The Vanguard Role of the SACP: 98th founding anniversary lecture
Delivered by Cde Jeremy Cronin, SACP Central Committee and Political Bureau member, Cape Town, Saturday 27 July 2019
On the occasion of the 98th anniversary of our Party and in the present very complex South African situation, it is entirely appropriate that we ask the question – What is the vanguard role of the SACP? We should answer that question not just in general terms, but in the concrete reality of our present situation.
Before entering into a more theoretical intervention on the vanguard role of the SACP in the current situation with the airwaves burning with debates about the Public Protector, and party funding, and state capture, and allegations of 30-year conspiracies against Jacob Zuma by the CIA, the MI5 and the apartheid-era spies, let me begin with a mundane, but typical snap-shot from the daily life of working class South Africans. It’s a typical experience told to me this past week.
Mrs N’s Story
Mrs N has turned 60. On Thursday, she went to the SASSA offices in Gugulethu to apply for an old-age pension. She lives in Heideveld, so the taxi-fare was a relatively modest R10. But R10 is R10. Arriving early, she found a long queue outside. Although it was rainy, fortunately there was a roof along the outside passage-way that provided some shelter. But there was no seating. She enquired where she should stand for a pension application. She was told that there was only one queue for all SASSA matters whether pension applications, or for lost cards, or for child support grants, or disability applications. She was told that once inside, she would be directed to the correct counter. Along with 80-year olds and disability applicants on crutches, she stood in line for three-and-a-half hours before getting into the office building. There a SASSA queue manager told her: “Come back next week. New pension applications are only handled on Mondays”.
Welcome to the post-apartheid public sector and its interface with working class citizens.
In recounting this experience, Mrs N compared it with what happens in a private bank (Capitec, in her case). As you enter, she told me, there is someone asking you what you need. The person checks whether you have all the required documents. They then direct you to the right counter. Mrs N is savvy enough to know that the bank takes her money, while hopefully sometime soon she will receive a pension from SASSA. Still, she wonders why the public sector treats her, and probably millions of others, with such careless disdain.
Let me pause here. I will come back to Mrs N right at the end of this intervention.
Writing in 1973, one of the great leaders of the Vietnamese revolution, Party GS (1960-1986), Le Duan, reflected on the new challenges confronting the Vietnamese Party now that it was in government. (“There is a big leap forward from the struggle to seize power to being a Party in power”.) In particular, his concern was with what he described as the dangers of “degeneration and backsliding” of cadres.
Le Duan approaches the challenge in a typically dialectical manner and on the basis of three elements – cadres, the Party line, and organisation. Cadres, he writes, are both a cause and an effect. It is cadres who, collectively, help to develop the Party line, but they are also the product of that line.
“A wrong line will take cadres away from a correct direction, throw confusion into their ranks, and push numbers of them into wrongdoing …a wise political line is the pre-condition for the existence of good cadres. It is quite impossible to have good cadres if the line is wrong.”
A similar relationship applies to organisation and the line – the appropriate organisational character of a vanguard Party, or a broad movement, is not a timeless matter, but depends on the correct line for a given conjuncture. Likewise, the development of effective cadres is dependent on the appropriate organisation.
“Wherever the Party branch and committee are rickety, the Party members and cadres find their fighting strength reduced and are prone to degeneration and backsliding. Party cadres and members are at the same time the effect and the cause. However, even if this or that individual [think Magashule] is the cause of the shakiness of the organisation, the question still remains essentially a question of organisation (…) That is why, in any case, we must proceed from organisation to examine and resolve the question…That is the principled method of work.”
Le Duan is writing in a very different time in which the victory of the Vietnamese people against French colonialism, US imperialism, and local reaction, seemed to herald the unstoppable forward advance of radical national liberation movements (including our own) paving the way for direct if complex advances into socialism.
Our situation and our global conjuncture in 2019 are quite different. Nevertheless, I believe Le Duan’s rich dialectical understanding of the inter-relationship between cadre development (and/or degeneration), the Party line, and organisation provides a very valuable approach to understanding our own current tasks and challenges.
So, what is the vanguard role of the SACP in South Africa in 2019?
