Let us defeat harmful politics of divisions and disunity – Blade Nzimande

General Secretary says the SACP doesn't need to wait to lose power to realise how important power is

Develop production and defend the revolution wholeheartedly against strategic opponents and the immediate threat – the parasitic bourgeoisie!

22 September 2016

Dear comrades, allow me first and foremost to take this opportunity on behalf of the SACP to thank you for your invitation to address your very important National Congress.

I would like to convey revolutionary greetings from the Central Committee of the SACP on behalf of our party’s quarter one million members.

Our party commends the leadership and members of your union, the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu). You have demonstrated outstanding resilience against the backdrop of the devastating de-industrialisation that threatened the very basis and continued existence of your union, Sactwu.

Let us explain what we mean by reflecting on facts and figures.

Employment in the clothing, textile, leather and footwear sector was approximately 239 000 in 1994. It declined by about 36 500 jobs, to just over 275 000 in two years to 1996. This massive jobs bloodbath further resulted in over 100 000 jobs lost in the sector between 1996 and 2009.

The sector’s employment shrunk to just over 164 000 in 2009. The decline continued thereafter, but this time at a slow rate, stabilising at about 138 000 jobs in 2014. By 2015, the sector was recovering. New jobs were being created.

What the numbers tell us is that 68.77 percent of the workforce in the sector lost their jobs from 1994 to 2009. This means that 59.66 percent of the sector’s workforce lost their jobs from 1996 to 2009.

The massive job loss or rapid de-industrialisation that almost wiped out the sector did not occur incidentally.

Particularly from 1996, the decline was due to a neoliberal shock therapy, or lightning liberalisation, imposed through the so-called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) or, as the SACP identified it by its class content and political agenda, the 1996 class project. This anti-worker agenda stripped the sector of the necessary protection that it needed to withstand South Africa’s post-apartheid re-integration – after the pre-1994 sanctions – in the international operating economic environment that was, at this time, dominated by neoliberal globalisation driven by imperialist states and transnational corporations.

It does not take rocket science to see that the job losses or de-industrialisation that occurred in the sector shows that it was very simple to destroy, but very difficult to build or to rebuild.

The rate of decline in the clothing, textile, leather and footwear sector’s employment or de-industrialisation was faster than the rate of stabilisation and emergence of recovery. Efforts to achieve stabilisation and turn the tide were particularly driven in earnest since 2009.

The SACP would like to express its sincere gratitude for the role you have played in resisting the de-industrialisation and jobs bloodbath, as well as in working very hard to re-industrialise the clothing, textile, leather and footwear manufacturing activity in our economy!

The sector was almost completely wiped out by an imports surge triggered by the lightning liberalisation imposed under the yoke of the 1996 class project. Imports in this sector grew from R4.36 billion in 1994 to R58.8 billion by 2015, while trade deficit rapidly grew from R3.9 billion in 1994 to R36.9 billion in 2015.

As a direct fruit of your union’s in co-operation with the Economic Development Department, established in 2009, and the Department of Trade and Industry to revive production and create jobs in the sector, its exports contributed to its output by R15.9 billion from a low base of R6.1 billion in 2009 to R22.1 billion in 2015.

Productivity in the sector has increased remarkably in clothing, footwear and leather segments, and is well under way in leather goods and textiles segments. Employment increased by about 6 000 jobs in one year from 2014 from about 138 000 to about 144 000 in 2015. What this means is that your work with government post-2009 has managed to both stabilise the sector and ensure growth in both production and employment.

The trend in production and employment growth must be sustained. The SACP has confidence in your union; that you will deliver on this task. In this regard, your proven strategic engagement on matters of workplace restructuring and work re-organisation, on production and industrial policy development speak out for itself. The way you have engaged on this issue of high importance, work and production development, the lifeblood of human society, as well as industrial strategy, has set a good example for other trade unions to emulate.   

