Building a left popular front - SACP CC

Political report also states that Party has not exhausted its historical vanguard role in relation to the ANC


Revitalising the motive forces

Building a left popular front to strengthen driving the second and more radical phase of the NDR

Our 14th Congress took a resolution calling for the SACP to build a left popular front (LPF), but as part of the possibility of the SACP contesting elections separate from the ANC. The resolution on state power and popular states, stated: “The SACP has a leadership role in the struggle to build a reconfigured Alliance, while recognising that we cannot place all of our hopes and expectations solely on a favourable outcome in this regard.

“Both for electoral purposes and for defending, deepening and advancing a radical second phase of the national democratic revolution (NDR), the SACP must play an active and leadership role in the consolidation of an LPF of working class and progressive forces

“Based on these engagements (with our Alliance partners and with a wide range of working class and progressives forces) the SACP must play a leading role in developing a common platform for a left popular front of working class and progressive forces”.

While this resolution remains relevant, it is important to elaborate on it as part of its implementation, in a manner that locates the idea of a popular front beyond just a front for electoral participation by the SACP. Contrary to the belief or misrepresentation that our Congress called for the establishment of a left popular front only for electoral purposes, the resolution called for an LPF both for electoral purposes and for the broader struggle to drive a second, more radical, phase of the NDR. What therefore follows below is by no means changing, but is instead firmly grounded in, the original Congress resolution.

Implementation of resolutions must, of course, also take into consideration the current conjuncture and whatever new challenges may have arisen. One of the most pressing immediate tasks is that of the necessity not only to mobilise the motive forces to drive a second, more radical, phase of our revolution, but also to play a vanguard role and give effective direction and leadership over such mobilised forces.

South Africa is presently, and over the last decade or so, characterised by what we normally refer to as ‘service delivery’ protests. This in itself shows that we have relatively high levels of mobilisation of the motive forces, but these protests are often misguided and lack decisive leadership to channel them to make maximum impact and build the confidence of our people.

We are in a period in which there is co-existence, and often contradictory articulation, of both progress, threats and regression in the political economy of our country. There is some notable progress in attempts by government to roll back the parasitic, often criminal, networks in the state. There are also indications that sections of the national leadership of the ANC are willing to work towards repairing relations within the Alliance, committing to thorough discussions on the reconfiguration of the Alliance. We have also had a successful Brics summit that adds further momentum to the president’s goal of attracting over a trillion rands’ worth of investments into the South African economy.

However, existing side by side with these is the threat of imperialist protectionism driven by the United States through the Trump government. Indeed, this protectionist offensive is not without its problems as it tends to sharpen the contradictions within the imperialist camp.

These protectionist moves by the United States, and the consequent trade war with China, also pose a serious threat to many developing countries, including South Africa.

Domestically, there is stubborn persistence of the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, together with what seems to be rising levels of violent criminality. There is a serious looming job loss bloodbath in the mining industry. There is also resurgence in gender-based violence across social classes – from informal settlements of the working class and the poor to the gated estates of the wealthy.

This is accompanied by increasing levels of social distress in many of our communities and the emergence of a new epidemic in the form of poor mental health in the form of depression, accompanied by rising levels of suicide and generalised violence. There is also a growing scourge of drug and substance abuse which is ravaging significant sections of unemployed youth and, increasingly, youth coming from middle class and professional families.

The current period is also characterised by what seems to be an intractable stalemate inside the ANC between its two major political factions, leading to the contradictory levels of progress in the state, but some regression in the Movement.

All this re-affirms and underlines the correctness of the programmatic posture of the SACP 14th Congress, that it is a period requiring strategic consistency, analytical awareness and tactical flexibilityHowever underpinning this approach to the challenges of the period requires sustained mobilisation of the motive forces of the NDR towards the desired kinds of outcomes and impact.

