breeds deep race hatred. Many leaders of the EFF have attacked white journalists, public servants, and entire race groups.
Three examples of EFF race hatred are crucial in this regard. First, in relation to the white community in South Africa. At a pro-Palestine rally, Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF publicly declared that the South African police should use rubber bullets on whites in South Africa. This statement garnered a response against the incitement of white hatred and violence (Ebrahim 2018). However, the binary of African versus white, of the threat of violence against the white minority places all whites in the enemy camp. There is no room for whites who are antiracist and therefore all whites are supremacists deserving race hatred. This also runs counter to the history of resistance in South Africa, which also produced committed white activists and leaders who took a stand against white supremacy. Such a position also misrecognizes the willingness of many young white compatriots, part of a postapartheid generation, who want a racially transformed South Africa. Similarly, and after a racializing slur by Floyd Shivambu (the Deputy President of the EFF) against an Indian technocrat from the Department of Finance, presenting to the parliamentary portfolio committee on finance, Julius Malema declared all Indians racist. The race card played in this way is ahistorical and about stereotyping. The Indian community like others in South Africa was shaped by colonialism and apartheid segregation. It was coerced to fit into a racialized hierarchy to meet the needs of white monopoly capitalism. Indians, like all race groups under apartheid, were forced into racially defined communities, schools, businesses, and a racialized division of labor. The degree of racial brutality might not have been the same as that endured by the African majority, but nonetheless they were treated as biologically inferior within the racist rationality of Afrikaner nationalism. Indians were socially engineered to be racist, like everyone else. However, at the same time the Indian community in South Africa also engaged in the national liberation struggle and built political organizations to confront the racist capitalist order. The radical nonracial experience of the community ran deep and offered a way forward, through resistance and mass politics, to confront the existential realities of a socially conditioned racism. At its high point in the 1980s, this produced mass resistance and a rejection of neoapartheid reforms to formally coopt the Indian community into a racist political dispensation, to the exclusion of the African majority. In postapartheid South Africa there are Indians who are still racist, reflecting a legacy of colonial and apartheid racism that requires radical efforts at nation building to overcome. However, they are not representative of the Indian community as a whole.
A third example of EFF racism was against a white employee, in the parliamentary office of the COSATU. This employee was merely doing his work in parliament, by communicating COSATU's views on expropriation without compensation. COSATU supports such expropriation but without the need to amend the constitution. The EFF racially attacked the COSATU employee claiming he was a representative of "white monopoly capital." In response COSATU had the following to say:
This federation is not shocked by these outrageous attacks directed at Cde Mathew Parks by these organised [sic] noisemakers and professional race hustlers. They are nothing but angry, self-pitying delusionists with the moral compass of an opportunistic infection. These creatures of bombastic nonsense thrive on any applause or social media likes that they can get through flippant name calling. (Sowetan Live 2018)
The EFF as a political party is built on the cult of the male personality, as part of a militarized political culture. Julius Malema, the leader of the party, is referred to the as Commander in Chief, both in the constitution of the party and in the everyday language of the party. Moreover, the national spokesperson of the EFF, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, also has a media-constructed cult, like Malema, around his public personae as "The People's Bae." The EFF is organized at different levels through "command structures" including for women, youth, and students, based on the principle of democratic centralism, and all members of the party are referred to as "fighters." There is also a "War Council" provided for in its constitution to handle the day-to-day operations of the party. It has not been able to secure widespread support among South African women besides having its Deputy Secretary General and its Treasurer, being women. Julius Malema, speaking at a recent Women's Day Celebration, declared that this is because the EFF does not "make sense to women" and there is a need to "appeal to women" (Cilliers 2018a).
While Malema publicly declared that the EFF must respect women to secure their vote, a rather instrumentalist view, the party the previous year, also issued a statement on the "Patriarchal War against Women" in which it condemns violence and rape against women (EFF 2017). While the leadership of the EFF has publicly propagandized a male-centered feminism (by men and for men who control the party), largely informed by electoral concerns, the misogyny and sexism of the EFF runs deep. For Julius Malema, who exudes a macho, street fighting disposition, his misogyny was on full display in his authoritarian populist support for Jacob Zuma, during the former President's rape trial in the mid-2000s. Malema was part of the noisy bandwagon that put the victim/accuser on trial in the streets. He made the following public statement:
Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money. In the morning, that lady requested breakfast and taxi money. You can't ask for money from somebody who raped you. (Maughan 2009)
Gender rights groups argued publicly and even charged Malema in the Equality Courts for impugning the integrity of the rape accuser in the public discourse and suggesting she "enjoyed herself" (Maughan 2009). Moreover, his statements reinforced the culture of shame and silence among victims of male violence. More recently, the veil of internal violence against women has been lifted in the EFF with suggestions that this reflects a deep pattern of male sexism and misogyny, which the organization has chosen to cover up. Three incidents are now grabbing headlines and public attention.