The Party and the National Democratic Struggle
Since at least the late 1920s, the Party has appreciated programmatically (with varying degrees of clarity) that the role of the Party needs to be understood in the context of a struggle for the liberation of the nationally oppressed black majority. Which is to say, that the Party’s role cannot be divorced also from the organisational and ideological challenges of building and sustaining not just a vanguard socialist party, but also a broad national movement.
As we address the question of the Party’s role in the present we need to ask: Do we have a broad national movement? If so, what is its state and capacity?
In late June at a campus-based event in Johannesburg, Jacob Zuma was the key-note speaker. His theme was the role of the ANC Youth League in the present. Zuma used the occasion, according to a City Press report, to urge the ANCYL “to back a president who is willing to place the plight of ordinary South Africans first and not one who is more concerned about how the implementation of policies agreed upon in party conferences would affect investors.” No prizes for guessing against whom Zuma was rabble-rousing.
It is an open secret the Zuma aligned state-capture faction, as the key component of their desperate fightback campaign, is seeking to unseat Ramaphosa by portraying him as a president unwilling to implement supposedly cast-in-stone resolutions of the ANC’s national conference. “Expropriation without compensation” and “the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank” are among the booby-traps they have set in place. This, according to the faction, is the ANC’s “line”.
Although the state-capture faction presents these as policy, they have often become little more than territorial markers, like spray-painted gang tags on ghetto walls, based on resolutions forced through in highly disputed circumstances at the ANC’s December 2017 national conference. And yet they have a following. Even the Public Protector momentarily joined the gig, weighing in, far outside of her mandate, instructing Parliament to change the Constitution to allow for the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank. So how did these two largely peripheral issues in the broader scheme of things acquire such iconic, act-of-faith status?
Part of the answer lies, of course, in the legitimate sense of popular anger and frustration out there at persisting levels of poverty and unemployment. Simplistic slogans that can be pinned to a hash-tag become rallying points, offering instant, if deceptive, hope.
But how could this happen organisationally? And here a further part of the answer lies in the unresolved organisational character of the ANC. At least since 1994, the ANC has been wrestling with the question of what kind of organisation it should be. A liberation movement? A political party? Something in between?
The ANC as a mass movement
It was only in the late-1940s and the subsequent decade that the ANC really acquired a mass character and assumed leadership of a still wider movement, the Congress Alliance.
Things changed dramatically with the banning of the ANC (and PAC) in 1960 and the subsequent turn to an armed struggle. The switch from a broad movement to clandestine action was, of course, not easy. Tens of thousands of publicly exposed ANC members and supporters were rounded up by the apartheid regime through the 1960s. The organisation was badly disrupted.
In the 1970s the ANC re-grouped mostly in exile, with considerable help from its ally the SACP. The bulk of its several thousand strong exiled membership was in the armed wing, uMkohonto weSizwe (MK). Apart from soldiers there were also administrators and diplomats. Even in exile strict discipline and clandestine methods of operation were essential. To all intents the ANC became a cadre-party of “professional revolutionaries”, both in exile and in the tenuous underground units within the country. In these circumstances, partly under the influence of its SACP ally and partly out of sheer survival necessity, the ANC adopted a Leninist-style “democratic centralist” code of discipline and organisation.
In this period the ANC still regarded itself, correctly in my view, as a movement, a national liberation movement – distinguishing its relatively small cadre from its undoubted and growing mass support at home.
With the launch of the UDF in 1983, this mass support found expression in an organisational shape that, more properly speaking, could be described as a movement. (It was a development, by the way, that was strongly influenced by an ANC-leadership visit to Vietnam and engagement with comrades that side). The UDF, as such, was not a membership organisation or political party.
There were no UDF branches, for instance. It was a broad and sometimes fractious front of student, women, rural, civic, worker and faith-based organisations pursuing their local and sectoral struggles and developing organically policy perspectives related to these struggles. There was no attempt to develop or force through detailed UDF policy (nationalising the Reserve Bank, for instance) on its sprawling affiliated formations. There was general support for the Freedom Charter and unity was forged around specific campaigns – opposition to the tricameral parliament and black local authority elections, for instance.
With the unbanning of the ANC in 1990 and the return of exiles new challenges emerged. What organisational form should the now legal ANC assume? In much of the commentary about the ANC of this period a sharp distinction gets made between the returning exiles and the so-called “inziles”. While the distinction is often over-drawn, there is some truth in it.
