What is the United Front, and why is it needed? - Irvin Jim

NUMSA GS says his union sees itself playing the leading role in the formation of a revolutionary socialist organ of the working class


"All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air." - (The Communist Manifesto, 1848)

A. Introduction: A new world is possible!

It is possible for every human being in the world today to have good food, excellent clothes, warm and comfortable shelter, to acquire all the learning they need and want, to have enjoy excellent health; and to live beyond a 100 years; and happily too.

No child need go to bed sad, unloved and hungry, anywhere in the world today.

No woman needs to live under the psychological and physical terror of another human being, male or female.

We can live in clean and safe environments, all of us, today, if we so choose. We can rebuild and recreate our natural environments. We can clean the Earth of all pollutants.

Humankind has never had so much knowledge, become so globally connected, and never acquired so much skill and capacity to create wealth, as is the case today, in the 21st Century.

There is more than enough knowledge and science in the world today to achieve all the above.

We can all live together, equal, happily and peacefully, enjoying a just world, side by side, each professing their beliefs and sharing their work and talents without fear of the other.

What then, stops us from advancing to this humane and truly civilized world?

What prevents us from becoming fully human, equal and free, and therefore liberating our environments too?

The answers to these questions are all around and in us. It is the very system that has unleashed our human potential to know, to tame the physical elements, to create wealth, that has now imprisoned us.

We have become prisoners and victims of our own apparent success at knowing and creating wealth!

We are trapped by the pathological virus of the private greed which is at the heart of the system of world ownership, production, distribution, circulation and consumption of the knowledge and wealth we produce.

It is impossible to produce even the smallest article without involving the whole of society today. Billions of individual human beings, over the many millennia of our human existence, in all parts of the world, have made their individual contributions to the growth of human knowledge and our ability to create wealth. But the fruits of our collective efforts, the fruits off our collective social labour, are owned and controlled by private individuals. This is the cause of all our problems, in our view.

It is estimated that just about 500 families literary own more than half of the entire wealth produced in the world today. Meanwhile, this year marked the growth of the global human population overtaking the 7 billion mark!

While knowledge and wealth are socially created by billions of human beings, ownership is private and individual, and concentrated in a tiny minority.

It is this fundamental contradiction, this essential quality of capitalism - a system of private accumulation and concentration of wealth in a tiny global minority of that which human society produces socially and collectively, while the vast majority are impoverished in excruciating poverty and want - which has imprisoned the human person in a world prison of permanent warfare, violent racism, extreme poverty, worldwide unemployment, extreme global inequalities, mass misery, environmental degradation and destruction, a vicious global patriarchal system that reduces the female person to the status of mare male property, spiritual and religious intolerance, and the ultimate division of the world into the halve-and-have-nots, the rich North and poor South, in all our human communities. 

We have created this world prison for ourselves. We can destroy it, and replace it with a free world. We can end this state of affairs in the world. We can bring down the prison walls and gates, and liberate ourselves from the pathology of private greed and private accumulation. We can be free.

We can create a world of equal, free, happy human beings capable of sharing the Earth in equality, justice, love and harmony, and therefore enduring peace.

We can end racial intolerance and prejudice. We can stop the abuse of children. We can together, restore the humanity of all the oppressed, especially women.

We can end the exploitation of one by another. We can and must work towards a society in which there are no classes among us!

We at Numsa think all this is possible. Which is why we resolved to form a United Front last year in December, to begin the tough journey of uniting all South Africans, of all races, male and female, from all walks of life but especially the working class and their communities, into a United Front to resist, to fight, and to defeat the plague of our system of private greed which imprisons us all.

We have, therefore, invited all of you gathered in this important Assembly to help shape this important journey we must undertake together.

We cannot fail. We have no right to fail to destroy our own imprisonment. We have no alternative but to destroy the walls and gates of our prisons. Our human vocation is to seek greater freedoms, nothing else.

We of Numsa invite all of us to go out to all the corners of our country, to the remotest rural most dwellings, in our slums, in our townships, in our suburbs, to loudly proclaim and shout at the top of our voices that the time has come to reclaim our humanity, to restore dignity to all the oppressed, to give back their freedom to the exploited, to return the Earth to all its peoples, to rebuild our country into the paradise it can become!

B. Numsa December 2013 National Special Congress and its Resolutions

It important that we at Numsa must constantly explain our December 2013 historic Numsa Special National Congress Resolutions, especially the ones that talk to the formation of the United Front, the Movement for Socialism, the ANC and its alliance, and our quest to form an independent revolutionary socialist vanguard party of the working class and the role of Numsa as a trade union, in all this.

The Resolutions adopted in our Special National Congress were a culmination of more than 26 years of working inside the South African Liberation Movement (LM) in general, and inside and building the ANC and its alliance in particular.