The first relates to the beating of a female office administrator by an EFF political leader in the North West province of the country (Cilliers 2018b). Despite appeals from women in the party to the leadership, the perpetrator has not been charged for misconduct or subject to a disciplinary hearing within the party. The second incident relates to the political promotion, even to member of parliament status, of a known misogynist involved with numerous acts of violence against women, including being charged with the violent gang rape of a sex worker. This high-profile leader of the EFF has now been suspended in the EFF not because of gender-based violence and transgressions but because of his increasing clashes with Julius Malema (Myeni 2018). The third incident relates to the beating of a woman by the Limpopo province leader of the EFF. He has been legally charged by the victim and is in a legal process (Peter 2018b). EFF feminists have been engaged in grand-standing against the sexism of former President Jacob Zuma, but it is clear that this has not translated into a feminist politics inside the organization to confront its deep and hypermasculinized male leadership cults, militarist culture, sexism, and misogyny.
Nativist Nationalism and Revenge
The EFF is part of the resurgent black consciousness politics in postapartheid South Africa. However, black consciousness as a political ideology is not homogenous and unitary. There are variegated currents that make up contemporary black consciousness. A rough typology includes an academic black consciousness, a populist black consciousness, and a nativist/Africanist black consciousness, with the latter organized around a dialectic of Africans versus the rest (Satgar 2019:200). The EFF locates itself in the latter. Its nativist nationalism is deeply exclusionary in its racializing and hate politics. One of the seven cardinal principles of the EFF's constitution, which is central to its programmatic thinking, is expropriation of South Africa's land without compensation to achieve equal distribution. Consistent with this pivot in EFF thinking has been a public adoration for the elite and top-down approach to land reform in Zimbabwe. This call has been amplified in recent months, by the EFF to amend South Africa's constitution to secure its programmatic demand. In response, the ruling ANC has convened parliamentary hearings across the country on this question. However, in the drama and emotions around this issue the EFF has positioned itself directly against the remnants of white Afrikaner nationalism. A collision between these two extremes has been instigated, which the EFF is fueling in its own nativist way.
One of the moments this clash has played out was during a march by mainly white farmers, called #blackmonday against farm murders in South Africa. Some among these farmers raised the old apartheid era flag, evoking justified anger across South African society. However, the EFF responded, through its leader Julius Malema, declaring the protests racist and he went further to condemn the entire Afrikaner community with these words: "We cannot be harassed by a nonsense Afrikaner community" (News 24 2018). Through this articulation Malema constructed an absolute identity for all white Afrikaners, as the enemy of the African oppressed. This kind of racializing practice and discourse is consistent with the EFF's asserting the black majority as a force to fear and which is arrayed against the white minority. This is an extremely dangerous narrative and nativism that sharpens racial polarization.
For the EFF, legacies of colonial and apartheid dispossession have to be resolved through a crude politics of revenge. Whites must pay for the oppression and supremacy that the African majority endured. Sometimes this genuflects into a conspiracy of white monopoly capital standing in the way of transformation and resolution of the land question. This betrays four crucial problems obscured by the nativist nationalism of the EFF when it evokes the people and claims the vanguardist mantle on behalf of the previously oppressed majority. First, there has been over two decades of African rule in a democratic South Africa. In this context, an African government had many choices to address the land question in a manner that was fair and effective. Instead, the ANC state made choices that has placed a drag on land reform, it has not had an effective agrarian strategy and it has not had a proper approach to auditing tenure arrangements in the country (Jara 2014:227-248). Over two decades of ANC state failure regarding land reform is not the focus of the EFF's discourse. This is a lacuna in its racialized ontology. Second, the EFF's conflation of expropriation without compensation of land, as punishment, lacks a class and race understanding of land and land futures. On the one side, there are about 33,000 white commercial farmers who control South Africa's agrarian sector, and within this there are a few highly concentrated farming operations, and four huge retail chain stores that impact on supply. Even if tomorrow all farms where run by African farmers, power in the food system would still lie with the food retail corporations. On the other side, the South African state, religious organizations, the private sector more generally, and traditional leaders also have land in South Africa. For instance, in the province of Kwazulu-Natal, the Zulu King is the largest land owner. Traditional authorities have also been central in transferring communal land to mining corporations behind the backs of communities (Pickering and Nyapisi n.d.). A failure to bring class and race into understanding existing and future land arrangements occludes an understanding of the complexity of land tenure arrangements, the food system, and future possibilities of land use.