Many returning exiles, with Mbeki a key personality (but Hani an important exception), favoured a modernising, managerialist, ready-to-govern ANC with a leading cadre of professionals modelled somewhat on their exile experience. They favoured the winding down of the UDF and the absorption of its diverse sectoral and locally-based affiliates into the ANC and ANC-aligned centralised membership organisations – the ANCYL, the ANCWL and SANCO. On the other hand, many, not all, of those emerging from the mass democratic movement sought to retain the more localised, participatory, social movement character of struggle.
Part of the debates over direction and organisational culture came to a head, at least by proxy, at the ANC’s first post-unbanning national conference in 1991. It was personalised around who would be elected deputy president – Mbeki or Hani? Faced with the prospect of a divisive contest, the problem was solved by getting the two leading candidates not to contest, persuading a reluctant Walter Sisulu to assume the deputy presidency of the ANC. Which is to say, the problem was not solved, merely displaced.
Fast-forward to the present. The ANC is striving to achieve the impossible, to simultaneously be a mass membership formation with some 700,000 loosely recruited members and a vanguard party of cadres. These aspirations collide against each other in the actual reality on the ground. Since at least Kgalema Motlanthe’s time as ANC secretary general, ANC conferences have repeatedly raised concern about an internal culture of factionalism, money-politics, gate-keeping, manipulation of membership lists, and corruption.
The imperative of organisational renewal has become a mantra, but most solutions focus on transforming a membership of hundreds of thousands into “disciplined cadres”, through improving membership morality, better political education, and re-reading the booklet, “Through the Eye of the Needle”.
These worthy pedagogical aspirations collide with the actual politics that branch-level members all too often are schooled in, the politics of factional lists and the pursuit of tenders. We now know (thanks to the otherwise disgraceful Public Protector’s report) that hundreds of millions of Rands were spent on ONE of the 2017 ANC presidential candidate’s campaigns. No doubt the NDZ campaign had an even larger war-chest.
How does “Through the Eye of the Needle” relate to this massive spending? It is like a feather in a whirl-wind.
Democratic centralism that had once served as a survival code has degenerated into demagogic authoritarianism. And so, with Ramaphosa no doubt in his sights, Ace Mageshule can say: “when you belong to an organisation you have no mind of yours. You must speak the collective positions and objectives of this organisation.” (Sunday Times, 31 May 2019).
Moneyed factionalism has now captured the notion of “democratic centralism” for its own purposes, so that Jacob Zuma and Ace Mageshule (who are way off the Richter scale on Le Duan’s measure for degenerate cadres) can piously invoke organisational discipline as part of their fightback agenda to unseat president Ramaphosa and to discredit honest comrades like Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom.
How did the ANC end up in such dire straits?
As Le Duan might say: Zuma and Magashule are both cause and effect. To understand degenerate cadres we need to understand the two other elements at play – organisation and the strategic line.
The role of Mbeki
In April 1995, on the occasion of the first anniversary of South Africa’s breakthrough democratic election, then deputy president of the republic Thabo Mbeki gave an interview to The Star. In the course of this since forgotten interview, he was asked an inevitable question: How long do you think the ANC alliance will last?
Mbeki didn’t answer that question directly, at least not what was clearly intended by the question – namely, how long will the ANC’s alliance with the SACP endure? Instead, Mbeki spoke about the ANC itself. He said that as South Africa’s new democracy “normalised”, he expected that the ANC would naturally evolve into its component parts, a liberal centrist party, a social democratic party, and so forth. (He didn’t even bother to acknowledge the existence of the SACP). It was not clear how soon he thought this would happen, but it was implied it might be relatively early, or perhaps by the time of the 1999 elections, or shortly thereafter.
In 1995 Mbeki’s vision of the ANC was narrowly electoralist. In the past, the ANC had often described itself as “the parliament of the people”. In Mbeki’s 1995 perception, the ANC would therefore from within itself give birth to an assumed “typical” bourgeois liberal “multi-party” parliamentary arrangement.
