Bell Pottinger is back. For at least a few months now, not one social media thread about the Democratic Alliance (DA) or another party in the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) goes by without someone accusing them of ‘swart gevaar’ fearmongering. The reality is simpler: There has never been a swart gevaar in South Africa, but the ‘rooi gevaar’ has been, and is, ever-present.

The latest ‘scandal’ ̶   if it can be called that – is the DA’s election advertisement that depicts an African National Congress (ANC) – Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) ‘doomsday coalition’ burning the South African flag. Social media is up in arms, saying this is just another instance of DA swart gevaar (black threat) agitation.

One cannot reason with Bell Pottinger’s legacy bots, or influencers who are paid to push a particular ‘coincidentally identical’ narrative. But it is at least worth pointing out that the DA ad is clearly not concerned with racial threats, but ideological threats. The ad points to the rooi gevaar (the red threat). 

And gevaarlik, rooi certainly is. 

The public policy environment desired by the likes of the Communist Party, the EFF, and MK, and an assortment of minor parties, is not simply misguided or harmful. It is catastrophic.

The real (but self-imposed) red threat

The red threat to South Africa has been real at least since the 1920s, when socialists first attempted a violent rebellion on the Witwatersrand. It became more of a threat some two decades later, during the 1940s. This latter turn of events was, to a very large extent, self-imposed. 

When both the United Party and later the National Party made it clear to the early ANC – by no means a populist or socialist formation back then – that they would under no circumstances entertain, or even negotiate, for the extension of civil liberties to educated, propertied black South Africans, the ANC had to look elsewhere for support. This support they found in the Communist Party of South Africa, which had long sought, under orders from Moscow, to co-opt the ANC into their ‘revolution’. 

You see, the two-stage revolution idea in vogue amongst the left back then required a nationalistic dimension, which the Communist Party lacked. While these two entities engaged with one another, it was only around the mid-to-late 1940s that the ANC committed itself fully to the socialist cause.

Freedom advocates breathed a sigh of relief in the early 1990s when the Cold War came to an end. It was by then unequivocally clear that a socialist approach to economics had been discredited: to the extent that even the Eastern Bloc had over the years progressively conceded the inevitability of market forces. 

For a fleeting moment, it appeared that socialism had been beaten, and the world had been made safe for liberal capitalism.

The problem is that diehard socialists did not allow any of this to dissuade them from their ambitions. Indeed, South Africa’s contemporary socialists deny any obligation to answer for the immense death and destruction wrought by their ideological comrades around the world. This they usually say in the same breath as their condemnation of Apartheid and praise for Marxist socialism’s opposition to that system.

The United Party and National Party pushed the ANC into the arms of the communists (ie.  Marxian socialists). This is true. However, the ANC was staffed by smart adults wearing big-boy pants, so their agency, and therefore complicity, cannot be entirely discounted.

There was never a swart gevaar. Black South Africans – prior to the advent of the modern, socialist-infused black nationalism – had no intention of harming or otherwise undermining the white population. 

They, rightly, wanted to enjoy the same civil liberties that whites took for granted, and on occasion they were prepared to use violence toward that end. We, today, should be similarly willing to use  force to jealously protect freedom.

The swart gevaar rhetoric was a political tool used to generate fear. The rooi gevaar rhetoric, on the other hand, was accurate. And the red threat is more dangerous today than it has ever been before. 

‘Good in theory, bad in practice’

Many people say that socialism is good in theory but bad in practice. Regrettably, this line is usually used by those who know little about socialism, other than the fact that its goal is ‘utopia of perfect equality’. This, however, is only its goal, and the theory of socialism dwells on significantly more.

At the very base of the Marxist socialist (communist) ideology lies a mistaken impression that economists held long before the likes of Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises set the record straight. While economists have long been mistaken about this, Marxists elevated this notion to a core ideological and political imperative. 

The results were not good.

This mistaken impression is the labour theory of value, a now thoroughly-discredited idea which comes down (and this is a simplification) to the idea that value is generated through work. The undeniable reality, which economics has since discovered, is that value resides exclusively in the subjective perception of economic actors.

There is nothing ‘objectively valuable’ about a piece of gold, or about an art-piece that a painter spent a decade perfecting, or about the vaccine that a team of scientists created to deal with a dangerous virus. The value of these things exists only in the minds of those who have some use (whether real or sentimental) for them. 

Value is entirely subjective.

According to the labour theory of value, however, those (and only those) who put in‘the work’ have generated an objective, external value which they are now owed. The workers, in other words.

