The ANC's 52nd National Conference held in Polokwane in December has indeed come and gone. It was in many ways a truly historic conference. Apart from demonstrating the best of the ANC's democratic traditions in practice, it also was marked by a radical change in its leadership and adopted many progressive policies recommended by its mid-2007 policy conference.
To the SACP, the Polokwane conference has created new and fertile conditions for reinvigorating and indeed reconfiguring the Alliance, with resolutions and the new leadership committing itself to rebuild the Alliance. These were also strongly re-affirmed in the ANC NEC January 8 Statement, delivered by ANC President, Cde Jacob Zuma in Tshwane on 12 January 2008.
Opposition 'made in the shadow of the ANC'
The impact of the ANC conference has been felt throughout the 'body politic' of our country. Even almost forgotten leaders of some of the parliamentary political parties have been animated by this conference, whilst simultaneously trying to play down its enormous significance for our country. For instance, in the wake of the Polokwane conference, Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, seem to have more ideas on the direction the ANC must take than on how to revive his sinking political party.
Helen Zille, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, also seem to be wanting to define her newly assumed leadership role primarily in relation to what happens in the ANC, judging by her voluminous comments on the ANC. We have yet to hear about her vision for the DA, other than positioning this party to pick up some hoped-for crumbs from those who might be disillusioned by the new leadership of the ANC. Even more ridiculous is Zille's call for Cde Baleka Mbete to resign as Speaker of the National Assembly now that she is national chair of the ANC, whilst Zille herself is both DA leader and Mayor of Cape Town!
Unfortunately the behaviour of Holomisa and Zille are a reflection of the sorry state in which our parliamentary opposition is in - seeking to define their images and programmes primarily in relation to what is going on inside the ANC and the alliance it leads. The less said about them the more we are able to move our country forward. At the heart of all the fears by some of the opposition parties and the bourgeoisie and its ideologues are the many progressive policies adopted at Polokwane and the creation of a foundation for a more united Alliance.
Terrains of class and ideological struggles circa Polokwane
The run up to, including and after Polokwane has also been accompanied by some of the most intense ideological struggles - across the entire political spectrum - aimed at shaping both the outcomes and the kind of ANC that emerges after that Conference. In these ideological struggles, perhaps the biggest casualty has been the media, which not only misinformed the public about the true state of the ANC and its internal dynamics, but also hopelessly failed grasp the mood, the thinking and the feelings of ANC membership. Shame onto the fourth estate!
The main reason for such a failure was that mainstream media, including the public broadcaster, with very few exceptions, had largely positioned themselves in particular ways especially in relation to the democratic leadership elections in the ANC. They became victims of their own propaganda, a price you are bound to pay if you try and hide your ideological preferences behind the now fashionable cover of 'media freedom' or under claims of 'public interest'.
In fact it is almost unprecedented that the ANC leadership elected at Polokwane beat such odds, with the full might of the media mobilized against it, sections of the state organs playing dirty games to prevent a leadership change (e.g. the NPA announcing just days before conference that it is ready to charge Cde Zuma), millions of rands targeted at buying of delegates, and use of state patronage to try and change the minds of delegates. The SACP is emboldened by the fact that for ANC delegates to withstand all this demonstrates that in the ANC there is a majority core of its cadres that has stuck with the best of the values and traditions of our movement! The triumph over the attempted manipulation of the leadership elections as well as the actual decisions and resolutions of Conference are a clear indication of the resoluteness of ANC members to bring about a marked change in the functioning and outlook of the organization. For us this bodes well for our revolution and our alliance.
The bourgeoisie, supported by its ideologues in the mainstream media did all they could to try and find out what Cde Zuma's economic policies will be if elected President. Beneath this was an attempt to 'Americanise' the ANC (and indeed alliance) politics, by trying to elevate the leader above not just the organization, but its policies which had been openly and thoroughly debated at the ANC policy conference.
Related to the above offensive have been attempts to redefine relationship between the ANC and the state. The ANC was being daily, often patronisingly, reminded that as a ruling party it must operate above itself, above its own structures, including a president who must be above the ANC; conveniently forgetting that it is the ANC that won the elections. In our representative multi-party system, the Party that wins elections governs the country in terms of the policies it has put to the electorate, albeit governing on behalf of everybody. But Helen Zille, as part of this offensive to separate the 'ruling party from the ANC', patronizingly instructs President Mbeki to ignore the Polokwane resolutions! This in fact exposes some of the limitations of bourgeois type democracy such as we have; that the bourgeoisie itself is prone to subvert such a system if their own interests are threatened.
Even our detractors, ultra-left and rightist (some from within our ranks) tried hard to demonise especially the SACP and COSATU, falsely accusing us of having abandoned all our programmes, in support of particular candidates in the ANC. Yet over the last two years we have witnessed a surge of SACP and COSATU-led major working class struggles contesting the accumulation path under way in our country, including campaigns on public transport and public health. Interestingly these detractors, like their fellow travellers in the bourgeois media, completely ignored our 2007 Red October campaign, which reached out to thousands of workers, visits to scores of clinics and hospitals, and held more than a hundred of community and workers' forums throughout the country! There is not, and has never been, a contradiction between daily working class struggles and broader struggles over the direction of our national democratic revolution. The working class must be at the centre of all these broader struggles.
