By Natalya Dinat
The Anti-apartheid movement (AAM) was a loosely organised social movement for
solidarity that became an international movement. Its simple aims were necessarily
reformist, as opposed to revolutionary. Its strategy and programs were guided in the main
by the ANC and alliance partner the SACP. International solidarity was one of the “four
pillars of struggle” of the ANC, it made the others possible and was only possible
because of the others – (others were mass mobilisation, armed struggle, underground
A short history
Late 1940s – 1960
There was a high anti -fascist sentiment amongst ordinary peoples of Europe immediately
after the second world war. Fascism, was accepted by liberals and socialists as an evil to
be vanquished. After the war, Britain built a strong trade union movement and the workers’ movements
had gained hard won concessions such as the National Health Service. The 1950’s also
saw the Cold War take hold. Anti-colonial struggles were afoot and within many national
liberation movements were struggles between a nascent national bourgeoise and
After the implementation of apartheid laws, some South Africans were able to move to
Britain, mainly to pursue an education. Amongst them were communists. The
internationalist principals of communists led them naturally to work closely with the CPGB
and with the British Labour Party. The importance of international support for national
liberation became clear. They became involved in the Committee of African Organisations
around 1958 (CAO).
Since 1907 consumer boycotts been a tool of struggle in South Africa especially during the
defiance campaigns of the 1950s. The first call for an international consumer boycott was
by the first All-African People’s Conference, held in Accra in 1958. The CAO, based in
London, launched a major boycott campaign in 1959. Broad mobilisation was consistent
with the inclusive approach of the ANC and its allies. It was decided that “all support
should be welcomed and none excluded, and that the campaign should be seen as a
‘liberal’ (small ‘l’) issue and not in terms of party politics at all.”
This culminated in a successful mass demonstration in February 1960 with an estimated
15000 people marching.
1960- early 1970s
The AAM took the struggle to the United Nations and pressurised governments for
economic, military and diplomatic isolation. International legal rulings, of apartheid as a
crime against humanity, undoubtedly assisted the struggle being waged all fronts. Victories
claimed by the AAM included enough pressure to save the Rivonia trialists from hanging,
and the outrage generated during the Springbok tour of 1969.
The AAM initiated campaigns for the arms embargo and a disinvestment campaign in
response to crisis of capital of the early 1970s. The end of the 1970s saw the start of the
Thatcher – Reagan era introducing Milton Freidman’s “free market capitalism” and shock
doctrine. The oppression in countries such as Chile, South Africa, and the rise of racist
facist political parties (British National front) and of course the devastating destruction of
the trade union movements began.
The AAM grew in 1980s from a small pressure group to a movement of many thousands
of supporters, organising the biggest demonstrations Britain had yet seen. It mobilised
youth, churches, workers, trade unions, political parties and community organisations.
Globally the AAM spread to the USA, western Europe, India and to a lesser extent in
Africa. The Free Nelson Mandela Campaign was an impressive global phenomenon.
There were solidarity movements with many other oppressed peoples across the globe. I
remember participating in demonstrations against the US invasion of Vietnam in the early
It became almost a requirement as a liberal to join the fight against apartheid. The AAM
had begun to mobilise in black and ethnic minority communities and working class
communities when the ANC was unbanned. There were also outstanding sacrifices, a step beyond solidarity, which were of immeasurable significance, these included:
The use of volunteers, such as the London recruits , willing to risk ones life or freedom in
the name of internationalism, reminiscent of the heroes of the International Brigades
fighting fascism in Spain in the 1930’s
Significant material assistance requested by liberation movements came from the socialist
countries, the front line states, Nordic governments as well as ordinary peoples from all
over the world. Cuba was the only country to provide direct military assistance.
Successes of the AAM were due the following:
– its ability to mobilise broadly across the political spectrum, and its ability to hold this
alliance in the face of the fierce anti-communism of the Cold War.
– the liberation program of the ANC enabling clarity and guidance for the AAM.
– Nations’ democracies being more functional meaning that people were able to effectively
pressurise their governments.
– Trade unions were strong, as were other left political groups, so there was a higher level
of political consciousness.
– Inequality and absolute poverty was less than now, in the global north more people had
– There was significant material support from the Socialist bloc , which enabled the two
pillars of struggle of armed struggle (even if it achieved mainly symbolic gains) and
underground work , which in turn enabled the mass struggle and international solidarity.