While it was not incorrect for our 14th Congress to resolve on the necessity to build an LPF, it is important that the building of a popular front should not only be restricted to electoral factors. Progressive popular fronts can be mass-based based on joint mass campaigning.

Such fronts may or may not automatically or necessarily translate into electoral fronts.

In other instances, there are popular fronts built specifically as electoral fronts to contest elections. One such example is that of India where a left front made up of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India have both contested and held state power in some of the Indian states like Kerala, working together with a range of other progressive political formations and mass movements.

Our point of departure in our tasks of building popular fronts must be informed by our programme The South African Road to Socialism (SARS)whose objective is to build working class hegemony in all key sites of power. Popular fronts are important as one of the mechanisms to realise the objectives of SARS.

Building left popular fronts

It is important that this Central Committee spends some of its time elaborating on the task of building left popular fronts, as part of elaborating on one of the 14th Congress resolutions, but at the same time as an urgent task for the conjuncture. We must not be tempted to change Congress resolutions, but we must recognise conditions at the time of adoption of a resolution may differ from those prevailing when the resolution may have to implemented. New considerations may have to be taken into account without any substantive deviation from the intention of the original resolution.

The aim of this section is to put forward a number of partly theoretical but programmatic propositions on the tasks of building LPFs in South Africa today. The communist movement internationally, as well as in our own South African realities, has had enormous experience in the building popular fronts, that sometimes have included formations of various ideological persuasions, but with the common goal of defeating what is often an immediate enemy.

One of the modern, earlier forms, of fronts in which communists either participated or built, were the anti-fascist fronts in Europe, especially in the 1930s. One of the most pressing challenges in these fronts was how to build anti-fascist fronts without submerging the identity of communist parties, while at the same time not seeking to impose a Marxist-Leninist identity on the character of such broad fronts. While these anti-fascist fronts were somehow fuelled by combatting concrete local realities of fascist ideology and violence, they were fronts that were largely built from above.

In our case one of the more recent experiences of the politics of building fronts was that of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983. The UDF was a front whose gestation could be immediately traced to the 10-year period preceding its formation. The foundation of the UDF can be regarded as having been laid by the 1973 workers’ strikes, followed by the 1976 student uprisings, with these two strands uniting through community struggles of the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

The lesson from virtually all popular fronts is that they are united by the fight against a common enemy. In the case of the UDF the common enemy and the most immediate challenge was to defeat the apartheid regime. Of course, the immediate fuse for the formation of the UDF was opposition to the establishment of the tricameral parliament as well as the hatred for the Black Local Authorities Act, both of which were part of reformist initiatives by the apartheid regime to try to prolong its hold onto power.

However much as these overarching struggles helped to cement common goals, most local UDF affiliated structures (youth, women, religious) would often fight local realities – eg an unpopular apartheid imposed councillor or a rent boycott – and have these linked to the overall goal of dislodging the apartheid regime.

More recently, the SACP can learn from its own Red October Campaigns, which has produced a variety of front-type formations and struggles. The SACP has had close to 20 years’ experience now of Red October campaigning. But the most effective and popular mass Red October Campaign of the SACP was that launched in 2000 on the transformation of the financial sector under the slogan Make banks serve the people. This campaign managed to bring together about 50 organisations and formations, ranging from political formations to NGOs and mass organisations, including different kinds of lobby groups. All these were brought together under the umbrella of the Financial Sector Campaign Coalition (FSCC).

One of the most important lessons from the FSCC was that it is important for any front type campaign to win some gains and notch advances in the short term as a spur for further mass mobilisation. The fact that within the first three years of the campaign, there was the convening of a summit involving the banks and other financial institutions; commitment to the legislative regulation of the much-hated credit bureaux; and opening of dedicated bank accounts for the unbanked, drew even more people not only to the FSCC but also directly into the ranks of the SACP itself as the leading formation of this campaign.

