Central Committee Political Report of the South African Communist Party, 3rd Special National Congress, University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus, 7-11 July 2015, July 8 2015
Communist Cadres to the Front: Unite the Working Class, Our Communities and Our Movement In Action –To Drive a Second, More Radical Phase of our Democratic Transition!
It is no secret that we are confronting a very challenging period in our national democratic revolution with risks, threats and but also important opportunities and responsibilities. It is also no secret that across our ANC-led Alliance more and more comrades are turning to the SACP to engage with our collective analysis of the global, regional and national conjuncture and to point to a programmatic line of action. It is no secret that of the different components that constitute our ANC-led alliance, the SACP is the most stable and relatively the most ideologically coherent. The rapid and historically unprecedented growth of our membership – now standing at some 240,000 members attests to this. It is no accident that there are increasing complaints in the right-wing media about the growing influence of the SACP within government and within our Alliance.
But this is not a cause for arrogance or complacency on our part – on the contrary, it places upon us, collectively, and not least upon this Special National Congress, an important challenge. Working closely and in a non-sectarian way, can we rise to the challenge?
Part of the reason for the growth in Party membership is related to the current global realities. 21 years ago, in 1994 at the moment of South Africa’s democratic breakthrough, neo-liberal capitalism in its phase of generalized monopoly-dominated imperialism was at its most triumphalist. The Soviet experience had collapsed, social redistributive advances in much of the developed capitalist world had been rolled back by a decade-and-a-half of Thatcherite and Reagonomic austerity programmes. Early important post-independence advances in much of Africa, including in our region, had been driven back by punitive structural adjustment programmes. On the politico-strategic and military front, unconstrained by an alternative global bloc, imperialism under the dominance of the US felt it had the green light to assert its strategic agenda not just through economic and ideological power, but also the projection of aggressive military power.
When, as South Africans, we finally achieved a non-racial, majority rule, democratic dispensation, there was a crushing neo-liberal global chorus trumpeting a single message – TINA – There is No Alternative! An “End of History”, the supposed demise of ideological contest, was proclaimed. Henceforth, politics would be a technocratic task of management applying the rules of the game as prescribed and refereed by the IMF and World Bank, with the ratings agencies acting as the lines-men, and the corporate controlled commercial media acting as the TV-referral mechanism. Monopoly capital had a free rein and the only red cards were those issued to states that dared infringe the “rules of the game”.
In these conditions, for a time from the mid-1990s, a once leading faction within the ANC and ANC-led government, whether out of confusion, or a lack of revolutionary determination, or a hankering after an illusory “modernity”, sought to self-impose upon our movement and our country an assimilationist project with the imperialist centres.
We are now immersed in a somewhat different global conjuncture. The persisting crises into which capitalism has plunged our planet, and the inability of the leading centres of capitalism to offer resolutions is more and more apparent. The illusion of a free-run in terms of military deployment has been actively challenged, not just by irregular forces, and not just by middle-ranking states like Iran and Syria, but also increasingly in various critical regional spheres as in Ukraine and Eastern and Central Asia, by the counter-vailing defensive capacity of Russia and China.
Generalised monopoly capitalism, the current phase of imperialism, remains extremely powerful – but everywhere the peoples of the world are saying: “There HAS to be an alternative!” There has to be an alternative to the headlong, capitalist environmental destruction of our planet. There has to be an alternative to a system in which unsustainable inequality is growing by leaps and bounds. There has to be an alternative to the continued extraction of massive surplus imperialist rent out of the global South to the 0,1 percenters and their supporting chorus in the global North and their local willing agents. There has to be an alternative to the imperialist military destabilization of large swathes of the Middle East, and other regions including North and North East Africa.
These are global challenges that are also regional and national challenges of our own revolution. As an SACP we are no longer relatively alone within our own country in advancing these general perspectives.
At this Special National Congress we are advancing the call for building the unity of the working class (in its widest Marxist sense – embracing the proletarianised and semi-proletarianised – the employed, the unemployed, the under-employed – all those who have been dispossessed of the basic means of survival, other than to sell their labour on a market with millions of “willing sellers” and, increasingly, fewer and fewer “willing capitalist buyers”).
For this reason, we are also calling for building, in action, the unity of our “communities” – the sprawling townships, informal settlements, and rural villages of our country. These are the marginalized settlements, the still largely unchanged realities inherited from decades of apartheid and internal colonialism. These are the localities in which proletarianised households and communities somehow manage to sustain a degree of cohesion in the face of poverty, rampant unemployment and many social challenges including crime, violence and drug and alcohol abuse. It is here that, in particular, a powerful women’s and civic movement needs to be re-built – already millions of women are in the forefront of sustaining households, performing community services either voluntarily or in the context of Community Work Programmes and other public employment initiatives.
We are calling for the unity of our ANC-led alliance and broader progressive movement – as a key contribution to building the unity of the working class, and the unity of our communities. These tasks are all inter-related.
But unity has to be unity in ACTION. And action has to be based on a strategically coherent PROGRAMME of action. This relates directly to what the ANC at its Mangaung National Conference called – “A second radical phase of our National Democratic Revolution”. But what is the content of such a radical phase?
In its broadest terms, the SACP has argued that a “second radical phase of the NDR” must be directed at overcoming the persisting systemic legacy of over a century of colonialism of a special type (CST). CST had a double reality:
- It was the political form in which South Africa’s capitalist economy (emerging in the last quarter of the 19th century) was locked into and reproduced as a semi-peripheral society within a global imperialist system. South Africa’s “path dependency” was as a producer of “cheap” primary products (mainly minerals) exported to the capitalist metropoles. This resulted in stunted and skewed industrialization, and particularly the underdevelopment of our local (and regional) market; and
- This semi-peripheral industrialization within South Africa was driven by a state form of white minority, or internal colonial, rule in which the black majority were super-exploited. It also impacted upon the entire Southern African region, much of which was reduced to a regional pool of reserve labour for South African mines and agriculture. The continued existence of despotic rule in Swaziland (and in parts of our own former countryside) attest to the continuity of a colonial legacy that operated, in part, through the indirect rule of colonially distorted “traditional” patriarchal rule. The current and seemingly chronic political and institutional instability in Lesotho is also a direct symptom of this history.
While white minority rule has been abolished, many of the structural underpinnings of this system remain in place and, in some respects, they have been aggravated.
For all of these reasons, at the most general level, the SACP has argued that our National Democratic Revolution – and especially, a second radical phase of this revolution - has to be:
- Anti-imperialist – both as part of a wider internationalist solidarity struggle, and as an integral task of a re-positioning our country and our region;
- To be anti-imperialist means also to be Anti-Monopoly Capital – imperialism in the current phase is characterized by “generalized monopoly capital”, monopoly capital that organizes production across multiple geographical locations – aggravating capitalism’s inherent tendencies to uneven development. In our context, increasingly transnationalised South African (or ex-South African) monopoly capital is the key entry-point for the reproduction of our de-industrialisation, mass retrenchments, and our continued subordination as a semi-peripheral economy. Monopoly capital lies behind the massive process of capital flight from our country since 1994, as well as an ongoing productive investment strike. Monopoly capital is also behind the dangers (and reality) of corporate capture of parts of our movement and state.
- Therefore, to be Anti-Monopoly Capital, means forging a broad patriotic front of forces committed to building and defending a democratic national sovereignty.
- And the condition for such a broad front is the forging of popular democratic sovereignty which requires the unity in action of the working class, of our communities, and of our movement.
It is the task of this Special National Congress to help sharpen this general strategic analysis of our conjuncture. Even more importantly, it is the task of this Congress to help provide a more detailed programme of action that reinforces this strategic perspective. What specific campaigns should unite us? What specific issues provide concrete inroads into radically transforming the systemic challenges we confront? What are the organizational tasks and priorities that will enable the SACP and the wider movement to address the strategic challenges? What are the internal dangers across our movement that weaken our capacity? What are the implications for electoral positioning, and for state transformation, of an anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly capital, national democratic struggle?
In what follows in this Political Report, we will seek to take forward, in some detail, both our conjunctural analysis as well as programmatic tasks for unity in action.
The current global capitalist conjuncture: Generalised Monopoly Capital in crisis
In the first place, it is important to understand the global and regional factors that are impacting upon our domestic challenges. These are rarely acknowledged by opposition forces or by the political commentariat in much of our local media. It is not a question of seeking “external” factors in order to excuse our own national weaknesses and failures. However, unless we locate our own struggles within a global, continental and regional context, any local efforts will inevitably fail.
The ongoing global structural capitalist crisis has deepened the reproduction of inequality on a world-scale. Financialisation, a key feature of the current stage of imperialism, a stage described by Samir Amin as “imperialism of generalised monopolies”, is resulting in huge flows of imperialist rent literally being sucked out of so-called “developing” countries on an unprecedented scale. Debt enslavement has extended even to the immediate doorstep of the advanced capitalist economies – as with the current show-down between the people of Greece and German bankers, between democracy and the popular will and the political elite of the EU.
