CENTRAL COMMITTEE POLITICAL REPORT
Mobilising working class-centred people’s power
Reverse state capture, build people’s education, transform the financial sector and sharpen ideological struggle to drive a second, more radical phase of our transition
When we went to our Special National Congress in July last year, we chose our Congress theme after careful consideration based on the assessment of the then prevailing political situation. Our call became Communist
cadres to the front to unite the working class, our communities and our movement. Later, however, the SACP felt that much as this is an important organisational clarion call, the question was asked about what we are calling this unity for. We then argued that it was actually a clarion call to unite ourselves in order to drive a second, more radical, phase of our transition.
Our Special Congress call for unity in all the various sites and terrains of struggle, which now is also our 2016 programmatic theme, was informed by a number of developments and observations in the contemporary conjuncture. Firstly, the call for the unity of the working class was primarily informed by the imperative of uniting the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) at a time when our ally was facing a huge onslaught on a number of fronts and with a very real threat of serious divisions and the weakening of the federation. It was an offensive that was initially launched with the attack on the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the platinum belt a few years earlier.
This was to be followed by the Cosatu General Secretary embedding himself in a faction that wanted to turn Cosatu into an extension of political forces that had placed themselves outside, and in opposition, to the Congress movement. This led to, amongst other things, the expulsion of National Union of Mineworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Cosatu General Secretary, with a few of the affiliate unions aligning themselves with the expelled union and General Secretary, but simultaneously, choosing to remain inside the federation.
Given the above context, the call to unite the working class, was also specifically meant to rally communists and SACP structures to support and work with Cosatu during one of its most difficult times. Indeed, much as the Cosatu leadership and affiliates played the most important role in defending the unity of the federation, the SACP also rose to the challenge of supporting the efforts of unifying and defending the integrity of our ally, Cosatu.
Unifying our communities was informed by two inter-linked considerations. Firstly, the need to position the ANC and the SACP organisationally to provide leadership in our communities. Secondly, to see that this is necessitated by the enormous challenges facing especially poor and working class communities in our townships, particularly in the light of high unemployment and other forms of social distress in these communities.
Often, the worsening conditions in our townships and rural villages are due to the failure of some government services to reach these communities. Instead, these services are consumed by tenders by middlemen standing between government and services for communities. Our townships and villages still remain the primary residential areas of the vast majority of the workers and poor in our country.
The clarion call for the unity of our movement was also informed by our concerns at the increase of factionalist activity especially inside the ANC. Factionalism is reaching unprecedented levels, accompanied by the corrupting and hollowing out of democratic practices in its structures. The problems include gate-keeping, corruption of democratic procedures in branch general meetings, outright stealing of regional and even provincial conferences through corrupt practices, including the use of money to buy delegates’ votes. These problems have reached serious levels in our movement.
In the above context, there is also a resurgence of anti-communist and anti-working class sentiment from within sections of our own movement. And all of this is taking place in the wake of the stubborn persistence of the structural features of our economic trajectory, characterised by inequality, poverty and unemployment. One would have thought that in in the light of such challenges all class forces within our movement would seek to deepen broad and maximum unity to drive a more radical phase of our transition. And yet factionalism is deepening. There are also more regressive tendencies and splinters emerging from inside our movement, such as the neo-fascist EFF tendency and an ultra-leftist but simultaneously business-unionist tendency, such as that in Numsa.
Corporate capture and other threats facing our movement and government
The principal (internal) organisational and political threat facing our revolution was sharply identified at the Alliance Summit last year - that of corporate capture. Various elements of both domestic and international capital, often in alliance with a domestic parasitic bourgeoisie, are seeking to capture our movement to pursue narrow class accumulation interests
Among the worst forms of corporate capture to emerge of late are those represented by the parasitic Gupta family, which is unashamedly capturing state tenders and business licences, and in the process arrogantly trashing our national sovereignty and national pride. The landing of the Gupta’s family’s wedding guests at a national key-point air force base represented, as the SACP asserted at the time, a humiliating affront to our national pride and sovereignty. This family is working hand in glove as part of a parasitic bourgeoisie in the state with people from within our own ranks, and are increasingly influencing government policies and key government decisions and appointments. It is time now that the SACP and the rest of the working class speak out more forcefully against these parasites.
