On a 100 years of ANC history - SACP

Party says idea that SA constitution essentially 'liberal' is gravely mistaken


January 8th 2012

The South African Communist Party greets its leading Alliance partner on this memorable occasion - the ANC's centenary celebration. There are very few political formations in the world today that have achieved a centenary, and none that can speak of such a history of perseverance in the face of prolonged persecution, of mass-based struggles against one of the most tenacious colonial regimes of the 20th century, and of ultimate, if still relative and partial, victory

As the Communist Party in South Africa, now in our own 90th year of unbroken struggle, we take special pride in the fact that for over 80 years, communists have served in the ranks of the ANC. Shoulder to shoulder with other patriotic revolutionaries, communists have helped to build and sustain the ANC.  

But also, through their activism within the ANC, communist cadres have carried over into the SACP a deeper appreciation of the centrality of the national question within our struggle, and of the power vested in a majority's sense of collective national grievance and of mass-based, national capacity. Our shared history is a history of continuous cross-fertilisation.

As we mark this centenary, we remember, to begin with, the early founders of the ANC. They were a new stratum of African teachers, journalists, preachers and lawyers, together with progressive traditional leaders. They came together from across the whole of Southern Africa, in the context of the final defeat of centuries of heroic primary resistance.

However modest its founding conference might have been, the launching of the ANC was a major milestone, a necessary and qualitative step forward in the struggle against colonialism and minority rule. From the outset, the founders understood the imperative of forging a new African identity, uniting those divided by narrower, traditional, ethnic identities. The foundational impulse of the ANC was the building of "unity in diversity" and it is the theme that is being taken up again today to celebrate the centenary.

The ANC was launched in the final years of the previous last great accelerated wave of capitalist driven globalization that occurred between 1870 and 1914. It was a period of dramatic global expansion and breath-taking technological advances - railway lines, ocean steamers, and telegraph cables that now girdled the earth. There were large joint stock companies and banking houses that pumped massive investments into pre-industrial locations. Cities sprang up in the raw veld - not least here in South Africa with the opening up of the diamond and gold fields.

The ANC was launched also in the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War which was itself connected to this wave of capital expansion. Owing to its immense technical superiority, the dominant imperialist power of the day had finally defeated the semi-feudal Boer republics. All of this would have reinforced the belief in the "positive", and, if not positive, then at least "irresistible" power of modernizing, Westernising "progress". Reflecting much of the mood of the times, a young Pixley Ka Isaka Seme (soon to become the first secretary general of the ANC) delivered a prize-winning "African regeneration" speech in 1906, which confidently predicted a continental renaissance spurred by the new global technologies that promised to unite humankind as never before.

However, the 1909 Act of Union and consequent 1910 formation of the Union of South Africa effectively excluded the majority of South Africans from citizenship. This was the immediate catalyst for the 1912 formation of the ANC. From within the ideological frame of a (simultaneously westernizing and Africanist) modernization perspective, this exclusion tended to be thought of as essentially an "anomaly", a local "distortion".

In short, at its foundation it was not easy for the ANC to grasp the dialectical, contradictory nature of imperialist-driven global accumulation - modernization and barbarism wrapped up together, development and simultaneous debilitating under-development. Nor was it is easy to grasp the key motive forces needed to be mobilized in order to wage an active struggle to overcome national oppression. Instead, there was a progressive, but limited, moral rights-based critique of the intensifying oppression exerted on the majority.

It was a politics of protest. It was, initially, a politics not to defeat the emerging state of white minority rule, but rather a struggle for inclusion of all those unjustly excluded from citizenship within the framework of the new Union of South Africa.

But, whatever the inevitable historical and social limitations of the founders of the ANC, from the beginning they introduced the seeds of three potentially radical positions. First, through their journalism, speeches, and sermons they recorded and gave voice to the deepening racial oppression of South Africa's majority - the Land Act, pass laws, the colour bar. In this way they began to provide a framework to connect tens of thousands of disparate daily experiences of humiliation into a collectively shared sense of national grievance.

Secondly, from the very beginning they critiqued narrow tribalism, and launched an organization (the ANC) to forge in struggle a new African identity. In so doing they were advancing a revolutionary understanding of identity - not something fixed biologically at birth, not something cast in stone by language, or religion, or culture - but rather a complex process of becoming, shaped by social interaction and active organization.