The expansion of the capitalist agrarian revolution into Africa, led by imperialist land grabs, is resulting in massive dispossession of peasant communities. This, in turn, is producing rapid urbanisation without employment, and sprawling slums across our continent. Rural dispossession coupled with ecological crises and civil wars (typically instigated by imperialist interventions), has given rise to intra-national, and international migratory flows on a scale never before seen in human history. Last year alone, some 1 billion people crossed national boundaries, the majority desperate economic refugees, many of them “illegals”. Millions of these economic refugees, perhaps some 3 million from Zimbabwe alone, have poured into South Africa over the past decade. These and many other “external” factors have greatly impacted upon the transformational prospects of our post-apartheid South Africa.
During the decades of the Cold War, the dominant capitalist centres sought to present their systems as “democratic”, as “parliamentary democracies”, in contrast to the socialist bloc countries which they sought to portray as “totalitarian”. While this ideological posture was, of course, seriously flawed, the democratic deficit in the Soviet bloc (see Cde Slovo’s “Has Socialism Failed?”) and the hey-day of capitalist welfare democracies (1945 to the mid-1970s) led some credence to it. (It seduced millions of East Europeans who overthrew in peaceful protest “actually existing socialism”.)
We are now in a very different global conjuncture. Over the past 30 years, the sway of globalised financial markets has increasingly displaced or sought to displace and erode sovereign national electoral mandates, even in the most developed capitalist societies. In 2007 Alan Greenspan, then chair of the US Federal Reserve, was asked which candidate he supported for US presidency. His response was revealing: “We are fortunate that, thanks to globalisation, policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces…it hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces.” While this might have been a partial exaggeration, it clearly contains considerable truth.
Assisting this relative “irrelevance” of electoral national politics in most advanced capitalist economies has been the “tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee” electoral party reality – i.e. the regular electoral alternation between two dominant centrist parties or blocs, funded by the same corporate interests, and barely distinguishable from each other (Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Labour), each pursuing the “middle ground” as the condition for electability.
The continued post-2008 global capitalist crisis is now beginning to have a disruptive impact on this stale-mated party political reality. Across much of Europe, there has been the strong rise of anti-establishment right-wing neo-fascist, anti-immigrant movements, responding demagogically to the growing stress felt by working class, petty bourgeois and unemployed strata in Germany, France, Austria, Greece, etc. There has also been an important rise of more radical left electoral formations as well – notably in the semi-periphery of developed capitalism, with the current hot-spot being the European South (Greece, Spain).
It is important to understand our own present South African conjuncture within this broader international context. The 1994 South African landmark democratic breakthrough occurred, as we have noted, in the midst of the triumphal onward march of neo-liberal driven globalisation and financialisation. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, for South African monopoly capital and for global imperialism the “gamble” of supporting the negotiated demise of white minority rule with non-racial democratisation and majority rule in South Africa was then perceived as worth the “risk”. Particularly with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the new South Africa would be “governed” by the iron-laws of the “financial market”, and any delinquency on the part of majority rule could be curbed and contained.
This was what was fundamentally at stake in the late-1990s battles over GEAR and the general liberalisation of the South African economy. It amounted to a considerable opening up, and therefore subordination to the dictates of the financial markets and their ancillary weaponry (“market confidence black-mail”, ratings agencies, debt servicing replacing public servicing, disinvestment and investment strikes, etc.)
Nevertheless, the sustained high level of electoral majorities won by the ANC, and the effective presence of the SACP and COSATU within the Alliance through these two decades, served to act as an important countervailing force or, at the very least, an “irritant” to the neo-liberal agenda.
We are now living through a somewhat different global conjuncture. Globally, the triumphalist hey-day of neo-liberalism is over. Generalised monopoly capital at a global scale remains, of course, dominant – but its ideological and political triumph is less secure than it has ever been in the past 25 years. This is intimately related to the post-2008 persisting crisis and the obvious inability of the leading circles of corporate capital to advance any meaningful responses to the growing ecological crisis, as well as deepening global inequality, economic stagnation, and high levels of unemployment even in relatively wealthy capitalist countries (Spain).
There has also been the continued use of aggressive imperialist military intervention led by the US working with its adjunct NATO. Since our 13th Congress we have seen imperialist aggression in Libya and (imperialist supported armed rebellion) in Syria. These and other military interventions have not given rise to democratic regimes as was projected, or even to an increased strategic capacity of imperialism. Instead, since the NATO attack on Libya and the sponsorship of violence against the Syrian government, instability and violence have deepened. The imperialist military interventions have given birth to one of the most backward and reactionary forces in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Brazilian sociologist and political activist, Emir Sader, argues that today in the world the main axes of power can be located within three inter-related monopolies:
“… of arms, of money, and of words. The first reflects the militarization of conflicts, an area in which the United States believes it exercises unquestionable superiority. The second relates to neo-liberal policy, the commercialization of all social relations and natural resources, which seeks to create a world in which everything has its price, everything can be bought and sold, and whose utopia is the shopping mall. The third has to do with the monopoly of the private media over the profoundly selective and anti-democratic process of shaping public opinion”.
Despite its persistence, however, neo-liberalism is facing increasing crises and challenges. Part of the deepening ideological and political crisis of neo-liberalism is the growing number of voices coming from heterodox, often non-socialist and non-Marxist sources, documenting deepening global inequality. This deepening inequality is no longer just between North and South, it has become a feature of even the most advanced capitalist countries. Diverse, non-socialist sources are now taking up this theme – among them Nobel prize-winners like Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz, as well as Thomas Piketty, and Oxfam. The global inequality crisis has become more main-streamed. In talking about the 2014 Oxfam poverty index, for instance, The Guardian newspaper summarises it as follows:
“The world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker (bus)”! Oxfam research has also further found that since the 2008 financial crisis the number of billionaires has doubled. The number of billionaires (by US dollar) worldwide has increased from 793 in March 2009 to 1 645 by March 2014. In the case of one billionaire, Bill Gates, he is estimated to be earning, at the ordinary rate of 1,9% interest, 4,2 million US dollars per day!
This snapshot graphically captures the reality of our current global reality. A key factor propelling this widening inequality in the current conjuncture is the dramatic process of capitalist “financialisation”. Increasingly capitalist surplus is circulating within a global speculative casino, to the detriment of productive investment. As noted above, this process of domination by global capitalist financialisation means that increasingly the “one-percenters” (or, more accurately, the 0,1 percenters) are able to escape the discipline of national governments and therefore of democratic electoral mandates. Their wealth is largely untaxed and it is based in fluid financial instruments, nominally based in tax havens, rather than locked into realizing medium- to long-term returns on productive investment in a mine, or factory. They exert their sway on national governments no longer just by investing or not investing in the national economy, but increasingly by financing governments themselves and their SOEs through bond-issues and indebtedness.
We find a local echo of this in the current crisis around the so-called Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project with its deeply unpopular e-tolling system. Likewise, the Gautrain project, an elite public transport system which is now annually costing the Gauteng government nearly one-quarter of its entire transport budget to pay the private concessionaires a whopping R1,5bn in the present financial year for a “ridership guarantee”. Which is another way of saying that the design of the system was deliberately to exclude the most populous townships in Gauteng totally reliant on public transport, while at the same time guaranteeing the private operators a daily ridership on the system. Gautrain is failing to meet this ill-advised contractual commitment - probably only getting around half of the anticipated passengers. Meanwhile, public transport for the majority of Gauteng households without any access to cars persists, as last week’s challenges in Mamelodi and the East Rand underline. The massive expatriation of surplus through e-tolls and ridership guarantees illustrates why we cannot simply allow ourselves to be dragged into a middle-class anti-e-toll, anti-government posture, while failing to expose the complicity of both state functionaries, local compradors, and monopoly (often foreign monopoly) capital in the strategic choices that are made. Whether excessive funding of freeways in Gauteng is recouped through e-tolling or a petrol levy is a secondary matter. We should never be making strategic transport and urban infrastructure choices that serve a minority in the first place.
The rise of social movements
An important part of the growing international resistance to neo-liberal globalisation has been the rise of social movements, from the Occupy movement, to the Arab Spring. In Latin America, social movements have often played a notable role in mobilizing an array of social forces, including the urban and rural poor, middle strata, and the struggles of indigenous peoples. The role of progressive social movements, and the NGOs that operate in around them, has been of great importance – in much of Latin America, for instance, as well as in the final decade of the anti-apartheid struggle. However, as progressive Latin American theorists, like Sadir, have noted, there is also a tendency for these movements to be dismissive of “another set of values, phenomena and spaces: parties, politics, collective solutions, [and] state planning…” This, along with the funding from imperialist quarters into some of the ancillary NGOs, makes these movements – whatever their radically progressive intentions - vulnerable to capture by regime change agendas and so-called “colours” revolutions.