To the extent that workers are not rewarded for their work in direct proportion to this objective value that they have generated, ‘exploitation’ is taking place, and the capitalist is effectively ‘stealing’ the ‘surplus value’ that the worker is entitled to.

Playing out in reality

This all seems theoretical, but we see it play out in South African public discourse almost daily. Every time an employer is accused of being ‘exploitative’, underlying that accusation is the impression that they are ‘taking’ from their employees an amount of value to which the employees are inherently entitled, because they created that value. 

Capitalists, landlords, speculators, and so forth, are not welcome in a socialist order, because they create no value. They are not ‘workers’. They sit, idly, as recipients of the surplus value created by the toiling masses.

It should be clear, with this in mind, that the purges and mass murders that routinely occurred in the socialist regimes of years past, far from being ‘not real socialism’, are clearly real socialism. 

The capitalist class is designated as a necessarily asocial or counterrevolutionary one. This is a high crime, for which you can expect re-education at best, and execution at worst. 

According to the socialist worldview, this is justice. Capitalists are the vilest grouping of human beings to ever exist, for their success depends upon the brutal exploitation and abuse of those weaker than them. They are evil incarnate. Purging them and their sympathisers is therefore to be done as a matter of course.

There is nothing ‘not-real-socialism’ about this.

Socialism, as the halfway point to fully realised, ‘stateless’ communism, in both theory and practice, involves a government with no legal limitations on its power to seize property and eliminate the threats to the revolution. Both the seizure of property and elimination of threats is to be done coercively. Negotiation and compromise are bourgeois.

Impossibility of socialist planning

If by ‘real socialism has never been tried’, people mean – as they should – that real socialism is impossible, they would be correct. Beyond small units of people, like the family or a small commune, socialist methods of economic planning must necessarily collapse. Outside of the family and commune, socialism becomes a fundamental rejection of human nature, dynamism, and freedom

It is not good on paper. Socialism is scary on paper.

The brutality of socialist regimes against the ‘enemies of the revolution’ (being anyone who expresses a view or behaves in a way that conflicts with the policy of the state) is, however, only the icing on top.

At base, socialism is based on the denial of individual responsibility. Forget about only Marxist socialism – all forms of socialism, from the conservative socialism of the National Party in South Africa to the genocidal nationalist socialism (fascism) of Germany or Italy, come down to socialising responsibility. 

Socialism is, self-consciously, rent-seeking writ large. Without responsibility, civil liberty is impossible. There is no dignity or agency for the individual if the individual is ultimately someone else’s responsibility.

This denial of responsibility is manifested in socialism’s unequivocal hostility to private property.

Private property is as natural as humanity itself. Human beings do, and have to, exist as part of the natural environment, only merely on top of the environment. Ownership of property, in particular private property in land and over the goods that sustain life, is the expression of this basic human need. 

Without the right to private property, there is no responsibility. It is not, fundamentally, then, your responsibility to care for your own welfare or that of your closest, but it becomes the responsibility of ‘someone else’. In socialist theory, this ‘someone else’  is the whole collective caring for one another. In socialist practice, it is the coercive state that, in essence, becomes the collective owner of all the human beings who live within its jurisdiction.

Absent private property, there is no privacy. Absent privacy, there is no ‘private’. Absent the private, there is no real claim or entitlement to freedom from the dictates, preferences, or desires of the powerful. Socialism is unfreedom, and prosperity requires freedom and private property in equal measure.

False consciousness

One does not see much orthodox Marxian socialism in South Africa outside of the Communist Party nowadays. It exists, however, under the surface, and that ‘surface’ is the discourse of false consciousness. Or, to put it in contemporary lingo: that surface is wokeness.

False consciousness is a theory of Marxism. Later, neo-Marxism, via the likes of Antonio Gramsci, developed this theory into the concept of cultural hegemony. 

There are important differences between false consciousness and cultural hegemony, however their similarity is notable. False consciousness comes down to the following:

The disadvantaged class has either been co-opted by, or has itself co-opted, the consciousness of the privileged, including their values and norms, and become detached from its own reality of disadvantage.

Thus, an orthodox Marxist would view a large church congregation in a poor neighbourhood as a clear example of false consciousness: the capitalists have thrown the poor a religion with which to silence them, keep them occupied, and keep them away from instigating the ‘inevitable’ revolution. Religion, Marx argued, was like opium for the poor.

Today, popular culture and consumerism would be viewed in much the same way. The wealthy keep the poor entertained with booze and music in their free time, distracting them from planning the overthrow of the system. 