South African capitalism, going back to Cecil John Rhodes and Alfred Beit has, of course, always had its own super-rich oligarchs. In more recent decades the oligarchies have included the Oppenheimer and Rupert families. The Guptas are emerging as one of the latest capitalist oligarchies seeking to capture tenders in the state, especially in the state owned enterprises. Capitalism in other parts of the world has had its own oligarchies, as in Russia today. In Russia, the state tends to discipline these oligarchies, but in South Africa there is a very real danger that they tend to discipline the state!
Since the mid-1990s, sections of our movement leadership have come under the heavy influence of US and London-based imperial finance capital, which seeks to displace and ultimately destroy our (working class based) Alliance, and replace it with a new alliance anchored in the bourgeoisie (old and new, including the worst components of the parasitic elements).
Established sections of Afrikaner capital, notably the Naspers group, have also managed to endear themselves, often through underhand means, to some of the sections of the leadership of our movement, including some MPs. These represent the most backward sections of capital in our country that hugely benefitted from the apartheid regime. Unfortunately, precisely because of its experience in working with the apartheid regime, this section of imperialist capital has placed itself in a pole position to co-opt and corrupt some of the leaders of our own movement.
The latest sections of international capital that are creeping onto our economic shores are those of Russian oligarchies, which are strongly positioning themselves principally on the possible acquisition of nuclear energy. This development has the potential of undermining aspects of the progressive content and possibilities of Brics. It also calls for renewed energy by the SACP for consolidating our own international relations, both inside and outside Brics countries, as an integral component of the – internationalist – organisational renewal of the SACP
The corporate capture – real and potential – outlined above has been made possible by the creation of a small, but highly compradorial Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) bourgeoisie. This compradorial stratum is characterised by its high dependence on state policies and procurement for accumulation. It is a bourgeoisie that has very minimal independent control over any capital, and often made up of paper rather than substantial millionaires. The latter reinforce the very dependency of this BEE bourgeoisie on established (white and imperialist) monopoly capital
Perhaps one of the dangerous features of the current conjuncture is that of the parasitic capture of state-owned enterprises, accompanied by the corruption of some of our state institutions that are fundamental to the strengthening of our democracy, such as the South African Revenue Services (SARS) and the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA).
All these developments undermine a working class-led process of driving a second phase of our transition. The struggle inside the ANC and the Alliance at the moment is between the working class and a parasitic bourgeoisie. The struggle for 2017 is not about the ANC conference as such, but about who captures the ANC. In fact, what often seem to be tensions between the ANC and the SACP are often proxy battles representing factionalist struggles inside the ANC itself.
Lately, this parasitic bourgeoisie seems to be emboldened, and we need to identify the reasons for this. The anti-communist and anti-working class stances of this parasitic bourgeoisie have become more aggressive and strident. Could it be that it has consolidated some powerful bourgeois backers from inside and outside our country? It is seemingly ready to sacrifice our Alliance. Or could it be a sign of desperation and paranoia about the possible negative reaction to this blatant capture of our movement from sections within it?
All these factionalist tendencies tend to be exacerbated during periods of leadership transition in the ANC, especially in conjunction with the end of term of the President of the Republic. The story and narrative become the same, with attacks on communists gaining more traction, as happened in the lead up to the Polokwane conference.
It is also against this background that our own 14th Congress assumes even more significance. The run-up to our Congress, which coincides with the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, must not be seen narrowly as preparing for an event, but rather its preparations must be integrally linked to the challenges facing our revolution and movement, as well as the terrain upon which SACP’s organisational renewal must be consolidated.
The national question and social cohesion
The resurgence of racist views and attitudes in society has exposed the fragility of our 1994 consensus on the national question, principally revealing that the latter cannot be addressed without fundamentally addressing economic emancipation. The idea of a “rainbow nation” that does not address class, national and gender questions in their interrelationship was always a false one.