The relative neglect of contesting state power from within and from without the state, can also lead to defeat as has been the case of much social-movement inspired struggles in the course of the Arab Spring. The strength of many of these movements is their amorphous character, which is also, simultaneously, their weakness. They are given to spurts of activism and subsequent demoralisation or dispersal – as illustrated with the important but brief Occupy Movement. There is also a tendency for these movements and their affiliated NGOs to position themselves as “watch-dogs” against government (an important role no doubt) but to the detriment of building popular power inside the state itself.
The South African democratic transition and Monopoly Capital’s strategic agenda
As the SACP’s discussion document “Going to the Root – A Second Radical Phase of the NDR” argues, the 1994 democratic breakthrough should have been used as a bridge-head to embark immediately on a radical transformation agenda. At that point, South African monopoly capital, the major strategic antagonist against the advance, deepening and defence of an ongoing national democratic revolution in our country, was relatively off-balance. It had taken the risky but necessary step (from its profit-maximising strategic perspective) of supporting a negotiated transition to a one-person, one-vote democratic dispensation. This was not remotely out of any commitment to majority rule, or with a view to participating in a shared patriotic effort at post-apartheid reconstruction and development.
The last decade of apartheid white-minority rule had resulted in a deepening crisis of profitability for monopoly capital. Economic, financial and oil sanctions played a part in the crisis of profitability. So did the apartheid regime’s defensive measures – tough exchange controls and increasing fiscal expenditure on supporting military destabilisation in our region and security repression within South Africa.
For South African monopoly capital, a negotiated transition (to what it hoped would be a low-intensity democracy) was seen as a risk, but a necessary risk. The strategic agenda was to use a “universally acceptable” democratic constitution as cover to rapidly take the on-ramp to globalisation – to run away from majority rule democracy. From the perspective of monopoly capital this was, of course, a calculated risk. Having sheltered behind and benefited from a century of colonial and white minority regimes, South African monopoly capital took the risk of being able to penetrate, influence and divert a new (and still largely unknown to it) political elite. The intention included compromising and diluting the executive capacity of a new democratic state from being able to drive forward any popular electoral mandate.
Partly as a result of South African monopoly capital’s own significant power and resources (backed by imperialist power and numerous ideological think-tanks) and partly as a result of subjective weaknesses on the part of our liberation movement, the strategic agenda of monopoly capital has made considerable head-way since 1994. There has been a huge drain of surplus out of our country as a result of capital flight – some of it completely illegal, some of it through dual listings, transfer pricing, the shift of nominal headquarters to tax havens, and much more. All of this was unwittingly aided and abetted by unwise relaxation of exchange controls and general runaway liberalisation by the ANC-led government in the mid- and late-1990s.
Within South Africa, monopoly capital aggressively restructured production – shifting investments out of productive manufacturing and mining and into speculative and non-productive sectors like shopping malls and financial services, including a massive increase in unsecured lending to an emerging so-called “new black middle class”. Mergers and acquisitions increasingly exposed key sectors of the economy, like agriculture, to the whims of foreign speculative investors. This “radical” but neo-liberal restructuring of our productive economy was accompanied by the equally aggressive restructuring and fragmentation of the working class through casualisation, informalisation, labour brokering and widespread retrenchments. These measures actively under-cut the progressive statutory advances won by the working class after 1994. The percentage of workers unionised in the private sector actually dropped from 35,6% in 1997 to 24,4,% in 2013. In short, post-1994 a “radical” restructuring of our economy and society was often driven, not by progressive forces, but by neo-liberal monopoly capital. Progressive forces were confronted with a new, and in many respects, an increasingly unfavourable “objective” reality.
Of course, this monopoly capital-led offensive has not gone unchallenged. The progressive trade union movement, the ANC-led alliance and government, popular forces in general, and certainly the SACP have waged offensive and defensive battles against this strategic agenda. But the subjective capacity to advance an alternative agenda has been compromised by many subjective weaknesses as well. In the period of the “1996 class project”, the ANC organisationally was considerably demobilised – and turned largely into an electoral machine, itself increasingly controlled by gate-keepers. The ideological coherence of the ANC has been weakened, with internal factionalism having little to do with principled strategic issues and more and more related to moneyed contests for positions of power, battles over deployment, and electoral lists. The degeneration of internal movement politics into a “game of thrones” has also impacted in varying degrees on the ANC’s alliance partners – the SACP, COSATU and SANCO. Monopoly capital has succeeded in inserting its DNA into much of the progressive trade union movement via union investment arms with their linkage into worker retirement funds. Progressive trade unions have also, to some extent, become victims of labour’s own institutional advances, with the inherent dangers of creeping bureaucratisation and a neglect of factory floor organisation and work-place mandating.
A critical part of monopoly capital’s agenda has been to hollow out the transformational capacity of the new democratic state. This has had several dimensions – corporate capture of key public institutions (Media 24’s effective gobbling up of the public broadcaster is the most egregious example); the corruption of critical strategic nodes of the state; and the playing off of one part of the state (the judiciary, for instance) against the executive in order to blunt any executive attempt to implement its democratic mandate.
The most recent example is the curious decision of the Competition Appeal Court to reverse the fine of R534-million imposed by the Competition Tribunal on a SASOL subsidiary, Sasol Chemical Industries (SCI). The Competition Tribunal had found that SCI had used its dominant market position to impose over-pricing ranging up to a whopping 41% mark-up on local manufacturers for propylene and polypropylene – the raw materials for, amongst other things, household plastic goods like buckets, basins, brooms and water tanks.
The Competition Appeal Court has just announced that it has overturned this finding on the bizarre grounds that account should not be taken of the fact that SCI’s feedstock was exceptionally cheap because it was a by-product of SASOL’s unique coal-to-oil process! The Appeal Court argued that we should pretend that SCI was operating in a “normal” competitive market without the advantage that it actually enjoys of feeding off its parent company’s by-products.
The National Democratic Revolution and the National Question
Across the ANC-led alliance we have agreed on a second, more radical phase of the National Democratic Revolution. But what do we mean by the “national” in the National Democratic Revolution? What is the “national question”? At its heart it consists of two inter-related strategic priorities:
One: Overcoming the racialised, apartheid and internal colonial legacy that still impacts on all facets of our society – whether economic, social, political, or ideological. It is about affirming democratic popular sovereignty, democratic majority rule. It is about building non-racial, non-sexist national unity, and therefore addressing all of those morbid realities – racism, sexism and patriarchy, ethnic mobilisation and chauvinism, and the underlying material conditions that reproduce them.
The SACP has been a consistent fighter, in fact, the most consistent South African formation in this regard. Dating back to the late 1920s, the Communist Party was the first, and for many decades the only political formation in South Africa to advance the demand for one-person, one-vote, and for majority rule. We understood that this would mean, what was then called, a Black Republic, reflecting the demographic and cultural realities of our country. But, even back then, we clearly asserted that it would be a Republic in which all South Africans, black and white, would enjoy equal citizenship rights. Directly related to this principled perspective, for many decades the Communist Party was the only political formation in South Africa that had an active, non-racial membership.
But what are the challenges in the present in building national unity? Racism has not disappeared, and in some quarters, 21 years into democracy, it has grown more emboldened. The SACP has taken the lead in calling for greater responsibility from those operating web-sites with political commentary that is quite simply cyber-racism. These sites still allow rabid racist outpourings, which, in turn, sometimes incite reverse anti-white reactions. We unconditionally condemn all manifestations of racism.
In many South African work-places, particularly in sectors that are weakly organised, in the security sector, in retail, on farms, and in domestic work, a non-racial democratic culture is still a remote reality – baasskap often remains the order of the day.
But racism also persists in more sophisticated forms, in the middle-class lamentations about “declining standards”, about the “inevitability” of democratic decline in Africa. It is a discourse rooted in the subliminal message of “look what happens when THEY take over”. It is a viewpoint rooted in the intention of preserving ill-gotten privileges from the past, disguised as a discourse of “defending the Constitution”. These forces even add clauses to the Constitution, like “willing-seller, willing-buyer”, which are nowhere to be found in the Constitution! This vein of Afro-pessimism is the ideological glue holding together the core constituency of the Democratic Alliance.
There are, of course, other backward influences at play within our society. Ethnic chauvinism, patriarchy and sexism still prevail, often evoking the false justification of “tradition” – a tradition that has typically been deeply distorted by colonialism and the woeful history of apartheid-era bantustans.
Of course, we will not succeed in eradicating these noxious prejudices and practices unless we also address the material conditions that help to reproduce them – racialised inequality, spatial settlement patterns, rural marginalisation, that continue to reproduce apartheid geography for the poor, and much more.
But there is also a second critical strategic dimension to any national democratic revolution. It is a dimension that has tended to be forgotten or side-lined – yet it is of great importance, not least in the present:
Two: The “national question” is also about advancing, deepening and defending democratic national sovereignty
Understanding the critical link between social transformation and the patriotic defence of democratic national sovereignty has been the bed-rock of the Cuban Revolution. It is the same challenge that has been playing itself out in Greece – democracy versus German bankers, a national electoral mandate versus perpetual, debt serfdom imposed by neo-liberal technocrats in the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF on behalf of private financial interests.