This radical approach to identity also lies at the heart of the ANC's longstanding and (given South Africa's history) remarkable espousal of non-racialism. This inclusive and open-ended approach to national identity is one of the great, world-historical contributions of the ANC and of the struggle it has led. There are many parts of the world today, both developed and undeveloped, that could benefit from this foundational principle of the ANC.

There is a third and absolutely relevant legacy bestowed on the present that has its roots in the very early foundation years of the ANC. The Christian liberalism that informed the founders of the ANC was in effect the appropriation of a discourse of universal human rights in a semi-colonial context. It was a context that was bound, sooner or later, to expose the limits of Western liberalism itself and force an increasing radicalization of any rights-based discourse. That radicalization can be traced through the ANC's 1943 "Africans' Claims" and its Bill of Rights, through the 1955 Freedom Charter, down to the fundamentally progressive South African Constitution and Bill of Rights of 1996.

To appreciate the value of this legacy for the present, it is important to recall the generally problematic record in government of both communist parties and former national liberation movements through much of the 20th century. There are many reasons why formerly heroic fighting formations, both communist parties and national liberation movements, once in power, often declined into bureaucratism, stagnation and corrosive corruption...if not worse.

The unending aggressive destabilization of popular advances by imperialism and allied reactionary forces was obviously the major factor. The emergence of new class dynamics within ruling formations has been another. But the neglect, suspension, or deliberate distortion of key constitutional and democratic safeguards that are key to buttressing sustained popular democracy have surely been another important factor.

It is one of many ironies of our contemporary South African reality that the ANC's struggle for far-reaching human and social rights within a progressive, law-based constitution is a legacy that is now being claimed (and dumbed down) by anti-majoritarian neo-liberals.

The idea that the South African Constitution is essentially "liberal" is gravely mistaken, even the most moderately-inclined of clauses in the Bill of Rights, the so-called property clause, expressly allows for expropriation on terms other than market-value. One of the tasks of the Alliance in our current reality is to actively espouse the Constitution and advance it for what it is - a clarion call for ongoing radical transformation in the finest traditions of the ANC's longstanding and principled struggle.

But this means that we must continue to invest the key principles of our Constitution with their radically progressive significance. The principle of the separation of powers must be upheld to ensure that never again is the state machinery used for corrupt ends, and that never again are ordinary citizens of South Africa subjected to arbitrary arrest, or invasion of their homes by an authoritarian state bureaucracy.

The principle of freedom of speech must be upheld to ensure that, above all, community organisations, trade unions, social movements, and local radio stations and publications have both the right and the actual resources to voice their collective aspirations and concerns. The right to vote for all adult South Africans must also be the right for the outcome of that vote to have a real impact on the ongoing transformation of our country. It is for this reason that we must at all times defend that fundamental principle contained in the Freedom Charter, that "The People Shall Govern"!

In short, we need to oppose those who were never in the trenches of the struggle, but who, today, pose as the great defenders of our Constitution. They pay lip-service to our hard-won universal franchise, while they seek to erode any effective power vested in the outcome of a majority vote.

For them, media freedom means the freedom of four media oligopolies to perpetuate a message of Afro-pessimism, disinformation and of the impossibility of any real change. For them, the separation of powers is all about divide-and-rule. They attempt to play one arm of government against another, in order to undermine any determined transformational programme, the better to protect their ill-gotten minority powers and privileges.

Our response to this neo-liberal dumbing down of our hard-won rights must not now become an ambivalence about our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In the name of one hundred years of struggle, we must vigorously claim our victories, including our constitutional victories, and invest them with real substance, buttressed by mass power.

As we celebrate this centenary, it is important that we honour the real heroes and heroines of our struggle - the millions of ordinary South Africans who day in and day out resisted oppression and struggled for lives of dignity. They were joined in solidarity by millions of others in our region and throughout the world who supported this just struggle.

In 1912, the ANC did not just emerge out of thin air. It picked up the fallen spear of the early resisters of colonial dispossession, the San and Khoi peoples who were subjected to genocidal oppression. The ANC built on the heroic armed resistance of our people, who fought over two and half centuries of invasion. Our struggle over the past century has also been infused with the popular traditions of slave revolts in the Cape and the struggles of indentured labourers in KZN.