If most of us have forgotten it by now, Mbeki himself appeared to have erased the interview from his mind just four years after having given it. Or perhaps he was remembering it with some discomfort in November 1999. Either way, speaking now as the elected president of the republic to the annual national conference of the Black Management Forum in that year, he told his audience: “The distinguished delegates will remember that at some point during the life of our first democratic government, there was much ado about when the ANC might transform itself from a liberation movement into a party.”
Then, with a characteristic sarcastic turn, he proceeded: “As so often happens in our country, because this seemed to be a clever thought, it became somewhat of a fad that each time anyone of us appeared in public, the clever people, or those who thought they were clever, would ask – when will you transform yourselves into a party! (…) Frankly, I still do not understand both why the clever people thought they should pose this question and what, in any case, the question means.”
(Jacob Zuma wasn’t the first to scornfully refer to “the clevers”.)
But the context in which Mbeki advanced his renewed commitment in 1999 to the ANC as a “movement” and not several electoral parties in gestation, is telling. This is how he argued:
“Because racism lives, the struggle continues!” [Note – he is now portraying the struggle as a struggle against “racism”, and not a system]. “Because of that, the ANC must remain what it has been for many decades, a movement for the elimination of the legacy of the system of racism…A critical part of that project (…) is the deracialisation of the ownership of productive property...As part of the realisation of the aim to eradicate racism in our country, we must strive to create and strengthen a black capitalist class.”
This might at first bear a passing resemblance to the reform process unleashed in the late-1970s in China by Deng Xio Ping which, amongst other things, led to the development of a patriotic bourgeoisie under the tight discipline of the CPC – a national bourgeoisie that played a role in modernising the country, in developing the forces of production, in producing an Alibaba and a Jack Ma, or another technological giant, Huawei.
But this wasn’t Mbeki’s vision at this point. It was simply a question of de-racialising existing wealth.
He went on:
“Because we come from among the black oppressed, many among us feel embarrassed to state this goal as nakedly as we should. Our lives are not made easier by those who, seeking to deny that poverty and wealth in our country continue to carry their racial hues, argue that wealth and income disparities among the black people themselves are as wide as disparities between black and white….I would like to urge, very strongly, that we abandon our embarrassment about the possibility of the emergence of successful and therefore prosperous black owners of productive property [we all remember Smuts Ngonyama’s notorious statement “I didn’t struggle to be poor”, but we all forget who urged precisely this kind of attitude] and think and act in a manner consistent with a realistic response to the real world. As part of our continuing struggle to wipe out the legacy of racism, we must work to ensure that there emerges a black bourgeoisie whose presence within our economy and society will be part of the process of the deracialisation of the economy and society.”
And then, in the conclusion to his speech, he turned to a significant member of the audience.
“I am glad to see Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa here today and look forward to hearing what he will say. Earlier this year, before the elections we agreed that we would meet – government and black business to assess the whole project of black economic empowerment and try to find ways to move forward in a meaningful fashion. The work that he and his colleagues are doing, about which he will speak this morning, is critical to that assessment, which must also seek to answer the question – how do we promote the formation of a black bourgeoisie which will itself be committed and contribute to black economic empowerment, broadly understood?”
Four things are to be noted:
1. Mbeki is reducing the NDR to a struggle against “racism” or a “racist system” – without explaining the inter-linkages between the particular path-dependency and character of South Africa’s capitalist political economy and national oppression. So, for him, the struggle has simply become a struggle to “de-racialise” the existing structure, not the transformation of that structure. He presents this as “a realistic response to the real world”, as opposed, presumably to the straw-man of “socialist fantasies” (or, as he put it in this speech, the view that “the issue of the disparity in wealth [in SA] is purely a class question.”) [who has ever argued that??].
2. He clearly believes that there could be such a thing as a stand-alone “black capitalist class” in SA.
3. Clearly, Mbeki’s about-turn in arguing that the ANC should be a “movement” is clearly now linked to the project of “creating a black capitalist class”, and
4. The appropriate organisational form in which to advance this strategic line, is the ANC as a “movement” – providing the bridge between the “state” and “black business”.
This “movement” is also the form in which peace is to be made with Mbeki’s political rival – Cyril Ramaphosa. Having been displaced from having a shot at the ANC and country’s presidency, Mbeki (speaking as government) is now offering Ramaphosa (as black business) an olive branch, as well as a task. Please tell us how the promotion of a so-called “black capitalist class” will also promote “black economic empowerment, broadly understood.” [Mbeki doesn’t himself provide an answer to this absolutely critical question – it is an answer, which I suggest, we are all still waiting for.]