The challenges facing us here in South Africa are not fundamentally different. We must have the courage to pursue our democratic mandate. What imperialism most fears and most hates is, therefore, the sustained 60 percent-plus electoral mandate that the ANC and its alliance continue to receive. That is why our Alliance unity is so critical. That is why much of the commercial media and local monopoly capital constantly seek to de-legitimise our electoral mandate. Our opponents’ strategic agenda is to undermine the popular mandate we have received to advance boldly on a developmental path based on re-industrialisation, on localisation and beneficiation, on state procurement, on infrastructure development, on land reform, and on major social redistribution. Monopoly capital wants to replace this mandate with the mandate of the foreign ratings agencies, with the mandate of maximising foreign share-holder value, with the mandate of privatising, with the mandate of further loosening capital controls.
In the face of this agenda, it is important to understand that the two strands of the national question – over-coming a racist legacy on the one hand, and national sovereignty on the other, are deeply interconnected. If we cannot chart a sovereign development path, we will never overcome the material conditions that continue to reproduce racialised (and gendered, class, and spatial) inequality. If we fail to consolidate a unified and patriotic popular sovereignty, our national sovereignty will be usurped.
This is why a key task of our struggle is to consolidate the widest possible patriotic unity. This is why it is important to identify, as our key opponents, those whose objective conduct and material interests are inherently un-patriotic (whatever their subjective sentimental pronouncements might be).
In the first place, we are speaking of private monopoly capital. Since 1994 monopoly capital, as we have already noted, has led a massive process of capital flight out of our country – through dual listings, dividend outflows, transfer pricing, tax evasion, and the disappearance into off-shore tax havens. They are also involved in a local investment strike. South African monopoly capital has proven thoroughly unpatriotic – in fact, it is no longer accurate to describe it as “South African” – it is thoroughly trans-nationalised. ABSA, with its origins deep in Afrikaner capital, is now over 60% foreign-owned.
Or take the case of AFGRI, an agricultural services company dating back 90 years. It was a co-op supported by successive white minority governments to assist white commercial family farmers. After 1994, instead of transforming this co-op to service emerging and subsistence farmers, it was allowed to become (like other former agricultural co-ops - KWV, Clover, Senwes) a private company listed on the JSE. But worse was still to come. In 2014 AFGRI was de-listed from the JSE and bought out by a little-known North American based financial speculator group registered in the tax-haven of Mauritius.
But AFGRI remains a strategic player in our agricultural sector. It owns a vast proportion of South Africa’s grain storage capacity and provides services to 7,000 mainly commercial farmers. It is also the largest supplier of John Deere tractors in Africa. This means that a critical asset for national food sovereignty is now a financialised entity owned by foreign speculators.
And what about SASOL? It was subsidised for decades by South African tax-payers, and we all still subsidising it through the windfall profits it makes every time we fill up with petrol at our local garage. SASOL was once a state-owned company. In the recent past it has absolutely refused to invest in a new major coal-to-oil project in SA – despite a gentlemen’s agreement with a former ANC Finance Minister in exchange for not having a windfall profits tax imposed on it. Instead, its major focus is now a mega-investment in Louisiana, USA.
And the list of unpatriotic, South African-born and nurtured, monopoly capital corporations continues…
We must be much more robust in dealing with the massive process of disinvestment and capital flight. This is why the SACP welcomes the important recent Constitutional Court decision to reverse a Supreme Court of Appeal judgement that had ruled that a R240m deduction on multi-billionaire Mark Shuttleworth’s expatriation of two billion rand to an overseas tax haven was illegal. The Constitutional Court quite correctly ruled that our country’s national needs cannot be made vulnerable to the risk of massive capital flight.
But for the same patriotic reasons, the SACP is deeply critical of the recent Competition Appeal Court overturning the Competition Tribunal’s fine of SASOL Chemical Industries (SCI) for overcharging local manufacturers by up to 41%. It made this ruling on the entirely spurious grounds that we should not factor in the reality that SCI obtains its feedstock, a by-product of SASOL’s globally innovative coal-to-oil process, at prices far below the global average from its parent company. We must pretend, so the court ruling goes, that SCI is having to pay for feedstock at some global average price, fictitiously prevailing here in SA! A ruling of this kind goes completely against our drive for re-industrialisaton, beneficiation and job creation.
Trans-nationalised monopoly capital also has the DA as its own local, unpatriotic shop-stewards serving in Parliament. The DA is absolutely craven in the face of an anti-South African imperialist agenda. In parliament last month, for instance, the DA actually criticised government for standing up to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council and their local agents, the Association of Meat Importers. And speaking of patriotism and moral integrity, what is the first and for the moment only Private Member’s Bill that the DA has sponsored for introducing into Parliament? It is a bill to permit On-Line Gambling! If it passes (which it won’t) it will turn every corner café and spaza shop into a gambling den preying on the poorest of the poor. But on whose behalf is the DA pushing this Bill? Who is advising the DA on this matter? It is three overseas gambling outfits, and most notably the UK-based Betfair. Shame on you DA!
Why a RADICAL phase of the NDR?
In the course of this Political Report we have argued that the changing global, regional and national realities underline the correctness of a strategic path of anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly capital struggle, anchored in an ongoing National Democratic Revolutionary strategy.
However, this NDR strategy has to be “radical” in the sense that it has to radically transform the systemic features of our political economy that continue to reproduce our semi-colonial positioning within the global imperialist system. And this requires building state and popular power capacity to increasingly de-link the fate of our country and its peoples from an imperialist system that is carrying us all into barbarism and irreversible planetary destruction.
This radical strategic perspective is often criticized as being “utopian”, as being a “romantic illusion”, as an infantile “declaration of UDI” from the world. We are told that any attempt at a relative de-linking of our political economy from global capitalism is naïve. We are told that any attempt at a relative de-linking of the fundamental necessities of life from the capitalist laws of “value” is reckless and unachievable. These voices cast aspersions on the struggle to insulate from the laws of the capitalist market - the right to food security, or health-care, or the right to decent shelter, or housing, or safe and accessible mobility, or even, (in the words of the Freedom Charter) the very right and duty to perform socially useful work. Yet, demonstrably the capitalist market place more and more is proving incapable of delivering these fundamental rights. Only a struggle to build capacity for, momentum towards, and, increasingly, elements of socialism will take us forward.
These struggles are not “utopian”. In fact, it is utopian to think that the capitalist market place will ever get us to full employment, or to universal and accessible health-care, for instance.
In arguing for this strategic perspective, the SACP is not arguing that some heroic but ultimately doomed “great leap forward” is always possible. In saying that the second radical phase should have commenced immediately after the 1994 democratic breakthrough, we are not claiming that everything was possible all at once, either then, or now. However, the strategic weakness of our ANC-led movement in the mid-1990s was not the result of ultra-leftism, but rather of a timidity in the face neo-liberalism and local monopoly capital. As Joe Slovo wrote in 1975, paraphrasing Lenin – for a revolutionary movement, it is far better to err in the direction of “untimely action” than to remain on the side-lines, indulging in “untimely inaction”.
The struggle for South Africa’s communities and developmental local government
There is a close relationship between the changes and restructuring taking place in the workplace and the changing nature of our communities and the struggles taking place there. In fact the material basis for some of the attacks on foreign nationals derives from intra-working class struggles over scarce resources, as well as the impact of the neo-liberal restructuring of the work-place, both on the working class in the workplace, as well as its impact on broader working class communities.
What is the political economy of South African communities today? Let's start with the townships, informal settlements and rural villages. This is where the African majority continue to be located. These are major terrains of struggle and they are the primary organizational base of both the ANC and the SACP. They are foundation for the ANC’s sustained electoral majority. This Congress, in its deliberations, will have to play close attention to the (class, gender and national) dynamics at play in these localities.
The neo-liberal restructuring of the work-place has had a direct impact on the social dynamics in our townships and villages. As in the past, our townships and villages continue to be both sources for cheap labour and dumping sites for a labour surplus on the peripheries of the major economic sites of accumulation in our country. In the past a regional migrant labour system supplying cheap labour to the mines included Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland and labour reserves. From the 1970s, increasingly migrant mine labour was recruited from within South Africa. However over the past two decades, we have a relatively new phenomenon – the migration of economic refugees on a massive scale from throughout the continent and beyond. As result, increasingly, we now have a highly exploited, over unregistered stratum of the working class in the services, security, agricultural and hospitality sectors.
The fragmentation of the working class due to, inter-alia, labour brokerage, casualization, outsourcing and retrenchments has shaped the social landscape and dynamics of our urban townships and rural villages. The increased unemployment and the growth of those marginalized from the mainstream economy, provides the crucial link between the restructuring of the workplace and the working class with the political economy of African townships and rural villages. Women, not least because of the critical social reproduction role they play within these localities, constitute an important part of the dynamism of townships and villages.