Other Red October campaigns managed to build similar broad fronts on land and agrarian transformation, social grants, transformation of the health system, etc. In fact the impact of these campaigns contributed to significant and long lasting transformation impact. For example, our campaign on the transformation of the health system laid the foundations for the struggle and government’s commitment to building a National Health Insurance Scheme that is being implemented today. Our campaign on social grants highlighted, amongst other things, the dirty role played by mashonisa who were preying on the elderly and other recipients of social grants. Our campaign on land and agrarian transformation acted as a direct trigger for a Land Summit that for the first time rejected the idea of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’.

An important lesson from these struggles is that playing a vanguard role does not always mean being the lead organisation. Instead we often play our vanguard role through provision of ideological and organisation clarity and direction. A question arises here on the role of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) in the recent mass campaign of #Total- Shutdown – whether it is important for the ANCWL to seek to place its identity first, instead of seeking to unite the broadest range of women in the important struggle to fight against gender-based violence.

It is also important to bear in mind that the SACP’s strength and capacity to continuing to play a vanguard role in the South African revolution primarily rests on its unity and common purpose. The building of popular fronts also obliges the SACP to give attention to the production of dedicated SACP cadres, located in all the spheres in which popular fronts are to be active.

Our struggle and commitment to build an LPF may mean building many fronts. One lesson from our Red October campaigning is that to take forward the many struggles we have waged under this banner, perhaps we may have to build a number of fronts at the same time, on land and agrarian transformation, on the NHI, on public transport, etc. And it would be the concrete struggles on these fronts that will determine whether these various struggles or fronts cohere into an overarching LPF.

It is also important to state upfront that an LPF is neither necessarily against the ANC nor in opposition it, either in the leadership of the NDR in elections. But an LPF is not an extension of the ANC (or the SACP and the Alliance for that matter). Like the ANC did with the UDF it must be through principled participation in the daily struggles of the people. For example the ANC’s armed propaganda through MK played a crucial role in the 1980s in sending a message of strong support to the mass and other struggles of the people on the ground. It was through these that the ANC and the Alliance built their hegemony among the people.

Popular fronts can play a crucial role in radicalising the ANC, the SACP and the trade union and civic movements. Such fronts can also be crucial in the struggles against factionalism and corruption in many of our formations, although they may not be automatically incorruptible themselves.

While there is a dialectical relationship between building the two types of formations, there can be no militant LPFs without a strong and militant trade union movement at the core. It is for this reason that the SACP needs to pay attention to the strengthening and rebuilding of Cosatu as a strong and militant allied formation. At the same time the SACP needs to reach out to all potentially progressive trade union formations as part of the bigger challenge of uniting the working class in action.

That the working class must play a central and often leading role in popular fronts does not necessarily mean that we should limit the class composition of popular fronts to the working class alone. In fact, historically many fronts have managed to attract middle class support for common goals and objectives. Our own Red October campaigning has often led to attracting sections of the middle class for instance on the struggle for the transformation of the credit bureaux.

The heartbeat of any popular front in our circumstances must be strong organisation of women and deeper mobilisation against patriarchy and gender based abuse, and for gender equality. This should involve the strengthening of existing forms of women organisation, in the trade unions, stokvels, school government bodies, etc.

Women and gender struggles to fight gender based violence

In October 2017, we launched our Red October Campaign with a focus on gender-based violence, but unfortunately we were unable to sustain it. That 2017 campaign was launched against the backdrop of increasing reports on incidents of gender-based violence, and as a resolution from our 14th Congress. That resolution was one of the most comprehensive resolutions on patriarchy and gender relations in South Africa, incorporating, amongst other things:

- “The 2017 Red October Campaign must be a national campaign against abuse of women and gender based violence…

- “The Party must strengthen its visibility and activeness in campaigning against gender based violence, in the form of marches and pickets at courts as well as improving law to enable proof of rape access;

- “Male members of the SACP must also be at the forefront of campaigning against violence against women and children;

- “Campaigns against gender based violence must be ongoing and not merely reacting to occurrences in society”.