To revert to Le Duan.
What we see here is the announcement of a new party political strategic line: the promotion of a “black capitalist class” as a key component of the NDR.
As Le Duan would have predicted, this wrong Line and this distorted Organisational version of a movement, would inevitably produce a degenerate cadreship.
Back in 1973 Le Duan did note:
“Of course, in such situations there are always those who are alert enough to tell right from wrong and are able to defend the truth. But to bring the movement back on to the right path, the revolution must pay what is sometimes a very high price, including in terms of cadres, the most valuable asset of the revolution.”
I have dwelt on Mbeki’s November 1999 speech to the BMF because we can see here the origins of what was later to become the plague of state capture which now dominates our present reality.
The notion of “state capture” has acquired considerable currency in SA, and the Zondo Commission is explicitly a Commission of Inquiry into “State Capture”. The SACP has used the term and even played a leading role in popularising it, while clearly understanding that it was a short-hand term for popular use. We have also sometimes preferred to speak of “corporate capture of the state”. In either case, we have been referring to something relatively specific in the South African reality, and we have not been referring to the many different forms that capitalism and capitalist class interests seek to hegemonise, or actually hegemonise the state.
Some comrades in the SACP have questioned the validity of the idea of “state capture”, arguing that it is non-scientific and un-Marxist. We have never claimed that on its own the term is scientific or particularly Marxist – but we must be very careful that we don’t throw out the essence of the matter and end up playing into the agenda of those who, like Zuma, dismiss the notion in order to exonerate their own industrial-scale, parasitic looting of public resources.
We need to provide a Marxist analysis of the specific realities that are loosely referred to as “state capture”.
First, and this is an old debate within Marxism-Leninism, we need to guard against the danger of a vulgar “instrumentalism” that might adhere to the notion of “capturing the state”. The state, in its ever shifting dynamic configurations, is not simply a neutral instrument that can be wielded by one class or another, depending on who has a hand on the assumed “commanding levers” (whether by winning elections – what Lenin described as vulgar parliamentarianism, or through “seizure of power” – which is why Lenin sometimes spoke of “smashing” the bourgeois state – i.e. transforming the “instrument”.)
Particularly in a capitalist society with a parliamentary democracy, there are many class and factional interests that penetrate and interact within the state, with capitalist interests (with their own diversity) always likely to be dominant although not unchallenged. This is why the SACP over the past two decades has consistently spoken, not of “capturing state power”, but of transformational struggles to assert working class and popular HEGEMONY over all key sites of power, including a wide variety of state and broader public institutions and resources.
In South Africa, we suggest that we should NOT use the term “state capture” to refer to all forms of capitalist-related corruption. For instance, the massive, industrial-scale fraud perpetrated in the Steinhoff saga must result in severe criminal punishment of those involved. But it is not helpful to collapse it into “state capture”.
We suggest that “state capture” in our context is best analysed and understood through the lens of what is, incontestably, a Marxist concept – “primitive accumulation”, and the relationship of “primitive accumulation” to the post-1994 ANC and state. In Capital Marx uses the concept of “primitive accumulation” to analyse how an emerging capitalist class acquired capital in the first place, prior to the actual development of surplus extraction from exploitative capitalist relations of production. Huge hordes of gold and silver plundered from the New World, land expropriation without compensation of an Irish and later English peasantry, and much more, constituted a primitive accumulation of wealth that resourced capitalism and a new capitalist class.
In South Africa post-1994, aspirant capitalist strata (without capital) acquired a degree of hegemony within the ANC and the state. Without going into too much detail here, schematically we can distinguish two varieties of primitive accumulation driven from within the ANC and state on behalf of these emergent aspirants:
BEE primitive accumulation
BEE primitive accumulation was an inherent part of the 1996 class project. In this version of primitive accumulation, state power is used to regulate (legally) and enforce BEE share-holding quotas in established corporations. The BEE share-holdings are typically “leveraged” – i.e. indebted, with repayment based on the assumption that accruing dividends over a period of five or so years will pay off the debt.