The offensive directed at the organized working class in general, and COSATU in particular, has not only weakened the strength of the trade union movement, but will contribute to the already weakening link between workplace and community struggles.
The state of, and struggles in, our communities require full time and undivided attention of the SACP and our movement as a whole. This is one terrain of struggle that perhaps currently poses the biggest threat to our revolution, including the potential of this site being used as a key platform to dislodge our movement from power. In fact it is these communities that both the still to be launched, so-called United Front and the EFF are targeting in their attempts to weaken the ANC and capture these spaces ahead of the 2016 local government elections.
Our township and rural villages have become home to large sections of unemployed (and semi/under-employed) youth of our country. Our townships and villages are also home to what others have recently referred to as a 'precariat' – a stratum of the proletariat in a very precarious situation, surviving on the margins of the mainstream capitalist economy. It is this youth and /or 'precariat' that is also the cannon fodder of the 'service delivery' protests, as well as internal struggles within our own formations for power struggles. Guy Standing, who coined the term “precariat”, says of this stratum, "They are floating, rudderless and potentially angry, capable of veering to the extreme right or extreme left politically and backing populist demagoguery that plays on their fears or phobias" (p.6). In Europe for instance, sections of this precariat have been mobilized behind highly xenophobic, anti-migrant activities in Greece, France, Italy and elsewhere.
Of course, the townships and villages of South Africa have been major, if uneven, beneficiaries of our democratic government’s major redistributive measure – including the massive RDP housing programme, the extension of vital basic services such as water, electricity, increased access to both basic and higher education, free health care to under 5 year-olds, the roll-out of a half-million free solar water heaters, as well as social grants for key sections that are especially vulnerable (children, the aged, and those living with disabilities). These redistributive measures have played a huge role in cushioning our communities from the ravages of neo-liberal restructuring of both the capitalist workplace and the working class. Many of these measures have also provided huge relief to the burden on the shoulders of women in their role in looking after the basic needs of familiies.
There has also been a major transformation and restructuring of the township and village economies since the 1994 democratic breakthrough. The retrenchment and casualisation of the working class, especially as from the late 1980s led to, amongst others, the emergence of a new marginalized section of the working class operating taverns and spaza shops in these areas. Whilst these have acted as important (albeit minimal) sources of income for the informalized (and unemployed) sections of the working class, they have simultaneously dealt a huge blow to the traditional African trading petty bourgeoisie (TAPB) that used to own relatively profitable formalized shops, butcheries and bottle stores in these areas. The TAPB was later to be challenged, and perhaps dealt the final blow, by the increasing reach of shopping malls into townships and villages, while the less formalized township retail activities have been increasingly taken over by foreign nationals. In some areas these were devastated by violence like in KZN and parts of Gauteng.
Our rural villages are also now characterized by a significant and rapid decline in subsistence and small-scale farming. This is due to a number of often mutually reinforcing factors. These include the changing climatic conditions and rising scarcity of water and lack of institutional support to rural communities. Perhaps there is also another reality that requires further study and theorization, the fact that subsistence and small-scale farming were more than just subsistence activity but part of a mode of production on its own, which has now significantly declined. The radical addressing of land and agrarian reform must help to resuscitate farming and other related activities in the rural villages. It is women who still play the major role in subsistence farming, no matter how minimal. However, a radical but holistic land and agrarian reform programme is necessary if village economies are to be revitalized on a sustainable basis and as part of a broader transformation programme.
The rising unemployment and the changing trading conditions in our townships and rural villages have seen growing distress in these areas, accompanied by an increased use of drugs and alcohol. This has also been accompanied by growing distress and disintegration of family life and other protective social structures in these areas.
However, the single biggest predators to the welfarist, social safety nets and economic activity towards sustainable livelihoods and development are the very same monopoly capitalist sector that is responsible for the marginalization of large sections of the working class through retrenchments, casualisation and labour brokering.
The social protection benefits received by the very same working class that is restructured by capital from the state, become new rent-seeking, parasitic targets for the very same monopoly capital. In fact the financial sector continues to be the main culprit in the exploitation of the very same social protection measures introduced by the state to mitigate the ravaging impact of capitalist neo-liberal restructuring. The big monopoly banks and financial institutions have become the mashonisas that exploits the very beneficiaries of social grants. The elderly women, who still remain the main custodians of the poor township and village communities, are a particular target of these mashonisas raiding the social grants system.
The informal social security system created by the workers and the poor on their own - stokvels and burial societies - also bank their monies with capitalist banking and insurance monopolies. As a consequence, the savings of stokvels and burial societies, do very little to develop the townships and villages from whence they come from.
The Know Your Neighbourhood Campaign (KYNC) becomes an essential weapon in our struggles to drive a second phase of our transition, especially in our communities. It is important that the SACP develops an independent contact with our communities and the working class. It is also important that we build ANC branches committed to serving our communities rather than extensions of tenderpreneurs.
Building better communities is closely intertwined with the ongoing struggle to transform local government to better serve our communities. It is therefore absolutely essential that we closely examine government’s ‘Back to Basics’ strategy of the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), and clearly define the role of the SACP in that, especially that of the SACP branch.
There are also a number of other interrelated challenges in local government that we need to pay particular attention to. These include the upgrading and transformation of informal settlements; building capacity for municipalities to render services; the decommodification of ‘service delivery’ but without undermining the culture of community participation and payment of services; reversal of outsourcing the provision of basic services; and campaigns for set asides for SMMEs and co-operatives. Most importantly we need to mobilise communities as agents of change. We must roll back the idea of a ‘wheelbarrow state' – where the state is expected to move through communities, stopping at each, and simply dropping off delivered services to an otherwise passive community.
We need to revive the civic movement, especially those associated and working under the umbrella of SANCO. There is a debate that has been ongoing for a long time now about the nature and character of SANCO. There is a strong view in the Alliance that SANCO must be a federation of local residents’ or civic organizations and not be a national membership-based organization as is the case with other components of the Alliance. This view is based on the fact that SANCO must be an umbrella formation, based on local civic bodies whose membership is open to all within the community. It must support and also foster local civic organization. But there are different views on this within the Alliance, and especially from within SANCO itself. It is important for the SACP to debate this question and come up with its own view. It is an urgent matter and an integral part of strengthening all of allied organizations.
It is no secret that our staunch ally, COSATU, has entered into a period of grave difficulty. Many of its current challenges are directly related to the unceasing capitalist offensive directed against it. We have already mentioned how monopoly capital has reacted offensively to the new democratic dispensation that has seen important statutory advances scored by the progressive trade union movement – the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and much more.
Monopoly capital has sought to hollow out these important advances through the massive restructuring of production and the working class – disinvestment, casualization, informalisation, mass retrenchments, labour brokering, the employment of desperate immigrants without legal status are all part of the arsenal launched against the progressive trade union movement. We have already noted that level of union density in the private sector actually dropped massively between 1997 and 2013.
But there have also been internal, subjective weaknesses – which are acknowledged by progressive unionists. Here, too, we find the dangers of incumbency. Increasingly, the organized formal sector, a relative minority, has benefited from a range of institutional forums that run the danger of weakening shop-floor organization. While union density in the private sector has dropped, there have been pockets of strong unionization in key sectors like mining and auto manufacturing. In these cases, the strategic offensive of capital has sometimes been less frontal, preferring, instead the pursuit of co-optive agendas. More seriously, the investment arms of COSATU affiliates and the leverage they often have over significant worker retirement funds have become the entry point for capitalist values and factional battles to insert themselves into union structures.
There are two principal, but deeply interrelated, challenges facing the workplace today. The first is that of ensuring that the legislation against labour brokering is realized on the ground, especially given the resistance by employers to this intervention. In other words, unions cannot simply abandon the struggle to roll back the neo-liberal restructuring of the workplace to governmental legislative interventions only. It is this attitude that has informed anti-government oppositionist tendencies among some within the trade union movement, with unions failing to take primary responsibility, through intensified shop-floor struggles, for driving the transformation of the workplace.
The second challenge is that of rebuilding the federation COSATU, including a comprehensive analysis of the challenges facing the trade union movement in general. We are currently faced with the growth of regressive and opportunistic tendencies inside the trade union movement, including within COSATU, in the wake of the neo-liberal restructuring of the workplace, the working class and the trade union movement. Some of these regressive tendencies include populism, the cult of the personality, confusing trade union independence with an oppositionist stance to the liberation movement and the government it leads. These regressive tendencies also include the identification of any and all of government as inherently the enemy of the working class. The regressive and workerist tendency is also characterized by a very narrow definition of ‘civil society’ as consisting of only overtly political and politicized social organisations and NGOs, whilst abandoning other sectors of ‘civil society’ that play important roles in the lives of working class communities, eg churches, stokvels, burial societies, township and village women’s faith based groups, co-operatives, music and other entertainment activities and cultural groups. Because all of the latter are seen as not overtly political they are not regarded as part of civil society, despite the fact that they play a crucial role in the daily lives of the workers and poor in our society.