Third, the EFF's position of expropriation without compensation is about a state capitalist approach to agriculture in order to develop a new layer of black commercial farmers. It seeks the creation of a black fraction of agrarian capital tied into export circuits and supported by the state. This is about winners and losers rather than about developing an alternative food system that can meet the challenges of failing commercial agriculture, climate shocks, and inclusive nation building (Satgar 2018). Finally, the racializing of the land question is contrary the antiracism of Marx, Lenin and Fanon, which the EFF evokes as part of its ideological framework. Actually, the racism of the EFF and its racializing practices make its ideological commitments rather farcical. The true ideology of the EFF is grounded in a methodological nationalism and is about an exclusionary nativism.
Violence and Constitutional Democracy as (In)Convenience
Since its election into national parliament in 2014, the performative politics of the EFF targeted Jacob Zuma, the former President of South Africa. This was largely informed by Julius Malema's deep sense of betrayal and anger at Zuma after he was expelled from the ANC, despite being a staunch cheerleader for Zuma. State of the Nation Addresses, parliamentary debates, and other moments in parliament were used by the EFF to embarrass Zuma, call for his resignation and hurl insults. Many of these engagements ended in physical altercations, leading to the EFF either being marched out of the national chamber or it choosing to walk out. While the EFF sometimes worked with opposition parties, to seek legal recourse against the Zuma Presidency for issues related to corruption, its main approach was violent disruption. Parliament was a theater for national spectacle and the more noise the EFF made against Zuma the more it believed it was discharging its constitutional role. This of course took away from the hard work in portfolio committees and of shaping national debates on crucial legislative and policy matters. The EFF was in parliament to attack its main antagonist Jacob Zuma even if it meant unleashing a mode of violent politics that ran contrary to the constitution and which gave license to similar practices in different spheres of society. If delegitimating Zuma meant delegitimating parliament this is what the EFF was going to do.
A mimetic dynamic like this found its place in the #feesmustfall student protests, across the country between 2015 and 2017. Students demanded decommodified higher education, insourcing of workers, and decolonized education. The EFF presence in the student struggles was all about maximalist positions against universities, demanding shut downs and even unleashing violence. Universities suffered the loss of libraries, lecture halls, books, and art due to fires, running to about R800 million. An instrumentalist politics came to the fore to hijack student politics and use it to further delegitimize the ANC state. In this process, difference was not respected and room for democratic debate was shut down in most instances.
Finally, after the 2016 local government elections, the EFF formed coalition governments with the neoliberal DA in several key metropolitan governments in the country. The EFF allowed the DA to lead mayoral committees but wanted to be consulted on budgets, appointments, and other policy matters. Recently these coalition arrangements have fallen apart in the Nelson Mandela Metro, is under immense stress in the Tshwane Metro and has an uncomfortable staying power in the City of Johannesburg. It would seem that the EFF is willing to abandon the DA and side with corrupt politicians in the Nelson Mandela Metro and also lean toward the post-Zuma ANC. Constitutional democracy for the EFF is a convenience when it suits its narrow agendas and interests, but is an inconvenience if it stands in the way of what it wants. In the main, the EFF has displayed a deep antidemocratic and authoritarian streak in how it relates to South Africa's young constitutional democracy.
IN LIEU OF A CONCLUSION--NEOFASCISM IN POWER IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Fascism whether in its twentieth century or twenty-first century guises changes as it grows. This does not mean fascism without state power is not fascist. Currently, the EFF is using electoral politics and its opposition role to assert claims on the role of the state. This includes calls for nationalization, state-led stakeholder capitalism, and expropriation without compensation. Its intolerance of different and opposing views and its disposition to violence underscore a deep authoritarian and antidemocratic imagination. The state is central to the vision of the EFF and a monopoly on state power for meeting the needs of its mythic demos looms large. In power, the EFF would certainly wield state power to ensure its monopoly of influence on the economy and society. Its class alignments with big capital--monopoly and transnational--might also emerge.