By 2010, Jenny Cargill estimated that BEE share-holders had acquired an estimated R500 billion, “far more…than in other key areas of socio-economic transformation, such as low-income housing and land redistribution.” Most of this R500 billion was not looted from the state or public entities but came largely from privately held (corporate) surplus that was diverted into indebted shares, rather than into job-creating productive investment or public assets and services.
In other words, although it was largely “legal”, it represented a clear class choice that was unfavourable to the working class and popular masses, and therefore to the majority of blacks (even though it was couched as black empowerment in general). Established monopoly capital with varying degrees of moaning, played along with this BEE primitive accumulation, seeing it as a better way of managing change without having to substantially change. The new BEE elite were quickly absorbed, usually as passive and junior partners, into the life-styles of the established capitalist class. The ethos of primitive accumulation filtered all the way down to branch level with petty accumulation for micro-entrepreneurs.
Steadily from the mid-1990s, the predominant reason for the existence of ANC organisational machinery shifted from popular struggle to a narrow electoralism, and then, in a further debasement, to winning elections in order to occupy office in order to reproduce and expand primitive accumulation.
The “state capture” version of primitive accumulation
First generation BEE was largely played out within the rules of the capitalist system in general. While non-market forces were used (state regulatory power), the empowerment followed the “rules” – BEE beneficiaries received indebted shares and were expected to repay the loan.
Generally, established monopoly capital played along with (and often actively promoted) this agenda and saw it as a key means to advance the interests of monopoly capital in general by stabilising capitalism in South Africa against radical threats.
However, for many reasons, this agenda proved unstable and unleashed many contradictions and rivalries within the ANC and new state institutions. Not all aspirant capitalist strata within the ANC could be accommodated within Mbeki’s inner BEE circle. What we describe loosely as “state capture”, is a second wave of accumulation using positions within the state. But this second wave no longer plays within the parameters of a “capitalist rule of law”. It involves direct looting (expropriation) of public resources (and particularly of key SOEs), aided and abetted by gangster/lumpen-capitalists (Brett Kebble, Agliotti, the Guptas, the Watsons, the EFF’s [funder] Mazzoti, etc.)
Moreover, it is no longer in the interests of capital, or monopoly capital in general – quite the opposite. While for the “state capture” networks, looting the likes of Eskom and Transnet into near-death experiences is their core business, established capital (and the broader South Africa community, not least the working class and poor) require functioning (mostly) publicly supplied energy and logistics systems.
This is why it has been possible (and essential) to build a multi-class patriotic front of forces that includes the working class against “state capture” in which beneficiaries of the first (BEE) wave of primitive accumulation have played a leading role (Sipho Pityana, but also Ramaphosa himself) along with mainstream monopoly capital (BUSA, BLSA, etc.)
This broad anti-state capture front – within which the SACP has played (and must continue to play) a sometimes leading role – has helped to unseat Zuma as president, and has helped to bring the country back from the constitutional and economic brink upon which we were teetering. But many dangers remain in the face of an increasingly desperate fightback campaign.
So where is the ANC in all of this?
Significant and factionalised parts of the ANC’s organisational machinery now constitute the most clear and present danger to our democracy, at this time. The state-capture faction has bled social property dry, notably through looting SOEs, a key potential for driving a national democratic revolution. They have perverted many of the key institutions set up to defend and deepen our democracy. They have plundered a key space for advancing a nation-building cultural revolution, namely the SABC.
They have allowed foreign wedding parties to arrive at national air-force bases, they have messed up SARS and its ability to deal with illegal imports that cost tens of thousands of South Africans jobs, and they have been active in billions of rand being exported into tax havens through illegal currency outflows. Instead of defending and deepening our capacity to advance national sovereignty – they have eroded it.
The counter-revolution is not located in some marginal white, ultra-right formation or in the CIA headquarters in Langley. It is inside of the ANC itself and, thanks to looting, it is relatively well-resourced.
In the face of this counter-revolution, the ANC is, at best, often flat-footed. At worst, it has become the counter-revolution’s HQ.
The Public Protector publishes outrageous findings, attacking President Ramaphosa, and the ANC is off-balance. The EFF targets Pravin Gordhan and the ANC is largely silent. The EFF (choir-boys for the state capture faction) go for Derek Hanekom (and Solly Mapaila), and leading ANC spokespersons join the choir.