It is in this context that the SACP should firmly support COSATU’s “back to basics” call, including:
- Re-focusing on shop-floor organization and service to members;
- Rebuilding worker control and internal democracy. Cults of personality and the use of union resources to advance personal political ambitions must be firmly dealt with.
- Ensuring the effective and responsible socialization of workers retirement funds and union investment arms. It is hugely problematic that, at a time of a monopoly capital investment strike, at a time when, for the majority of formal sector workers, affordable housing is out of reach, at a time when the working class suffers from exceedingly poor public transport – it is a scandal that billions of rands of workers’ retirement funds are controlled by well-paid capitalist investment managers (some associated or with close connections with parts of union leadership) with little regard for the long term interests of workers and their families.
While the SACP firmly supports the COSATU “back to basics” call, we must also collectively find innovative ways of organizing the mass of vulnerable workers in sectors like security, domestic work, and in agriculture. Here, in particular, the collective role of the Alliance becomes especially important – it is often easier to reach vulnerable sectors through community organization, and through ANC constituency offices, for instance.
In rebuilding COSATU we must clearly state several principles:
- We need a militant, independent COSATU – not a “labour desk”
- COSATU’s internal unity has been compromised in the recent past by factionalism based on supporting different slates within ANC internal electoral processes. This is a lesson for all of us – we must respect the independence of each of our Alliance formations. Members of COSATU affiliates are welcome to engage actively within internal ANC or SACP electoral processes insofar as they are active ANC or SACP members. But manipulation and interference from without undermines the unity of our own formations.
The SACP welcomes the release of the Farlam Commission Report
The SACP has welcomed the release of the Farlam Commission Report into the Marikana tragedy. The Report singles out for harsh criticism the evidence led by the Commissioner of Police and other police witnesses, as well as the poor tactical and strategic management of the situation by the Police. The SACP supports the recommendation that steps be taken to inquire into the fitness of the National Commissioner and the now retired Provincial Commissioner of the North West to hold office. We also welcome the recommendation that the Independent Police Investigation Directorate establishes whether any of the SAPS shooters exceeded the bounds of self-defence and whether criminal proceedings should be introduced.
We commend those from the media who were the first to expose evidence pointing to a second scene of police shooting on the day, out of sight of TV cameras, at the so-called second koppie.
The findings and recommendations of the Farlam Commission in these respects have generally been widely publicised and commented upon in the local media. But where the media has been exceedingly poor is in its coverage of other critical aspects of the Farlam Report that contradict the two dominant narratives that have characterised public debate and discussion on the Marikana tragedy.
Back in August 2012, and inconsistently since, one – basically capitalist, right-wing – story-line has attempted to simply reduce the tragedy to a case of intra-union rivalry – AMCU versus the National Union of Mineworkers. This is a re-play of the old apartheid-era “black on black” violence propaganda. It is a story of “mindless” blacks bashing each other. We reject it outright.
More insidious, however, is the story-line that has come from supposedly left quarters – among them academics like Peter Alexander and the film-maker Rehad Desai – who seek to portray the strikers as courageous proletarians taking on the combined might of the State, Lonmin and the National Union of Mineworkers. NUM members and shop-stewards become joint perpetrators of the massacre that was designed, we are told, “to protect mine property”.
In its findings, the Farlam Commission presents a very different perspective in this regard. It is a perspective which, in large measure, coincides with what the SACP has consistently advanced. So let us use this Congress to underline some of the key findings of the Commission that have been woefully neglected by the commercial media.
First, the Commission finds that the strike, which commenced on 9 August 2012, was from the outset characterised by high levels of intimidation and violence and quickly descended into a complete disregard for the rights and lives of non-strikers, with attacks on NUM members, officials and on the union itself. The Commission further finds that most of these attacks were perpetrated by a core group of the strikers, and it continued relentlessly both during and after the unprotected strike.
The Commission further found that on 11 August 2012, the strikers who marched on the NUM office at Western Platinum Mine did so with violent intent and armed with an array of dangerous weapons. In those circumstances, the Commission finds that the actions of the NUM officials and members in that office in hurriedly arming to protect themselves and their office cannot be criticised. This is a finding that is absolutely central to de-bunking the pseudo-left narrative that the shooting of two strikers at the NUM offices on the 11 August was the “game-changer” that suddenly introduced violence into an otherwise “normal” labour strike.
The pseudo-left narrative which has received widespread attention, including a global TV audience through Desai’s moving but deeply biased account, in effect, justifies anti-NUM violence. It turns a deliberate blind-eye on the murders, injuries and violence inflicted on NUM members not just before but, indeed, also long after August 16, 2012.
The violence and murders after August 16 2012 fell outside the scope of the Farlam Commission, so let us remember at least some of the victims today:
Dumisani Mthinti, NUM shop steward executed at the koppie on 11 September 2012
Daluwayo Bongo, NUM branch secretary, assassinated on 5 October 2012 before he could testify before the Commission
Mbulelo Nqetho, NUM shaft secretary, murdered on 3 June 2013
Ms. Nobongile Nora Madodo, NUM shop steward, murdered on 12 August 2013
‘Brown’ Willem Setelele, NUM branch chairperson assassinated on 17 October 2013, after testifying before the Commission
Percy Richard Letanang, NUM shaft steward, murdered on 2 November 2013.
The blind-eye turned to this ongoing violence by the pseudo-left narrative, and the delay in prosecuting the perpetrators of murder and violence while the Commission was underway, contributed to a sense of reckless impunity in some quarters in the Marikana area. Investigations and prosecutions must now be pursued without fear or favour, and without delay.
This is not to say that there are no hard lessons to be learned by NUM. The Farlam Commission criticised NUM’s local Marikana branch leadership for encouraging non-striking workers to go to the shafts in a situation that exposed them to death and injury. It was also critical of NUM’s local failure to alert Lonmin management of the wage demands being raised by the rock-drill operators, who at the time were still mostly their own members. The NUM local branch leadership fell into the trap of defending mechanically an existing negotiated settlement.
It is possible that these errors reflect broader structural challenges within NUM and we trust that the union is actively involved in introspection and self-correction. However, none of this remotely approaches criminality or anti-worker brutality on the part of NUM.
As for NUM’s stance on AMCU, we are encouraged by its principled position of not seeing AMCU, and particularly its membership, as the “enemy”. As a country and as unions we must unwaveringly condemn the public display and use of dangerous weapons in labour and social protest action. The pseudo-left narrative says that police violence against the strikers was to protect mine property from damage. But mine property was barely touched! It was scores of worker lives (including the lives of two policemen) that bore the brunt of the violence. While a degree of inter-union rivalry over membership might be inevitable, we call on AMCU and its members to work cooperatively in a common front of struggle against mining monopoly capital.
All of the mining houses are concealing profits through off-shoring, tax havens, transfer pricing and much more. Let us, together, expose this monopoly capitalist siphoning of billions of rands out of our economy, while they plead poverty.
The Farlam Commission criticises Lonmin mine management in many respects, but this line of inquiry could have been taken much further. The Commission also noted that the earlier unilateral wage increases granted by the neighbouring Impala Platinum mine impacted on Lonmin, raising expectations that substantial wage increases could be achieved through unprotected strike action, violence and intimidation. A key factor in the instability in the platinum sector is, in short, the absence of centralised bargaining in the sector. Centralised bargaining now becomes an important priority that must be won.
There are other critical factors that were at play in the Marikana tragedy. The nature of our migrant labour system remains a 19th century anachronism. Poor rural areas continue to be dependent on migrant labour remittances. The system cannot be abolished but it needs to be modernised – ensuring much shorter work cycles – so that family life is not compromised. The so-called “living out allowance” seldom enables contract workers to find formal accommodation. Squalid informal settlements have mushroomed all along the platinum belt and all kinds of negative social realities flourish – shack-lords, taxi-warlords, vigilante groups, and loan sharks. The indebtedness of many mine workers and illegal garnishee orders have contributed to a focus on demands for large wage increases.
Social transformation in mining towns and in impoverished rural labour sending areas is now a key priority. We call on government to redouble efforts underway on this front, and we demand that the mining companies contribute seriously as they are obliged to do in terms of their mining rights licences.
Never, never again must a tragedy of this kind occur on the soil of a democratic South Africa!
Building a progressive women’s movement
Two decades into a post-apartheid South Africa we encounter similar paradoxes when it comes to building a progressive women’s movement and the broader struggle against patriarchy. On the one hand, important progress has been made in terms of gender representivity in the higher echelons of government and in parliament and to some extent even in the private sector. On the other hand, all the indicators on poverty, employment and inequality show that women still bear the brunt of exclusion.