– Direct (horizontal) links were effective. For example workers of the NUM SA linking with
NUM GB, The Dunn shop workers striking in solidarity had a ripple effect amongst retail
– the broad alliance led to a strong influence by the neoliberal agenda, which the ANC was
unable to resist post 1991.
– the movement took over 40 years to reach levels of international mobilisation of the
The world has changed
– For many people across the world there is an erosion of national democracy, countries
have become oligarchies, autarkies, kleptocracies or a malfunctioning state. Ability by
movements to influence policy or even raise accountability of governments are becoming
more rare. Does this make peaceful mass action, a hallmark of the AAM ineffective? One
has to to look at the ineffective largest mass mobilisation ever in Europe against the war in
Iraq in 2003
– An associated a rise of corporate influence in the political sphere. It may be worth
discussing the type of impact of economic sanctions and consumer boycotts on the
market. Was it of political value, or did it impact on the market? Today, what kind of
economic sanctions would be effective?
– The rise of the gig economy, allowed by the destruction of trade unions in Britain, SA
and other countries. (Although Germany and France seem still to have strongish
– The world systems marxists generally delineate capitalist periods of accumulation in
decades, accentuated by periods of crisis. But we have less than a decade before we
face unimaginable global food, shelter and water crises.
– We cannot wait for capitalism to destroy the planet. This rather puts a spoke in the wheel
of marxists determinists who will wait until capitalism is a spent logic.
– Social media is a powerful tool of capitalism to swing elections, create mob violence fear
and hatred, and acts as a counter to political consciousness raising.
– Increasing inequality tied to austerity measures.
– The fall of the the Soviet bloc
– the ideological vacuum of the left.
– The rise of fascism and normalisation of racism
– Capitalism is a globalised force today – so we need a global counter -movement. This
movement, unlike the AAM should be a political and revolutionary movement in the sense
that it cannot reform capitalism. As well as globalised finance social and political aspects
of capitalism have also gone global; wars , migration, slavery, labour migrant systems,
health issues, and of course the inescapable effects of carbon economy.
Theoretical and practical issues for us today
– A Socialist International cannot be a broad alliance, including left-ish liberals. However
it should be able to make strategic short term alliances with liberals. eg when fighting
fascism in India. It should also make locally and internationally strategic alliances with
anti-racist, feminist, anti-ecocidal groups, whilst maintaining its anticapitalist stance. –
-Interactions with struggles of indigenous peoples, women, youth, gender non-binary
and smaller right based campaigns should not detract from the fight against capitalism.
We need to develop an understanding as to how their struggles fit in a modern marxist
revolutionary praxis. Because, unless we address the immediate important or lifethreatening
concerns of the poor they will continue to vote for extreme right.
– As Amin wrote in his last essays, the centre and periphery are not as they were. Within
some nation states , exist such extreme inequality , disenfranchisement of large
sections of the population (eg SA, USA, Brazil) that we can see “center/periphery’
issues. not even semi-periphery. An re-analysis of this will assist in developing strategy
toward the problem of diagonal and top down or bottom up relationships between
– Finally Luxembourg’s writings on the tension between historical determinism – the
inevitability of the collapse of capitalism – and the voluntarism of emancipatory action.
I think that the contradictions of volunteerism and determinism are that they are
inextricably and dialectically linked and the one gives rise to the other. However we are
at a critical stage for the future of humanity that does not allow the luxury of determinism –
the house is on fire – we have no time , we must act, locally and globally.
Finally there are three important issues for us in South Africa if we are to contribute
meaningfully first – is to raise political consciousness amongst all our people. To do this
requires urgent work at the “grass root’. Political literacy is ties up with basic literacy. we
need many workers’ schools, night schools, community radio, TV.
secondly a contemporary socialist theory for the International
thirdly a political program to fight fascism, stop wars , nuclear weapons and violence
(opposite of democracy), and reverse inequality – stop discrimination, promote rights of
women and oppressed sections of the population, stop ecocide destruction of the planet,.
A modern variant of Peace, Bread Land is
PEACE (not fascism, yes to democracy) , BREAD (and water for all) , LAND (our planet
1. Arianna Lissoni PhD Thesis The South African Liberations movements in exile
2. Ankie Hoogvelt the Third world in Global development.
3 The History of the Anti apartheid movement https://www.aamarchives.org/history/1980s.html
4 Nancy Fraser The significance of Rosa Luxemburg youtube
5 Chase Dunn et al 21st Century trajectories of globalisation
6 Amin S Towards the Fifth International ?