In this situation, President Ramaphosa and those within the ANC who understand the need to support him, rely on a slim (and unreliable) majority within the Top 6, the NWC and NEC. Largely as a holding position, President Ramaphosa appeals for ANC unity in an organisation in a state of civil war. At the same time, and wisely, he bypasses the ANC in the hope that the slow-burn of the Zondo commission, the PIC commission, the SARS commission, and a reformed NPA and SARS will gradually isolate the worst offenders.
While all of this is playing itself out, it is noticeable that the SACP is the only large political party that has actively rallied together with a wide-range of social forces in the struggle against state capture and in defence of those leading this battle within government. Last weekend it was the SACP together with the Kathrada Foundation, Freedom Under Law, Corruption Watch, Section 27, the Helen Suzman Foundation and dozens more that held a packed mass meeting in the Johannesburg City Hall. Absent was the ANC. Absent was the DA, lost in its contradictory opportunism of simultaneously calling into question the Public Protector’s fitness to hold office, while using the very same Public Protector in an attempt to bring down Ramaphosa in the vain hope that Maimane will be the last man standing.
In short, the SACP has once more correctly stepped into the breach, as we did within the ANC’s parliamentary caucus in 2017 and early 2018, as we did in the run-up to the ANC’s NASREC national conference, as we did in working with the widest patriotic front of forces in the defence of democracy, constitutionality, non-racial nation-building, and national sovereignty.
But wait a moment. Wasn’t this meant to be the strategic vocation of the ANC, a broad church, multi-class movement, and not of a vanguard socialist SACP? The Party has had to step into this role because the ANC has largely gone missing-in-action. There can be no advance to socialism on the terrain of Ground Zero, in a South Africa plundered of its public resources – and so the Party’s strategic interventions are absolutely correct.
Collectively we have helped to pull the country back from the brink of total collapse. Progress is being made, not least through the Zondo and other commissions, in exposing the sheer scale of parasitic looting. This progress has also outed the EFF, removing its anti-corruption camouflage, revealing it for what it really is, as it seeks to defend Tom Moyane or a thoroughly discredited Public Protector.
But where is all of this going? Will the rolling back of the state capture faction simply return us to the failed 1996, neo-liberal project?
Mindful of these challenges, at our 2017 National Congress, the Party resolved that there was a double task confronting us – with organisational implications: we need both to help foster a broad patriotic front in defence of democracy, constitutionalism and nation building AND we need a Left Popular Front (or Fronts).
And here, all of the questions we have posed of the ANC, using Le Duan as inspiration, come back to us as the SACP.
Do we have the correct strategic line? Do we have the appropriate organisational machinery and resources to carry forward the strategic line? With 300,000 members can we describe ourselves still as a vanguard Party of cadres? As our NDR wobbles and our country staggers on the brink, has the SACP been overly pre-occupied with a narrow parliamentary electoralism?
Has the Party’s necessary (as I have argued) activism within the “palace politics” of ANC and Alliance politics, detracted from our socialist vanguard tasks? Or from an active and campaigning presence amongst the working class and poor?
I have my own views on these matters. It is not my intention to advance them here in any detail – but I hope that at least the input helps to provoke further collective discussion.
But, in conclusion, let us return, as promised to Mrs N. She will be going back to the SASSA offices in Gugulethu on Monday.
Le Duan tells us that a defining feature of a cadre is “close contact with the masses”, learning from their struggles, and infusing their struggles with a sense of purpose and organisation. For many years the SACP has identified the Know Your Neighbourhood as a key party campaign. There are Party branches in Gugulethu. Do they know what is going on in the SASSA queue? Is the staff at the SASSA offices unionised? Is it not possible to suggest that some basic queue management would be a good thing and a small revolutionary act in its own right?
How do we expect the working class to defeat capitalism if they are stuck in queues?
I am not criticising Gugulethu SACP branches, I am asking self-critical questions collectively of ourselves.
Let us honour 98 years of unbroken revolutionary Communist Party struggle in South Africa by never tiring of asking critical and self-critical questions.
Issued by the SACP (via Umsebenzi Online), 29 July 2019