Our Central Committee is taking place against the background of ever more incidents of gender-based violence. Our August Women’s Month has been launched through mass demonstrations by women in various parts of the country, in which many SACP members participated, albeit unevenly. We are in a period where gender-based violence seems to be more violent, brutal and brazen, with increased number of deaths, including suicide by some of the women victims.

There is a deep interconnection between the stubborn persistence of inequality, poverty and unemployment and generally the depressed state of our economy, and general degeneration in societal conditions in many of our communities. In capitalist societies violence tends to be directed towards more vulnerable groups in times of socio-economic stress and to take more patriarchal forms. These realities further underline the importance of struggling for an alternative socialist society, with more advanced levels of morality and social conduct.

Most of the post-1994 community protests have become less planned and often characterised by regressive attitudes and practices. In a number of instances, these protests, no matter how legitimate, have also been characterised by a narrow ideological outlook, and with a very clear disconnect between the struggles against apartheid and its current forms.

These regressive tendencies include wanton destruction of property, including property sorely needed by communities – schools, libraries, community halls, trains, etc.

Some of the regressive ideological tendencies beginning to manifest themselves in some current women’s struggles include:

- Calls for castration of men who are guilty of rape, as if rape was a sexual act, rather than an aggressive act of violence against women;

- Emergence of anti-men sentiments that go directly against the history of progressive women’s struggles in our country and the SACP’s own recent call coming out of its 14th Congress that “male members of the SACP must also be at the forefront of campaigning against violence against women and children”;

- Sectarian attitudes from some of the women’s formations, not least the ANC Women’s League itself, by acting in a manner that is inward looking (“We insist in wearing our uniform and colours at all times” and therefore unable to lead a broad front of women’s formations and struggles;

- ‘Fallist’ modes of struggle and sloganeering eg. #totalshutdown with no or very little articulation and capturing of the key issues in women’s struggles; and

- Lack of ideological clarity women’s and gender struggles, in a manner that threatens to roll back the many gains made over the decades of heroic women’s struggles in our country.

In this period and in these resurging women’s protests and struggles the SACP has to play a vanguard role:

- The SACP needs to immerse itself in and provide ideological clarity in current gender and women’s struggles. Guided by our 14th Congress resolution on the struggles against patriarchy, the SACP must contribute towards turning these protests in communities and on university campuses into sustained mobilisation of both men and women against gender based violence and patriarchy;

- The SACP must actively forge a front of a broad range of women’s formations and organisations at the forefront of the struggles against patriarchy and gender based violence. These struggles must strengthen women so they do not see themselves simply as ‘victims’, but instead to see themselves as part of the revolutionary motive forces to transform gender relations in our country;

- The SACP must seek to place at the centre of the struggles of the progressive trade union movement the question of the intensification of the struggles to eradicate gender inequality in the broader economy as well as in the workplace;

- The SACP also needs to undertake a comprehensive review of advances and gains achieved, as well as setbacks and new challenges, over the 25 years since the adoption of that seemingly forgotten document, the Women’s Charter of 1993. That charter was adopted on the eve of our democratic breakthrough and precisely in anticipation of opening up of significantly new terrains and opportunities through the dislodging of the apartheid regime. We need to ask whether the establishment of a Women’s Ministry has not compromised gender mainstreaming or weakened these efforts. The implementation of the post 1994 gender machinery in itself requires a thorough evaluation; and

- In all these initiatives, the SACP must develop a comprehensive analysis of gender and women’s struggles, including the distinct but complementary roles of men and women in these struggles.

Towards the Gender Summit

President Cyril Ramaphosa has recently announced that government is going to be convening a Gender Summit1 at the end of August. Though the period is rather short, it is essential that the SACP play its vanguard role in the run up to and at this Summit.