These persisting realities have been compounded by the increasing feminization of the labour force – a feminization that confines women, certainly in the private sector, to the most vulnerable and precarious work. Outsourcing, casualization, and labour brokering have also impacted disproportionately on women workers.
But faced with these developments the ANC Women’s League is possibly weaker than it has been in the past twenty years. It appears to be narrowly focused on slates and quotas, and succession debates, on an elite “game of thrones”, in the run-up to the ANC national elective conference still relatively far away in 2017.
Yet despite this over-involvement in the “politics of full-time politicians”, on the ground in working class communities and rural villages, it is women, more often than not, who are in the forefront of community development and regeneration initiatives and programmes. It is women who are most active in voluntary participation in home-based care and early childhood learning centres, or in participation in communal food-gardens, or in using social grant money to support productive and savings co-ops, or in active engagement in Community Work Programmes and other public employment programmes. In thousands of townships and rural villages it is women who are ensuring a degree of social cohesion and household sustainability often in the most trying circumstances.
It is also no accident that at the grass-roots level in the ANC, in the SACP, in the civic movement, we have seen a significant increase in women’s participation. Of especial note is that women are now in the majority of SACP members in our two largest provinces – KZN and Eastern Cape.
How do we ensure that our structures learn from and help to support the daily struggles of women? We need to think about more creative ways of strengthening women’s organisation where they are already active: in faith-based structures, in co-ops, in School Governing Bodies, etc, and not only focus on the organization of elite women. It is only women’s struggles from below that will also have a progressive impact on middle class and professional women.
We have therefore insisted that in all of our discussions, both in plenary and in commissions, we must discuss how to deepen the involvement of women in all our activities. What are the implications of this?
Women’s and gender struggles are not the same, though closely interlinked. The struggle to transform gender relations between women and men, is a struggle for both. But we cannot decisively take forward the struggle for transforming gender relations without the strong organisation of women. The SACP does not have a Women’s League, so how do we take forward the struggle of organising communist and working class women? Part of the answer to this must be that in all our campaigns we need to foreground women’s issues, and the manner in which women are affected or participate in particular campaigns, for example the position of women in the financial sector. Women’s struggles must not be ghettoised but must be mainstreamed into all of our campaigns. Gender implications must be factored into all of our discussions at this Congress and beyond.
The SACP has a particular responsibililty to organise working class women as part of the main forces in the struggle for socialism.
Mobilising the Youth
The youth of today is more informed, generally better educated, and more connected than ever before. In many ways, they have been the direct beneficiaries of a liberated society. However, their legitimate hopes and aspirations and their youthful energy are often blunted by the realities of our society – and in particular by exceedingly high youth unemployment and lack of opportunities.
It was a serious setback that the ANC Youth League became embroiled in a “game of thrones” politics. Under the woeful leadership of Julius Malema, in particular, negative tendencies that had been at work for some while flourished like noxious weeds. Sponsored by all manner of lumpen-capitalists, after the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane National Conference, the erstwhile leadership clique within the Youth League imagined themselves, and proclaimed themselves to be, “king makers”. Pursuing self-enrichment they bankrupted the League and turned it into personalized factions.
We call on young communists in particular to continue playing an active and constructive role in the relaunching of the ANC Youth League at a time when a militant but disciplined ANC youth formation is more necessary than ever before. Our youth formations need to focus and mobilise outwards, engaging with the pressing challenges facing their sector. We have no doubt this is the same fate awaiting the EFF.
In the context of the crisis levels of youth unemployment and alienation, last week’s Alliance Summit recommended that we take forward the debate on the introduction of a National Youth Service. The Summit noted that: “An expanded, multi-sectoral youth service can be an important means for providing training and life skills and for countering social alienation, manifesting as gangsterism and drug and alcohol abuse.”
This idea was in fact pioneered by the Young Communist League of SA. We call on the YCLSA to continue playing its youth vanguard role – without arrogance, but in a militant, and non-sectarian manner. It is critical to build a powerful Progressive Youth Alliance to develop joint programmes of mobilisation of youth on campuses, in schools, villages, towns and cities. In this context we wish to urge the YCL to deepen its campaigns, including its making education fashionable campaign, its war on illiteracy, and the Jobs for Youth Programme. Working with the PYA, we call upon the YCL to be in the forefront in the fight against crime, gangsterism, drugs and alcohol abuse in our communities.
It is essential that the SACP clearly spells out its role in concretely supporting the growth of a strong YCL at all levels, from the branch to the national level. Similarly, the YCL has a role in contributing towards a stronger SACP. Our Party structures also need to move closer to the YCL, and seek to guide it and develop a healthy rather than a competitive relationship. This is important, given that some of the people factionalising our movement are, in some provinces, seeking to buy the YCL and position it against the SACP and its leadership, something that was evident at the YCL’s last National Congress.
A number of COSATU affiliates have established youth desks, with a particular focus on organizing and educating young workers in their own sectors. The YCL must work closely with these union youth desks, and also seek to recruit more young workers both into its ranks and into the SACP.
Although we would like to have a campaigning YCL, it is imperative at the same time that the YCL, working together with the SACP, continues to have a strong and increased focus on political education, including grounding its members in Marxist-Leninist theory in general and in our South African context. The YCL must also elevate the importance of theory and theoretical development of its cadres.
The organizational challenges confronting the SACP
This Special National Congress has two discussion documents on Party Building and we will not repeat their perspectives here. However, there are several basic points that bear emphasizing.
In the first place, we need to bear in mind that the SACP is itself not immune to the dangers of factionalism, incumbency, careerism and money politics. We believe that the relative stability and ideological coherence of the SACP is an indication that we are, however, less affected than our alliance partners. This was a point that was, in fact, implicitly conceded by these partners at last week’s Alliance Summit.
In the second place, we must affirm that the second radical phase of the NDR, which, as we have argued, must assume a much stronger anti-imperialist and anti-monopoly capital character, requires the ongoing building of a vanguard Party of socialism that is rooted amongst the workers and the poor.
In the third place, we need to understand that the formally employed and unionized working class in our society is much smaller than the wider working class – both the active and reserve industrial labour army. Interestingly, the largest component of SACP membership is either unemployed or underemployed. This is both understandable and an organizational challenge.
The Declaration of the Alliance Summit is an important document that we must translate into a living campaigning document to build a stronger alliance. We know that all factionalists, tenderpreneurs and all other regressive tendencies, that the declaration refers to, will now seek to undermine the Summit resolutions and the envisaged role of the Alliance Council in implementing these resolutions into a programme of action. It is always the case that divisive elements thrive when the Alliance and broader movement are not united. In fact factionalists tend to attack the Alliance as a platform through which they seek to capture our movement for their narrow and selfish interests.
The SACP is an independent party, and we must at all times seek to protect this independence. The SACP must also always seek to have its own independent presence amongst the workers and the poor of our country, whilst remaining part of the Alliance. Our perspectives about the continued relevance and validity of the national democratic revolution have led us to support the ANC as the leading electoral formation within our Alliance. Under different historical circumstances this may not always be the case.
However, as the Central Committee we are aware that a number of our structures at provincial and district levels are being heavily frustrated by some forces within ANC structures, and the worst of these are in the Mpumalanga province. Sometimes, as a result of these frustrations and a dysfunctional alliance, some of our comrades call for the SACP to go it alone in the elections, especially starting at local government levels. The SACP cannot just easily dismiss these valid concerns. But at the same time we cannot walk away from our Alliance just because of these irritations. It is also important to make it clear that it is unacceptable for opportunistic elements, riding on their control of the structures of the ANC, in many instances for accumulation interests, to destabilize our Alliance. The SACP needs to play closer attention in dealing with these matters frontally and boldly. Hence the necessity for the SACP to be in the forefront of initiating and driving Alliance campaigns. Where this is not possible, the SACP itself must mobilise communities, as we have done through our Red October campaign. We must increasingly use these to build active communities that drive development in their own areas.
One of the most critical roles of a vanguard Party of socialism in our current conjuncture lies in the battle of ideas.
Class struggles and the battle of ideas
In the party political and public discourse domains the principal ideological challenge to our movement comes from what the SACP has characterized as a “pseudo-liberal anti-majoritarianism”. This is, basically, neo-liberalism adapted to South African conditions. The main party political proponent of this ideology is the Democratic Alliance, although it is much broader than the DA.
In the recent period, there has been a growing confidence and arrogance from these anti-majoritarian quarters, that is quickly mutating into full-blown regime change ambitions. This ideological position does not present its preferred neo-liberal policies for overt public debate, but rather conceals its underlying policy agenda in an Afro-pessimistic discourse about corruption, maladministration and incompetence. South Africa is constantly portrayed as always-already at five minutes to midnight, always on the brink of meltdown into “failed state-hood”.
The SACP was the first organization to identify and properly characterize this anti-majoritarian pseudo-liberal offensive whose aim, using mainstream media, is to discredit and delegitimize the democratic government as genetically corrupt, wasteful and indifferent to the needs of the overwhelming majority of our people.