Dear comrades, on 21 March our Second Deputy General Secretary, Comrade Solly Mapaila addressed your union’s National Bargaining Conference, here in Cape Town. I would like to once more on behalf of our party reiterate what he said.

The SACP congratulates you for maintaining and continuously developing worker democracy in your union. Your dedicated focus on issues affecting workers on the shop floor, on workers’ interests, the way you conduct your union’s affairs, your consistent communication about all of these crucial matters, should serve as a source of encouragement to other trade unions to take their cue from you.

Let us unite and defeat the parasitic bourgeoisie, the immediate domestic and internal threat facing the national democratic revolution!

Let us isolate and defeat the harmful politics of divisions and disunity!  

Dear comrades, in his 1988 seminal intervention, titled ‘The South African working class and the national democratic revolution’, Comrade Joe Slovo, our party’s former General Secretary and revered leader of our struggle for liberation and social emancipation, argued that it is impossible for trade unions to keep out of the broader political conflict and focus on what is going on inside workplace premises only. A trade union that is not concerned about the living conditions of its members will not effectively fight for their working conditions.  The living conditions of workers are influenced by many factors and institutions, including the state.

The very fact that our post-1994 democratically elected government, in particular through the agenda of the 1996 class project almost destroyed your sector and displaced over hundred thousand workers from their jobs, proves that the state can be used as an instrument of the class of exploiters against the exploited. Conversely, your resistance to the anti-worker agenda, your engagement with the Economic Development Department and the Department of Trade and Industry on the measures that are now clearly reviving the sector and creating jobs prove that the state can be used to serve workers’ interests. The state is therefore a contested reality, notwithstanding its ultimate, or dominant, class character.

Let us therefore deepen the historical mission to build democratic working class hegemony in all key sites of struggle and establish democratic working class power in all centres of power, including the state. There are too many class forces each with its own class agenda and class interests that seek to shape the direction undertaken by the state and, using the state, ultimately by society.

For the SACP, monopoly capital, regardless of the race or colour of those who personify it, White or Black, with its ties to imperialism, remains the major strategic opponent to our struggle for democratic national transformation.

But there are many other examples.

In Greece, monopoly capital undermined democracy. It replaced a democratic mandate with devastating austerity measures, and reduced democracy into a fictitious exercise while the ruling class rules.

In Brazil, there was recently a “soft coup” by means of parliamentary constitutional manipulation. The coup could nevertheless not have succeeded without collaboration from corrupted domestic collaborators, agents, businesspeople and politicians who were interested only in covering their own skins as many of them faced serious corruption allegations.  

It is however impossible to address monopoly capital’s expropriation of national resources through exploitation and super-exploitation of workers, through tax base erosion, capital flight, transfer pricing and much more, if sensitive and strategic organisational capacity is held back in factionalism, or if public institutions, like the state capacity needed to deal effectively with corporations and high-income individuals are attacked and undermined for entirely parasitic ends.

While our liberation movement should certainly be vigilant about the role of external forces; and while we should learn lessons from imperialist projection of “soft power” in many parts of the world to undermine national sovereignty through so-called “colour revolutions” and the like – we should always remember that the entry-point for this destabilisation is inevitably corruption, parasitism and bureaucratic complacency.

The overall situation we are facing, in terms of challenges, can be categorised into three broad categories. We are facing external, domestic and internal challenges.

Unless we get our house in order internally, we will continue, as a movement, to display incapacity and a lack of strategic discipline in tackling the domestic and external challenges. This is why it is very important for the ANC to reach consensus and better handle leadership transitions.

The immediate challenge we are facing, at the domestic level but as well as internally in our movement, is the parasitic bourgeoisie. It is inconceivable that we will succeed to face off to external challenges, such as the global capitalist system crisis and more powerful imperialist forces, without defeating the parasites that weaken both our domestic (state and national) and internal (broader movement organisational) capacity and strategic discipline.  