It is also essential that our Gender and Social Transformation Commission to work towards convening a planning session of representatives drawn from a wide range of women’s organisations, both inside and outside of our Alliance. We may want to undertake this task working together with Cosatu. The SACP will have to draft a short discussion document to be used in preparing for the summit. Whether that discussion document comes out as an SACP document, or generally a broader progressive document, is something that this Central Committee may want to reflect upon if this idea is accepted. The Gender Summit is an important site of deepening the struggles against patriarchy and to take the struggles against gender based violence to higher levels. Precisely because the time available before towards the Gender Summit, it is important to focus on the type of resolutions the summit needs to adopt and on a post-summit programme of activities.

The role of the SACP in relation to the ANC

Having held both our respective Congresses (the SACP’s 14th Congress, and the ANC’s Nasrec Conference), it is important once more to honestly and frankly reflect on the relationship between the SACP and the ANC. In particular, we need to define our own vanguard role in relation to the ANC. We cannot talk about the task of mobilising the motive forces of the NDR, or the possible formation of LPFs, without looking at this relationship.

The history of the relationship between the SACP and the ANC has been one of common struggle and of mutual influence. The SACP has historically played an important role in helping the ANC to transform itself into a revolutionary movement.

And the ANC has had its own influence on the SACP: it was the experiences of trying to build an alliance with the ANC from the late 1920s into the 1950s that the SACP came to appreciate both the practical and theoretical importance and significance of the National Question in our revolution. It was this experience and reality that evolved and was captured in the SACP’s historic 1962 programme, The South African Road to Freedom. It was in this programme that the SACP managed to theoretically and programmatically grasp the elusive relationship between the class and the national questions. Out of this emerged an indigenous South African elaboration of the concept of the NDR as the most immediate path of our struggles and the basis for a sustained alliance between the ANC, SACP and the progressive trade union movement.

The relationship between the SACP and ANC has experienced problems and difficult moments over the past 90 years. The lowest ebb was in the early part of this relationship, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In reflecting on the current relationship, can we not say that this relationship has, in some of its concrete manifestations, deteriorated to the period similar to that of the 1930s-1940s? To take one significant, example: senior SACP leaders were not elected in their own right to the NEC of the ANC at Nasrec, arguably taking us back to the 1930s. Similarly, there is a paucity of communists elected on to ANC PEC structures during recent ANC provincial conferences. These developments could possibly create a situation where the mutual influence that has characterised the SACP-ANC relations over decades may wane – to the detriment of the revolution as a whole.

This CC must closely analyse this, building on our previous analyses of the state of our two formations over the past 12-18 months. Perhaps this situation is an outcome of the uncertainties experienced by both our formations particularly in the run-up to our respective congresses in 2017.

It has historically been very dangerous for the ANC to go forward without effective, but non-sectarian, participation of the SACP in the structures of the Movement. We may have to pose the uncomfortable but necessary question of whether the SACP has exhausted its historical vanguard role in relation to the ANC? Our answer must be an emphatic no, and we need to engage and guide our own lower structures in this regard.

One of the issues that emerged at our last Party Building Committee in August was the observation that today’s ANC is vastly different from the pre-1994 ANC. But this reality applies to the SACP too. If both our formations are vastly different from the earlier period, then we need to undertake an honest and detailed analysis of the nature and implications of these changes. As the SACP we must be clear that without effective, non-sectarian participation in ANC we would be creating an extremely dangerous situation that could seriously compromise our revolution.

We therefore need to decide what is to be done to attend to the relationship between the SACP and the ANC. This could include:

- An intensive strategy to seek to positively impact on the ANC, both inside and through the broader Alliance;

- Focused and intensive SACP cadre development, so we produce cadres capable of playing important roles in both the SACP and ANC;

- The need to confront factionalism and money politics in all our structures;

- Use the building of LPFs to drive mass based campaigns and intense political education;

- Build a strong YCL capable of producing a layer of revolutionary young cadres, and at the same time influencing the ANC Youth League, Sasco, Cosas, and among other youth formations.