The struggle is bigger than any one of our organisations. There have been times when ordinary South Africans have been in advance of our own formations - like the women in the Free State in 1913 who pioneered anti-pass struggles. In its first several decades, the ANC was not a mass formation, but popular struggles were fought by the trade union movement, by the Communist Party, by peasants and shack-dwellers. The ANC-led Defiance Campaign of 1952, for the first time placed the ANC onto a substantial active mass-campaigning footing.

The campaign had been directly inspired by the earlier Passive Resistance Campaign led by the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses between 1946 and 1948, as well as by the Great Mineworkers Strike of 1946. There were times when, as a result of severe persecution, our own formal structures were badly disrupted - but popular resistance continued, often with borrowed ideas and eclectic ideologies.

The great achievement of the ANC, particularly from the 1950s onwards was always, through the ups and downs of struggle, to recover its balance, to learn from and instruct popular militancy, to build the shield of a progressive unity, and to provide the spear-point of a clear strategic line of march. The SACP is proud to have been a principled and active participant in all the major turns in our national liberation struggle, culminating in the dislodging of the apartheid in 1994!

Those attributes are now as necessary as they ever were. The 1994 democratic breakthrough and nearly eighteen years of ruling party incumbency have brought new possibilities and fresh challenges for the ANC, for the Alliance, and for the people of South Africa as a whole. One hundred years ago, as the ANC was being launched, the last major wave of capitalist-driven global expansion, which had seemed destined to continue in its upward trajectory, was fast approaching the crisis of 1914, and the outbreak of World War I.

It was a crisis that was to persist through three decades, down to 1945.

In the early 1990s, as the ANC came to power, the second great wave of capitalist-driven globalization and its gospel of neo-liberalism seemed to be both invincible and the only imaginable alternative. In 2012 we now know, if we did not know before, much better. The leading centres of capital accumulation in the developed North are now deeply enmeshed in an interrelated and multi-dimensional crisis, marked by financial turmoil, declining economic vigour, rising levels of unemployment and indebtedness, a shifting global hegemony, and, particularly in the case of the US, a manifest political incapacity to rise to the challenges confronting the whole of humanity, including climate change and natural resource depletion.

In these circumstances, the relevance of consolidating a radical national democratic revolutionary path here in our own country has become all the more relevant and pressing. This means placing our economy onto a new development path that prioritises the resolution of the key persisting crises of our society - unemployment, poverty, and inequality.

It means breaking away from the neo-liberal, trickle-down, self-serving argument that capitalist growth and increased profits for a minority will somehow, on their own, resolve our social challenges. 14 years of growth locally from 1994 to 2008 have decisively disproved that claim. To place our society onto a new development path means breaking out of the role into which South Africa was condemned back in the late 19th century - namely to be a semi-peripheral exporter of mineral resources within the global division of labour.

To consolidate a new developmental path requires using democratic state power with the utmost determination and strategic discipline. And this is why the struggle against corruption is so critical. This struggle is not just a moral imperative, but an absolutely critical strategic imperative - if we lose strategic capacity within the state as a result of parasitic behavior, factionalism, tenderpreneurship and the personal diversion of public resources, we will betray one hundred years of struggle.

A democratic, developmental state needs to support and be supported by active popular mobilization. Placing ourselves upon a different developmental trajectory also requires that we build a different, developmental relationship with our region and continent, and that we forge firmer South-South ties.

The challenges of our times are multiple and complex, but, drawing on the legacy of 100 years of unbroken struggle, learning from our successes and mistakes, and, above all, building on the ANC's central legacy of forging a militant unity out of diversity, we can and we shall prevail.

On this day, South African communists once more, pledge their continued commitment to the strengthening of our Alliance, pursuing a radical national democratic transformation programme, as the only vehicle to consolidate and build on our gains. We shall leave no stone unturned in fighting the twin enemies of a conservative (white) liberal offensive against the majoritarian character of our democracy AND tenderpreneurship.

The SACP shall be a dependable ally in the struggle to realize the developmental goals and priorities of our movement, including job creation, access to health and education for all, and rural development. To achieve these requires maximum unity of our movement. For that reason, as we fight for the realization of these goals we will spare no effort in the fight against all tendencies that threaten the unity of our movement, including all forms of factionalism, populism, ill-discipline, corruption and misguided militancy.

In doing all this we shall place the interests of our people at the forefront of all what we do. This is the true meaning of the ANC's centenary!!

Statement issued by the SACP, January 8 2012

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