However, the anti-majoritarian agenda is also able to exploit our own weaknesses and mistakes. The struggle against corruption and factionalism within our movement is, therefore, also a critical pillar of the struggle against neo-liberalism. And the same applies to the critical task of strengthening and consolidating a capable, strategically disciplined developmental state and people-centred public service.
Many of our state institutions in the criminal justice sector, for instance, are in a state of flux, with some exhibiting serious weaknesses. The Farlam Commission into the Marikana tragedy has correctly highlighted very serious weaknesses in the management and training of public order policing, for example.
The anti-majoritarian pseudo-liberal offensive also seeks to play off the judiciary against the democratically elected executive and parliament. In this they are sometimes abetted by the character, role and orientation of some within the judiciary – arguably the least transformed arm of the state.
Last week’s Alliance Summit specifically took note of these tendencies. It discussed, for instance, a widely reported lecture given by the Deputy Chief Justice while in the United States, advancing an agenda for the courts that neither derives from the spirit of our constitution or the political settlement reached in the early 1990s. The judiciary is both an arm of the state but also a terrain of ideological struggle. After all, the cumulative impact of its judgments forms an important part of the ideological outlook of any society. This posture by sections of the judiciary needs to be subjected to serious reflection and open political discussion as it runs the danger of undoing our constitutional democracy through judicial over-reach that undermines the principles of majority rule and the separation of powers.
The anti-majoritarian liberal offensive is paradoxically reinforced from the apparent opposite end of the ideological spectrum by an array of social movement, anti-state ideological currents rooted in various strands of syndicalism, workerism, and an increasingly demagogic populism. One of the current hall-marks of these diverse oppositional currents is a chronic recourse to the courts. The leadership clique in NUMSA, for instance, criticizes the present democratic state as the “executive committee” of the bourgeoisie, and yet it constantly runs to the least transformed part of the state – the courts – in order to address what are, essentially, internal union organizational matters.
It is instructive that one of the plans by the NUMSA leadership clique, acting together with Vavi and the four unions not attending the COSATU CEC, is to apply for a section 77 action, not against the bosses, but against COSATU. In a recent strategy document from these quarters, they say, amongst other things, that “they may have to work with NACTU and FEDUSA, as well as present their section 77 demands so that they should be palatable to employers”. In these detailed plans the struggle against monopoly capital is absent. The objectives are all directed at dividing COSATU, the Alliance and government.
The EFF represents disparate sections of the disaffected youth flirting with anti-white sentiments, and ethnic favouritism, with a fixation on anti-ANC mobilization. It is essentially an embryonic neo-fascist movement that walks to the left and the right at the same time. This six percent party openly boasts of its regime change aspirations. It plays a dangerous wrecking-ball game with little understanding of how the constitutional settlement of the early 1990s rescued our country from a prolonged civil war. It is important that the YCL, together with the rest of the Progressive Youth Alliance, tackles the EFF – ontanga benu laba!
The battle of ideas cannot be separated from the struggle over the critical material platforms for the propagation of ideas. In this context, the battle of ideas is also about the urgent necessity of meaningful transformation of media, including the public broadcaster. This remains one of the most important arenas of struggle, both inside and outside the state, that the SACP and the working class need to take up energetically. It seems as if the progressive forces have allowed themselves to be intimidated by the anti-majoritarian liberal offensive as well as the media in defending its narrow and often racist and anti-democratic posture. At this point in time, it is the SACP that is best placed to lead this struggle for the transformation of the media as part of the broader ideological struggle and the battle of ideas.
The SACP Central Committee has been discussing the question of the media transformation quite extensively since our Congress. The Central Committee has decided to convene a media transformation summit, that will include our allies as well as other progressive forces who have an interest in a de-monopolised and transformed media in our country. This summit must focus on, amongst other things, the necessity and urgency of the transformation of the media - changing ownership patterns, especially tackling monopolies, with Naspers as an urgent priority; aggressive promotion of diversification to expand and protect genuine community media, including paying close attention to funding of this project; reclaiming the SABC and undoing the scandalous SABC-MultiChoice deal. We need to ensure that accelerated media transformation, as mooted by government, is not designed for, and captured by, a narrow BEE agenda, most of which is often nothing but a front for established monopoly media interests. This Special National Congress must further reflect and take concrete resolutions on these matters.
The SACP, and indeed our movement as a whole, has not paid adequate attention to academia as a crucial site for the production and reproduction of ideas in society. As a result there is a very small layer of professors and other academics who are inspired to research and constructively engage with the theoretical and ideological perspectives associated with the SACP and our movement broadly. We wish to urge the YCL, and the rest of the Progressive Youth Alliance, to make use of the expanding opportunities for post-graduate studies and junior academic posts to enter academia in all fields. In addition to this, the SACP itself must establish its own branches in all our universities and campuses, so at to organize especially workers and academic staff into its own ranks.
Communist cadres to the front to drive a second, more radical phase of the NDR
The central theme of this Special National Congress is the imperative of uniting the working class, our communities, and our movement. But a progressive unity can only be achieved on the basis of mobilisation and organization around a shared programme of action.
We have argued that in our current global and national reality, such a programme must be anti-imperialist and anti-monopoly capital in character. It is on this basis that we must seek to unite the working class – the employed, the under-employed, and the unemployed. It is a programme of action that must take up the struggles of the working class at the point of production and in communities – in townships, informal settlements, and rural villages and homesteads.
It must be a struggle for the increasing de-commodification of all basic social needs – health care, housing, public transport, education, adequate nutrition and a healthy and sustainable environment.
It is a struggle that must constantly seek to unite the widest range of progressive, social forces against, for instance, the cut-throat mashonisas, against illegal garnishee orders, against crime and corruption in our local communities.
In our rural areas, despite some uneven progress, there has been a failure to carry forward an accelerated land reform programme that ensures sustainable rural livelihoods. Land reform and restitution has been piece-meal with little support for emerging farmers by way of funding, veterinary services, and infrastructure. We must vigorously oppose the agenda of the DA (and others) to commodify land currently held under communal land tenure. Land reform based simply on private and alienable land ownership will result in a rapid impoverishment of the majority of rural households, as they sell-up and lose what little access to land they currently possess. We need to support government efforts in this regard, in order to give it the necessary muscle of the masses.
These shop-floor, community and rural struggles must be linked to the wider struggles and campaigns that have been prioritized in particular by the fourth and current fifth ANC-led democratic administrations. The consolidation of a strong and strategically disciplined developmental state is critical. This includes the defence and consolidation of strategic state owned enterprises. In particular, we need to ensure that the current challenges within Eskom do not become the excuse for a neo-liberal hollowing out and privatization of this critical SOC. Eskom, the SACP has consistently asserted, must remain at the centre of both electricity generation and transmission.
The battle to build a competent, democratic, developmental state in South Africa is critical for the tasks of overcoming our historical path dependency as a semi-peripheral economy subordinate to the imperialist centres. Key state-led programmes include the struggle to re-industrialise on the basis of our state-led Industrial Programme Action Plans. Re-industrialisation must be linked to beneficiation, that is, it must be based on our critical competitive advantage – namely the abundant mineral resources beneath our soil. Re-industrialisation can be (and is being) further driven through deliberate, state-led procurement policies emphasizing localisaiton, and through the trillion rand public investment in the national infrastructure plan.
In order to achieve all of the above we need an even stronger, activist and campaigning alliance beyond just election campaigns.
All of these interventions are part and parcel of a second radical phase of the NDR in which we seek to defend, advance and consolidate national sovereignty – that is, the capacity to pursue our own sovereign national path of development. But we cannot succeed in this, unless we also actively contribute to the balanced development and cooperative industrialization of our region and continent. We also need to build South-South cooperation through an array of institutions and alignments, including the important BRICS formation.
Over and above this, part of South-South co-operation must incorporate strengthening our solidarity with the peoples of Swaziland, Western Sahara, Palestine and Cuba. Let us also use this Congress to celebrate the victory of the resilience of the Cuban Revolution and international solidarity in the release of the Cuban 5 heroes and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Let us now not lower our guard but intensify solidarity with Cuba for the lifting of the illegal blockade by the US.
However, none of these endeavours will succeed unless the democratic state is reinforced by democratic popular power. Surely it cannot be that we succumb to the neo-liberal, anti-majoritarian agenda. It cannot be that the ANC (and its allies) win elections but we allow the pseudo-liberals and the media, using the courts, to govern! We must confront this frontally, and this Congress must assist in formulating a proper strategy in this regard.
In all of these fronts of struggle, South African communists are actively at work. Let us use this Special National Congress as a critical forum to share our collective experiences, to reinforce our organisations and our work.
Communists Cadres to the Front! Let us unite the working class, our communities and our movement in Action.
Let us drive a second radical phase of the national democratic revolution!
Issued by the SACP, July 8 2015