Strengthen the relationship between the SACP and YCL

At our early August Politburo, concerns were expressed about increasing instances of tensions between SACP and YCL structures at subnational levels. This matter was also placed before the August Party Building Committee for consideration and discussion. It is important for this CC to reflect on this matter.

The SACP can only be able to effectively play its vanguard role in the NDR if it is united. Divided, our Party will never be able to act as a vanguard. A key aspect building the unity in the SACP is ensuring that we build a strong but dynamic relationship between the SACP and the YCL. Our point of departure is that the YCL is a youth formation of the SACP, although it has the autonomy to run its own structures and programmes.

There have been instances of ugly conflict between SACP and YCL structures. Sometimes the SACP or YCL structures have stood in factionalist opposition to each other. When pointing out that it is incumbent on SACP structures not to lament the YCL, but to guide it towards programmatic work and loyalty to the ANC, some provincial leaders point out that some YCL members do not understand the SACP and do not engage.

The SACP must pay close attention to the YCL, and have dedicated SACP cadres to focus on this task. At the same time both the SACP and the YCL must strongly condemn as highly unacceptable form of ill-discipline the raid on a YCL National Committee meeting by a section of YCL leaders from KZN. The SACP’s KZN provincial structures must also be asked to publicly condemn this behaviour if we are to maintain internal communist discipline in our structures.

On Zimbabwe

Our neighbour Zimbabwe has just held a generally peaceful election, unlike any of the previous three. The SACP needs to closely observe and analyse post-Mugabe Zimbabwe and understand the lessons to be learned. Most importantly we need to clarify the posture we adopt to Zimbabwe, and specifically to its various political formations.

It should come as no surprise that Zanu-PF has won the 2018 presidential, national and local elections. In the early 2000s, an SACP fact- finding team concluded that Zanu-PF had become a movement dependent on its control over the levers of the state. We also observed that Zanu-PF seemed to have lost support from key motive forces of the Zimbabwean revolution, particularly the urban-based working class and large sections of the middle class and the intelligentsia.

The recent rupture in Zanu-PF that saw the ousting of long serving former President Robert Mugabe may or may not mark a significant change in the political orientation and character of the organisation. This requires closer scrutiny on our part. The Zanu-PF offensive against the progressive trade union movement in the 2000s, especially the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), significantly weakened the base of Zanu-PF within the ranks of the organised working class. Perhaps Zanu-PF could withstand this rupture primarily because of its hold over the rural masses of that country.

Much as Zanu-PF has lost large sections of the urban population, through its patronage networks and hold over the traditional leaders in the rural areas – where the majority of Zimbabweans still reside – it is able to wield significant political and electoral power power, including electoral power.

The larger section of the MDC, which campaigned in the recent elections as MDC-Alliance is very different from the MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai in the 2000, an MDC that arguably won the 2008 elections. The MDC has got great appeal and support in the urban areas, but insufficient to electorally unseat Zanu-PF.

Zanu-PF’s weakening of ZCTU also weakened the MDC. The strength of ZCTU buttressed the MDC in 2008.

We also have lessons to learn from the MDC experience in the 2018 elections. In particular, we must learn from the fact that there is a big difference between mass electoral appeal and organised and sustained presence among the masses. The MDC could call upon its voters to mass protests in the streets of Harare, but it quickly lost control of the situation because of the absence of solid organised presence among those voters.

The SACP has over the last few years been working closely with progressive but smaller left wing forces and organisations, a relationship that has led to the formation of the still very small Zimbabwean Communist Party. It is important that the SACP to maintain these links, while also broadening its engagement with other political forces in Zimbabwe, including Zanu-PF itself. l


1 The Gender Summit has been postponed

This document was published in the SACP journal, the African Communist, 2nd Quarter 2018