Over close to three decades of struggle inside the Liberation Movement and the ANC and its alliance, by December last year, Numsa came to the inescapable observation and conclusion that there is no chance of winning back the ANC led alliance to what it was originally formed for, which was to drive a revolutionary programme for fundamental transformation of South Africa, with the Freedom Charter as the minimum platform to transform the South African economy and society.

As for the South African Communist Party (SACP) it was clear that its leadership had become embedded in the South African neoliberal capitalist state and it was failing to act as the vanguard, as the political leader, of the working class. Nor, for that matter, we confirmed, has the SACP any viable revolutionary programme, post 1994, for the struggle for full social justice in South Africa.

In short, by December last year, we became convinced that the chances of winning back the ANC onto the path of radical implementation of the Freedom Charter and the SACP onto the path of genuine full social justice for all the people of South Africa had actually evaporated!

We therefore correctly resolved to call on Cosatu to break from the ANC led alliance. We stated that the need for looking for a political alternative had arrived.

We then resolved that NUMSA was going to lead the establishment of a new United Front, whose task would be to coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the UDF of the 1980s.

The task of this Front will be to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and to be an organisational weapon against neoliberal capitalist policies such as the NDP.

For all this to happen, our December Special Congress charged all our members and shopstewards to be active in all fronts and in all struggles against neo- liberal policies, wherever these policies were being implemented.

Clearly, the United Front is not a political party - it is simply an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies and for the demand for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter. The fundamental purpose of the United Front is to coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities.

There are some, especially among the media, who have gone so far as to announce for us that Numsa's political party is called the United Front. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In our Resolutions, we clearly stated that the United Front will be an organization similar to the United Democratic Front (UDF) - a democratic umbrella coordinating structure of the shopfloor and community struggles of the working class bringing together all sorts of working class and progressive community organisations and individuals.

There are well funded efforts to weaken us, to divide us, to saw fear and create confusion among the many organisations and individuals here in South Africa and abroad, whom we are working with. It is, therefore, very important for us to clearly state what we resolved to do in our December 2013 Special National Congress.

We repeat: the United Front is not a political party! It is a democratic umbrella coordinating structure of the shopfloor and community struggles to resist neoliberalism and to fight for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter. 

C. Our struggle for a Socialist South Africa

From its birth some 27 years ago, Numsa has been inspired by the vision of a socialist world in which all human beings, irrespective of race, religion or age would live in justice, equality and peace, enjoying fully and equally the fruits of human labour.

We believe it is possible to eliminate discrimination, oppression and exploitation. As explained in the introduction above, we believe we can destroy the prison humanity has constructed for itself.

It is our belief, therefore, that the South African working class, all of it, black, African and white, as the producers of knowledge and wealth and have a central role in the struggle to destroy the current status quo which reduces the human person to a commodity for sale.

Therefore, side by side with the establishment of the new United Front, we resolved in our December Special National Congress that Numsa would explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism, as the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa.

We said that Numsa would conduct discussions on previous and current attempts to build socialism both here in South Africa, Africa and the whole world. 

We resolved to commission an international study on the historical formation of working class parties, including exploring different type of parties - from mass workers parties to vanguard parties.

In our Special Congress we even mentioned countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Greece - as potential sources on socialist experiences we would study.

We then said the whole learning process would lead to the union convening a Conference on Socialism. We are determined to host this Conference early next year.

We said that the work to explore the formation of a Movement for Socialism must be regularly reported to our Numsa constitutional structures and the work must be finalised by the first NUMSA Central Committee in 2015.

In the meantime, in all the work being done, whether on building a new United Front or exploring the formation of a Movement for Socialism, we said that we must be alert to gains that may present possibilities of either the new United Front, or any other progressive coalition or party committed to socialism, standing for elections in future. We charged the NUMSA constitutional structures to continuously assess these developments and possibilities.

The "Movement for Socialism" is not the name of a political party Numsa has formed. The name of such a political organ (could be a broad coalition of revolutionary socialist formations) or party (could be a straightforward revolutionary socialist workers party - not necessarily of that name!), and how such an organ or party will be formed, all will be determined in the theater of struggle - the working class, once sufficiently mobilized and united behind the demand for socialism, will determine the programme, form and name of such a structure.

D. Numsa and the UF and the Movement for Socialism

From the above, a few things that are very important must now be very clear.

Numsa is and will remain a trade union, inspired by Marxism Leninism. It will not convert itself into a political party. It cannot do so, anyway.

Numsa sees itself playing a leading role in the formation of the United Front and a revolutionary and catalytic role in the formation of the revolutionary socialist organ of the working class - it is theoretically and factually wrong to assert that "Numsa will form a political party" or more ridiculously and quite incorrectly, that "Numsa has formed a political party" in the same way, for example, that Julius Malema or Bantu Holomisa formed their parties!