Cultural hegemony

Neo-Marxists, in a similar vein, argue that the dominant class secures its hegemony culturally. 

It cannot simply impose its will violently on the masses – it requires the latter’s consent. So, cunning devils that they are, the dominant, capitalist class gradually constructs a new vocabulary, common sense, and popular religion to pacify the disadvantaged. 

So, for example, a ‘culture of capiatlism’ has created a vocabulary with its own logic. Here one thinks of the bourgeois notion of ‘rights’. If you, as a vulnerable person, want to claim something from the powerful, you have to use the discourse and institutions of rights, as opposed to collective violence with your fellow poor people. If the logic of rights does not grant you a remedy, you are out of luck.

Similarly, capitalist culture has created the ‘common sense’ that (for instance) hard work leads to success. So if you, as a poor person, remain poor, it is because you have not worked hard enough. It is not the system’s fault, but yours, so do not agitate for systemic change.

Finally, capitalist culture has created a popular religion around (amongst others) the supposed inviolability of contracts. If you, a disadvantaged person, agreed to certain terms, you are bound not only by law, but by honour, to abide by those terms. This is not simply a piece of paper confirming a rich person is ‘exploiting’ you, as neo-Marxists would insist it is, but it is a sacred oath you dare not violate.

All of this, neo-Marxists claim, entrenches the hegemony of capitalism culturally. The vocabulary, logic, common sense, and popular religion of capitalism must be dismantled.

Radical black nationalism

We see similar neo-Marxist rhetoric from the radical black nationalists of South Africa today. 

Any black South African who favours the DA or is opposed to socialism is said to be a ‘deputy white’ or a ‘rented black’. This is quite crude on social media.

But one finds it in the scholarship as well, in the works of the likes of Joel Modiri and Ndumiso Dladla.

They argue – taking their inspiration from the likes of Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon – that there is such a thing as an authentic ‘African’ and by implication an inauthentic African. An authentic African approach throws out the entirety of the bourgeois white capitalist culture. Those blacks who seem to buy into any aspect of it are victims of false consciousness.

This ‘authentically African’ discourse, however, is nothing more than Western European neo-Marxism dressed in new garb. This is evil, because it does, in fact, deny freedom of choice, responsibility, and agency entirely.

The necessity of being anti-communist

I have never described myself as an ‘anti-communist’, despite resolutely being one. This is because those who lean into this label are often quite nasty people who do not simply oppose socialism, but have a broader agenda that comes down to claiming liberty for themselves but denying it to others – particularly immigrants or ‘queers’.

But anti-communism is a vital posture.

Anti-fascism had its potent moment when the armies of the Allies crushed not only fascist dictatorships of Europe and Asia, but also firmly delegitimised the fascist ideology – barring those aspects that the West has totally bought into since then.

Anti-communism, beside some theatrics in the United States Congress and a boneheaded law in Apartheid South Africa, never had its potent moment.

The communist dictatorships of the world were never crushed, and their ideology never delegitimised, in the same way as that of fascism. Instead, communist regimes fell because their ideology could never – and can never – work in reality.

But the appeal of the ideology persists because that ‘moment’ never occurred. 

Very few people think it is cool or even rebellious to be a fascist in 2024, but the same cannot be said for being an (equally violent, equally despicable) socialist. In South Africa especially, too many people still today think it is completely okay to be socialist.

Socialism is not okay

There are many people who – rightly – experience trauma when someone around them, sincerely, shouts ‘sieg heil’, and launches their right arm, palm flat, into the air. 

We should feel a similar revulsion when we hear or read about people referring to one another as ‘comrade’. Socialism is not okay, and deserves to be treated with the same contempt that fascism receives.

Under socialism, there is no freedom, and certainly no prosperity, for anyone except the political inner sanctum. 

In South Africa, naïve socialists think this inner sanctum refers to ‘the majority’, and that the excluded group will simply be the evil, capitalist minority. Anyone with a basic understanding of history, and basic comprehension of what has already transpired in governance in South Africa, knows this not to be the case.

Conscientious participants in the discourse should not allow the opportunistic racialisation of the discourse (‘swart gevaar!’) to distract them from the very real red threat that endangers any future potential for success in this country.

[Image: By odder – From the Flags of the Soviet Union Between 1955-1991, albeit Red instead of Gold, Public Domain,]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Martin van Staden is the Head of Policy at the Free Market Foundation and former Deputy Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). Martin also serves as the Editor of the IRR’s History Project and its Race Law Project, and is an advisor to the Free Speech Union SA. He is pursuing a doctorate in law at the University of Pretoria. For more information visit