Strangely, like all detractors, it was them who were so consumed by being spectators to internal ANC politics (including the likes of Terry Bell and Sakhela Buhlungu), that they almost ceased writing about anything else other than the Polokwane conference, thus turning their attention away from these intensified working class struggles. Even where some of them did try to comment on these struggles, like in the case of the public sector strike last year, they sought to reduce these, especially the intensity of this strike, to a struggle in support of Cde Zuma. Even worse there were even some of those who once proclaimed themselves as working class leaders who allowed themselves to be co-opted onto this bandwagon of throwing insults at our working class formations and sadly without noticing that they were on the road to self-destruction.
Indeed it would be wrong to simply reduce the working class and our alliance to having been victims of this ideological barrage. Rather, the working class, through the struggle led by its formations, the SACP and COSATU, and its being part of the mainstream of the ANC, opened the bridgehead that led to the very welcome developments in the ANC at Polokwane. The working class took its ideological and mass offensive to where it mattered most, in the local and mass structures of our alliance, whilst not abandoning its independence and its own campaigns.
This ideological offensive has not and is not going to end with Polokwane. Already some of the bourgeois ideologues are now digging out the old apartheid 'rooi gevaar' tactic in the wake of the Polokwane conference. This is classically illustrated by that bourgeois ideologue, disguised as an 'independent' journalist, in a prototype apartheid-type argument written in a Weekender column of 12 January 2008:
"I WAS feeling rather benign about Jacob Zuma's victory as African National Congress (ANC) president until I saw just how dominant communists are in the ANC's top structures. Zuma's effort to woo business prior to his victory suggested only minor changes to economic policy. But the predominance of communists at the top changes everything".
After grossly distorting the SACP's perspectives on growth, development and redistribution, in true Tim Cohen fashion, he concludes his piece with what has become the 'signature tune' of all bourgeois ideologues and apologists, coined by Ferial Haffajee, that foremost apologist of liberal bourgeois thinking from the erstwhile left wing Mail & Guardian, "This is our future. Be afraid".
One wonders whose future is Cohen (or Hafejee) talking about, that of their ilk or that of the workers and the poor of our country? Polokwane and the January 8 rally of the ANC proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the workers and the poor of our country are indeed not afraid, but it is sections of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and their media apologists, that are actually afraid. But they try very hard, supposedly on behalf of millions of our people who never in any case read their newspapers, that it is the workers and the poor of our country who are afraid. This is our future, we are NOT afraid! Instead we warmly welcome the Polokwane outcomes.
Part of the post-Polokwane class and ideological offensive now includes a very systematic ideological mobilization of public opinion, both inside and outside our broader alliance, including disgruntled elements within our own movement, to try and discredit the newly elected ANC leadership, together with the castigation of its Alliance leadership.
Our way forward: Intensify the mass mobilization of the workers and the poor
It would be a serious mistake for the working class to allow its agenda to be set by reacting to the ideological offensive of (and blackmail by) the parliamentary opposition parties, the bourgeoisie and its media ideologues. Indeed part of this ideological offensive is to distract the Alliance from its programme of the revolutionary transformation of South African society.
Just like the working class did in the run up to the Polokwane conference, our task is that of intensifying mass mobilization of the overwhelming majority of our people to create jobs, eradicate poverty and fight the HIV/AIDS scourge. It is indeed a struggle for the victory of the people's will over the corrupting influence of capitalist money and patronage!
Interestingly the programmes emerging from COSATU's 9th Congress, the SACP's 12th Congress and the ANC's 52nd National Conference all converge around a singular commitment - that of building working class and people's power to drive a developmental agenda for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of our people. At a practical level the 52nd ANC Conference has called for the revival of street/area/village committees to deal with crime, something that converges without our own SACP's 2008 programme of action which commits to mobilizing our people to build safe and healthy communities.
Specific tasks arise out of this for the SACP and all its communist cadres to take the lead in the revival of ANC-led mass mobilization as the foundation upon which to strengthen our alliance where it matters most, in the locality. This means a committed implementation of our 12th Congress programme; building a vanguard SACP and working class hegemony in all key sites of power, especially in the state, the economy, the community, the workplace, ideologically and internationalist working class solidarity. Building working class hegemony also requires building the political capacity of the working class as the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution. This means that we prepare ourselves to implement the SACP's 2008 Programme of Action, that of building active, safe and health communities by rooting our Party in the daily struggles of the working class and its communities.
The ANC 52nd Conference and the January 8 Statement committed to building a campaigning ANC, mobilizing all the key motive forces of the national democratic revolution, to deepen this revolution for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of our people. This means that every communist cadre must be in the forefront of realizing 'Year of Mass Mobilisation to Build a Caring Society'.
Communist Cadres to the Front, to Build a Caring Society!
Blade Nzimande is the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and a member of the ANC's National Working Committee. This article was originally published in Umsebenzi Online, Volume 7, No. 1, 16 January 2008. Click here to subscribe to this journal.