As a predominantly new African middle class political force, the EFF support base is very similar to the middle classes that have supported Trump or Bolsanaro. Its race baiting, nativist nationalism, hyper-masculinity, and disposition to violence are similar in these respects to the new fascisms rising in Europe, the United States, and India. The EFF plays race and identity politics as African nativism rather than the white racism version in the United States, Europe, and Brazil. Moreover, while there is not a strong religious element in its ideological makeup or paramilitary capacity (which is different from the RSS linked to the ruling BJP party in India), the EFF does brazenly assert violence in parliament, in student protests, and in its street politics. It is a political organization with a militaristic ethos and structure. Its macho and incendiary rhetoric is very much "strong man speak," posturing and swaggering its way through South Africa's young democracy.
The EFF, as a black neofascist party, has a big appetite for state power. Its tactical instincts are serving it well as it harnesses the weaknesses of the ANC to its advantage. It is currently defining the narrative on the terrain of institutional politics, while the media amplifies its toxic politics. However, the EFF is not a strategic political force. It does not have a nation-building or a counterhegemonic class project. It intervenes through a politics of revenge and "black fear" that is deeply polarizing. As an opposition party, it has exploited the weaknesses of South Africa's corrupt former President Jacob Zuma but this is hypocritical, as the EFF itself has been exposed as having its own nefarious interests. The EFF is a product of the degeneration of national liberation politics and the deep crisis of South Africa's neoliberalized political order. The triumph of this form of black neofascism would be a disaster for South Africa.
University of Witwatersrand
Vishwas Satgar, Department of International Relations, University of Witwatersrand, P.O. Box 3, WITS, 2050 Johannesburg, South Africa. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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(1.) The World Bank in its 2018 report confirms South Africa's extreme income inequality. Also see Farouk and Leibbrandt (2018).
(2.) In 2015, at least 45 percent of households were receiving some kind of social grant.
(3.) Most vividly represented by the expulsion of NUMSA from COSATU.
(4.) At the time of writing, the new South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has put in place numerous judicial commissions of enquiry. Grabbing news headlines are the commissions on state capture and one into the crisis of the SARS. As a result of findings from the latter, the Commissioner of SARS was fired by the president (702 2018).
(5.) See Mann (2016), Riley (2010), and Passmore (2014), for example.
(6.) See van Onselen (2018), Mashele (2018), Lagardien (2018), and Piitso (2014).
(7.) Similar to these approaches but not verbalized in the public discourse in South Africa is the characterization of the EFF as "Stalinist racial populist." The EFF was never a serious Marxist-Leninist-Fanonist organization and has a very shallow commitment to its professed ideology so this categorization comes short.
(8.) See Shear (2018) and Shain (2018).
(9.) In this regard, I follow Poulantzas (1979) in his study of European Fascism in the early twentieth century.
(10.) See Saull et al. (2015).
(11.) See Griffin (1991), Eatwell (1995), Mann (2016), Riley (2010), and Passmore (2014), for example. An exception is the world-system analysis of fascism (Goldfrank 1978, 1990; Amin 2014).
(12.) In Indonesia, there was a genocide against "Communists" with about 1 million people murdered.
(13.) Boffo, Saad-Fihlo, and Fine (2019) have a slightly different periodization and framing of the phases of neoliberalism. However, they do affirm its authoritarian turn.
(14.) Deep globalization poses dilemmas for countries. Degrees of globalization or shallow globalization, alter-globalization, and even deglobalization are becoming crucial challenges for the remaking of the global political economy.
(15.) See SAFTU (2018).
(16.) The evoking of a "people"-centered discourse as opposed to class-centered discourse, which is captured by the title of the EFF (2019) electoral manifesto, "People's Manifesto and a Plan of Action," has its roots in a populist tradition in South Africa going back to the early 1980s. For some Marxists, the rise of a people-centered discourse was populist and decoupled from the structural realities of a racializing capitalism and class exploitation (available at https://www.politicsweb.co.za/documents/ theeffs-2019-election-manifesto-i or it can be included in the reference list as : Economic Freedom Fighters (2019), Peoples Manifesto and Plan of Action, accessed 1st November 2019, https://www.politicsweb.co.za/documents/the-effs-2019-election-manifesto-i).
(17.) It would seem that similar corrupt practices involving tenders and links to the EFF and its top leaders like Julius Malema are also emerging in the Johannesburg Metropolitan government in which the EFF is a coalition partner with the DA. See Sicetsha (2018).
(18.) See Business Live (2016).
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|Publication:||Canadian Review of Sociology|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2019|
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