The impact of unemployment, inequality and poverty has deepened many social fault-lines in our communities and society. This is manifested through increased violence against women and children, worsened by poor progressive leadership in our communities.
The above underlines the necessity for the SACP, and indeed the ANC, to remain focused on the national question, especially in its relationship to class and gender
Heavily indebted working class and lower middle class households
The #Feesmustfall campaign (notwithstanding its internal contradictions and contradictory character) is not unconnected from the broader class struggles in South African society and its capitalist nature. The almost-simultaneous struggles of the working class over their pension funds and the current student struggles over access to higher education, capture a deeper reality that is facing South Africa’s working class and lower middle classes.
South Africa’s working class and the lower middle classes are deeply indebted largely as a result of the absence or inadequacy of a social wage, especially for the working class. The Taylor Commission focused on this issue, and proposed a comprehensive social security net.
The core of the working class (including nurses, teachers, police, factory workers, etc) does not benefit from the government RDP housing subsidy. At the same time, large sections of the working class and lower middle classes do not qualify for housing bonds from private banks. Even those who have access to such bonds are currently experiencing extensive bank repossessions and evictions. The latter have reached the same levels as during the height of Group Areas Act evictions under apartheid!
Similarly, the same class strata do not benefit and often fall through the cracks of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which is meant to assist poor students. The majority of children from the working class come from families that are not poor enough in terms of NSFAS criteria, and they yet cannot afford to finance their university education.
The working class and lower middle classes also suffer from the absence of safe, reliable and affordable public transport. Many workers spend up to 40% of their monthly income on unsafe and unreliable public transport.
The absence of an affordable and quality health care system, for instance a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, places additional burden on these families, thus further eroding their income. A huge percentage of working class and middle class families rely exclusively on the expensive private health care system through their (inadequate and yet very costly) medical aid schemes.
On top of the above expenses many workers and middle class professionals have to look after unemployed or aged family members (the so called black tax), which puts a further strain on earnings.
All the above are manifestations of colonialism of a special type, a variant of bourgeois rule that had been based, and continues to be, on the super exploitation of the black working class and middle classes, which endure a heavy burden from this legacy.
It is therefore important to understand the student struggles from the standpoint of the failure of capitalism to finance higher education, in particular, for the working class and the poor. For example, the next possible bubble in the United States after the 2008 housing bubble, is that of student debt, currently estimated at about US$1,2- trillion. Due to the misery of the 2008 capitalist crash, many families and young people took loans for education with the hope that as the US picked up from the 2008 crash they would be able to get better jobs. The creation of better jobs is taking a long time, thus exacerbating student indebtedness.
Without by any means abandoning the struggle for free higher education for the poor, it is important to understand that the state is being asked to bail out capitalism for its failure to fund higher education for the poor.
It is therefore important that we intensify our financial sector campaign together with the struggle for a comprehensive social security net. More importantly, Cosatu must earnestly take up the campaign on where and how workers’ pension and provident funds are invested.
People’s education for people’s power
The ANC’s 8 January 2016 statement appropriately names this year as the year of advancing people’s power. This call is most appropriate, especially in light of the student struggles in higher education, worsening social distress in working class communities, as well as the local government elections. Indeed the many challenges we face call for the mobilisation of people’s power, with the working class at the centre. It is therefore important for the SACP and the working class as a whole to ensure that this does not become just a slogan, but a reality.
In fact the very corporate capture that we spoke about earlier can only truly be reversed and defeated through the mobilisation of people’s power.
In our analyses of the student struggles at our last Central Committee in 2015 we noted a number of positive aspects of the #Feesmustfall campaign, among which was their potential to politicise many students for the first time in their lives, as well as putting pressure on our movement to implement its own resolutions.
However there are many negative aspects and other lessons to be learnt out of these struggles. While internet based mobilisation is a very powerful organisational weapon, the internet cannot provide leadership to such mass struggles as shown by the collapse and defeat of a number of promising Arab Spring struggles in North Africa and the Middle East.