Our ANC-led alliance national summit held mid-2015 for instance correctly identified many similar problems. All alliance partners, without exception, agreed in a declaration from the summit that corporate capture was a problem. The declaration linked corporate capture to social distance from the membership and mass base, distortion of internal organisational processes and democracy, gate-keeping and related methods such as manipulation of membership records and files, buying of membership ahead of and votes at elective gatherings, corruption, factionalism, patronage and a lack of focus by local structures on the social and economic challenges facing communities.

Accordingly, the alliance agreed that we must unite behind a programme to defeat these harmful tendencies. That some comrades at the later stage decided to veer away from the collective ANC-led alliance perspective and even dismissed the existence the problem is not a function of democratic centralism. It is a function of factional centralism, a direct contradiction of the strategic discipline required by the revolutionary principle of democratic centralism.

The reason why the Communist Party prohibits factions in party organisation is that they can hold back an organisation. Factionalism can liquidate the strategic leadership capacity an organisation needs to implement its immediate tasks and fulfil its historical mission. Factions can render an organisation incapable of tackling its strategic opponents.

Factions can hand power to opponents, by weakening an organisation’s internal unity and cohesion, by fracturing an organisation internally, and now and then by even producing splinter groups from factions as some form of organisations within an organisation. Factions can produce different messages on one issue, all in the name of one organisation. They can redefine the shouldering of collective responsibility along factional lines and turn a blind eye to the weaknesses and wrongdoing committed by their members.

We do not need to go too far away outside of South Africa, or many years back in the history of the split of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, or to study what led to the incapacity for given political movement leading a country to fight a war against the external enemy because of factions. South Africa is full of study materials.

There is a political organisation, for example, called Cope – the plagiarist Congress of the People, not the original Congress of the People held in 1955 that adopted the Freedom Charter. Cope started as a faction inside of the ANC. It mutated as a campaign for former President Thabo Mbeki and eventually became established as a separate political party.     

We also need to study how the ANC lost power in the Western Cape in the past and experienced a significant decline in the recent local government elections. There is an incorrect perception that the decline occurred only in some of our major metropolitan municipalities. The fact of the matter is that the recent decline is wider than that. It includes loss of power also in some local or district municipalities in rural areas.

But we have another study option.

We can look at the fragmentation of the trade union movement and the mushrooming of new unions, or efforts to start a new federation. In this regard, there is another factor identified by the SACP, business unionism. Along with the broader phenomenon of corporate capture, and also having links with it, business unionism is one of the major drivers of fragmentation in the trade union movement. In many instances fictitious ideological differences are created and used to mask the real character of the causes of the divisions and disunity.

We need to strengthen our efforts in dealing with all of these problems. We do not need to wait until we lose power to realise how important power is.

Also, we do not defend power for the sake of defending power. We need to be decisive with power. In particular, we must, as a movement, decisively drive our shared perspective to move the national democratic revolution onto a second radical phase. Radical to fundamental economic transformation in its logical conclusion is the most important task facing our revolution.

The resolution of many social problems, including redistribution in the form of accelerated rollout of free post-school education for those who cannot afford as announced by government this week, a comprehensive social security system, universal access to quality healthcare and therefore the success of the National Health Insurance, decent work and job creation, etcetera, depend by and large on radical economic transformation and, buttressed by it, on policy changes. The achievement of social transformation is completely different from a dog barking at the moon for no revolutionary or developmental reason. It requires resources on a constant basis or without interruption. The importance of radical economic development cannot be over-emphasised.

The SACP is looking forward to the outcomes of your congress. In particular, we propose that you discuss the important matter of the need to reinvigorate workers’ inter-sectoral solidarity and the challenges that have let to its decline. We propose that you do this in the context of the pursuit of overall working class revolutionary politics in society at large.

As the SACP, we are looking forward to your congress becoming a success!

Thank you comrades!

Comrade Blade Nzimande is SACP General Secretary. This is the edited version of the presentation Dr Nzimande at the Sactwu National Congress, Cape Town International Convention Centre, 22 September 2016