A hugely negative outcome of these 2015 university struggles is that of the resurgence of Black Consciousness and PACtype thinking. Indeed, like in all racially dominated societies (both politically under apartheid, and economically in the past 21 years) black consciousness thinking tends to attract a lot of young people both from poor and from lower middle class families. The concept of “decolonisation” emanates from these realities and needs to be subjected to critique.
The post-1976 student struggles quickly overcame Black Consciousness discourses mainly because of systematic interventions by the Congress movement, as well as through the formation of Congress-aligned movements in the 1980s. An important ideological role and intervention in this regard was that of the working class, through the fledgling progressive trade union movement in the 1980s and the all-important worker-student alliances forged on campuses, as well as the ideological role of the SACP underground.
The 2015 student struggles have taken place against the background of a weakened ANC-SACP presence on our campuses, as well as the absence of the concrete articulation of the perspectives of our movement on education, especially the concept of “people’s education for people’ s power” in the current conditions.
The participation and support given to the student struggles by some of our own ANC comrades have more been about advancing their narrow factionalist interests to attack the SACP and the working class rather than principled support for genuine student struggles and the transformation of higher education.
Therefore there has been very little theoretical and strategic guidance given to our student formations along the lines of our strategic perspectives of people’s education for people’s power in the contemporary struggles.
It is absolutely essential for the SACP to play a leading role in the concrete elaboration of our perspectives in order to guide these struggles ideologically along the lines of driving a second more radical phase of our transition, with the broader perspectives of the national democratic revolution.
It is also absolutely imperative that we strengthen YCL structures on our university and college campuses as well as building strong SACP structures in these campuses.
It is important also for the SACP to invite Sasco’s leadership and cadres to its joint political schools, especially those with the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).
Key ideological, organisational and mobilisation tasks in the current period
We need to undertake a frank and self-critical analysis of our own SACP role in the post-Polokwane period, and also whether we did not elevate palace politics above mass mobilisation and building independent working class power on the ground.
We need to reflect on our experiences in governance over the last while, including the role of communists in governance since 1994.
With clear signs that there is a push by the parasitic bourgeoisie to drive communists and the working class out of the Alliance, what is our strategy to defend the revolutionary character of our movement and the strengthening of an independent SACP?
Our strategy must also include the organisational renewal of the SACP and its machinery and readiness to build capacity in all key sites of power, including policy, administrative, labour unions, international and the ideological capacities.
Perhaps in the process of seeking to forge a broader left-leaning consensus within the Alliance, thus prioritising palace manoeuvres, we abandoned the idea of pushing forward with the idea of a reconfigured Alliance, a matter we need to return to with some vigour. It must seek to answer the question that whilst the Alliance remains relevant, is its modus operandi perhaps outdated and now needs to be revisited?
Perhaps a key issue to be confronted is the reality that in some areas the ANC has lost so much credibility that in order to save our Alliance the SACP may have to consider contesting elections, on a case- by-case basis. KwaZulu Natal is one province where we are faced with this stark reality. We need to consider and debate this thoroughly.
The transformation of the financial sector as the key platform for a comprehensive social security net
At the last SACP-Cosatu bilateral, Cosatu agreed to take back to its CEC the proposal to campaign around the transformation of the financial sector and to link this both to its more specific provident fund issue, and to the broader struggle for a comprehensive social security system. This provides an important opportunity for the Party to work actively on the ground with Cosatu. The SACP has, of course, already committed to take up the financial sector campaign as our flagship campaign for the year. Nedlac has agreed to convene a second Financial Sector Summit in the second quarter of the year, and that presents one useful milestone that should be preceded by popular mobilisation, a review of the Financial Sector Charter agreements, and other policy work.
The prospects for effective broad-based mobilisation are significant, particularly focusing on the unsustainable and deepening debt crisis confronting many South African households. More than 10 million credit active South Africans now have impaired records (three months and more in arrears). Unsecured credit in South Africa grew from R40-billion in 2008 to R172-billion in 2014. Much of this credit is for immediate consumption. An estimated 40% of loans from micro-lenders are to buy food. Some 65% of consumers of non-mortgage loans earn less than R8 000 per month. With mass retrenchments in the mining sector, with rising food prices, partly impacted by the drought, the household debt crisis will deepen. It is a crisis that is affecting the unemployed, the under-employed and casualised, unionised workers, families supporting students, and, indeed, large swathes of the so-called “new black middle class” whose middle-class status is typically only possible through unsustainable indebtedness.
The original Nedlac Financial Sector Summit in 2002 was a direct outcome of the SACP’s Red October Campaign, launched two years before. A Financial Sector Charter (FSC) was signed in 2004.
The Summit and Charter resulted in a number of gains:
- A credit bureau blacklisting amnesty and greater transparency in the working of credit bureaux; and
- The National Credit Act and a National Credit Regulator – with the latter showing increasing effectiveness.
But as we assess the impact of the first FSS and FS Charter we need to also note weaknesses and assess other issues:
- Compliance with the Charter was purely voluntary;
- The Charter was predominantly a BEE arrangement – with the 15% equity target (itself a special dispensation for the financial sector), among the few hard targets; and
- Commitments to targeted financing of housing for instance (Community Reinvestment requirements) were vague and never implemented:
Other issues that require critical assessment include:
- Why has so little progress been made with co-operative banking?
- The Mzansi Account was an important achievement of the first Summit – but what are the lessons to be learnt?
Among the issues going forward that the SACP (and the broader network of allies in the FS Campaign) should take up are:
- Some form of debt amnesty – this will require more detailed engagement, including with Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry, to ensure that unintended negative consequences are avoided;
- Intensification of the campaign against Garnishee Order abuses;
- Intensification of the campaign against Mashonisa – illegal interest rates, illegal additions, the holding of IDs, etc; and
- Evictions – an estimated 100,000 households a year (now on a scale comparable to the height of Group Areas removals).
Other demands should include:
- Capped interest rates on industrial credit, and for the gap housing market;
- Enhanced developmental role of Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) – including consolidation and rationalisation of multiple (often provincial) DFIs. ECDC has reserves of R1-billion, FSDC reserves of R400-million, Limdev, Ithala, etc. In his budget speech, Cde Gordhan alluded to the lack of transparency that often applies to DFIs, notably in provinces;
- Progress towards stabilising South African Post Office with a view to providing the Postbank with a banking licence.
To take forward the Financial Sector Campaign we need, as the SACP, also to ask self-critical questions. In particular, we need to note that in the recent past, with some exceptions, our campaigns have often been little more than a launch rally, a few provincial launches, and a closing rally. How do we ensure that we actually organise more effectively and in a sustained manner on the ground, and once more build the network of formations behind the campaign?
The struggle for a transformed, developmentally oriented financial sector and the review of the appropriate approach to provident fund reform are both inextricably linked to the need for a comprehensive social security system that responds to the reality of our situation. It is a situation in which mass unemployment is not a temporary phenomenon for many, and in which worker retirement funds and different social grants are typically not used only by the individual recipients but are needed to support extended households.
This reality is very far from the assumed reality behind the classical welfare state social security net – i.e. that there is relatively full employment, that workers are typically employed for a working lifetime by a single employer, and that households are male-headed and nuclear. With these assumptions, social security is seen as “temporary” relief – unemployment insurance for a few months of unemployment, or for maternity leave, of for retirement, or temporary injury.
This has never been the South African reality and, increasingly, globally it is not the reality in both developed and developing societies, with growing casualisation, a-typical work, mass (particularly youth) unemployment, etc. This requires a fundamental re-think of social security and social wage interventions.
Currently the Department of Social Development and the National Treasury are working on a social security policy, and have promised that it will be published in the course of the year. It is critical that through campaigning and policy engagement we influence this policy. This must include advancing the NHI, public employment programmes, as well as the trade union movement taking up where its provident and pension funds are invested, as key pillars of a social security approach.
This document is extracted from the SACP Journal, The African Communist 1st Quarter 2016 Issue 191 April 2016