The political organ to logically arise out of the processes outlined above (whether it be a socialist movement or a socialist workers party, and called by whatever name) cannot be about "beefing up, or providing credible opposition to the ANC" precisely because the process we have outlined above are processes of the immense majorities - the South African working class, both black and white, in all their workplaces and communities!

All other previous and historic political formations, including the birth of the ANC itself, were movements of minorities!

The ANC and SACP are everyday reminding Numsa that the working class organised in Cosatu unions and Cosatu itself will always remain in the ANC and its Alliance. This is arrogance of the highest order, and it reveals shocking ignorance and abandonment of Marxist-Leninist class theory and analysis, on the part of the leadership of both the ANC and SACP, about why the working class both organized in Cosatu unions, and those not organised in any union, have tolerated a clearly dysfunctional and anti-working class alliance for more than 20 years!

Simply stated, the working class, are not the political property of either the ANC or the SACP - their presence in the ANC and SACP is premised on the sole fact that these organisations are able to protect and advance the class interests of the working class.

As more than 27 years of our Marxist-Leninist analysis and revolutionary work has shown, both these organisations no longer champion the interests of the working class or socialism. And the advanced working class has, and continues to, abandon these organisations.

For us at Numsa, the democratic and revolutionary strategic objective of all these processes is for the advanced detachment of the working class to rally the immense majority in order to win economic and political power for the immense majority of South African working class in all its manifold manifestations, for a socialist South Africa as the only solution to the human crisis in South Africa, and the world, today.

In the United Front, we are not automatically signing any organisation to any project to form a socialist organ of the working class. Rather, all organisations are recognized and organised into the United Front on two main criteria:

a. Resistance to neoliberal capitalism and

b. Desire to work for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter.

This is what our Numsa Special National Congress said the United Front must be all about.

There are no individuals among the Numsa national leadership who harbor illusions of personal grandeur, or who want political power in order to advance their personal economic interests. Only a malicious and extremely ignorant person would make such a mischievous and unashamedly false accusation.

E. Work and Campaigns of the United Front

In this Assembly, we invite all of you to fully and freely participate in defining how we shall work together in the United Front. While we have produced and adopted Protocols to guide the work of the United Front, we all retain the right to contribute new ideas, to persuade one another to amend the protocols, and to advance the cause of creating a truly vibrant, united, democratic and effective United Front!

We have identified some immediate campaign areas. These are not exhaustive. We invite all of us to deepen and expand the campaign areas to involve everything that builds the struggles against neoliberal capitalism and militates against the implementation of the Freedom Charter.

Among the campaign areas are the following:

1. Mass poverty;

2. Extreme inequalities;

3. Nationwide unemployment;

4. Inferior and low quality jobs;

5. The Apartheid wage gap;

6. Minimum wage;

7. Labour brokers;

8. Crime, especially its violent forms;

9. Gender discrimination;

10. Cultural poverty and exclusion;

11. Inferior education, health, sanitation and other social services for the working class;

12. Environmental destructionm and global warming;

13. Sex discrimination;

14. The NDP;

15. E-tolls;

16. Labour brokers;

17. The abominable youth wage subsidy which the bosses and the ANC want to use to divide and weaken the working class, while giving free money to the bosses;

18. The South African colonial wage structure and lack of workplace transformation;

19. The apartheid geography of human settlement and economy;

20. Poor service delivery or non-delivery and lack of access to basic goods and services in adequate quality and quantity to working class communities by the state (housing, public transport, electricity, water, education, healthcare);

21. The violation of the rights of children, women, the lesbian, gay and transgender community, the aged and people with disabilities, including general criminality and moral decay; and

Twenty years into our neoliberal capitalist democracy, it has become clear to us, the working class, that sections of the black petit-bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie who took part in the broad liberation alliance are viciously jostling for hegemony and attempting to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans by claiming that the Black and African working class will forever remain in the ANC and the SACP, and in the neo-liberal and capitalist ANC led Alliance, Comrade Joe Slovo once warned us.

In its 1989 Programme, the SACP said the following, about the post after liberation would have been won:

"In the period after the seizure of power by the democratic forces, the working class will need to continue the struggle against capitalism. It will need to strengthen its organisations and build the bases of working class and popular power in the economy, in all sectors of the state and in the communities where the people live.

A deliberate effort will have to be made to prevent attempts by the bourgeoisie and aspirant capitalist elements - and their imperialist supporters - to dominate state power and divert the revolution.

Constant mass vigilance will also have to be exercised and action taken against such negative tendencies as the stifling of popular democracy, the bureaucratisation of the state and corrupt practices in government or in society as a whole.

In order to prevent the emergence of a seed-bed for capitalist resurgence and ensure an advance to socialism, the working class must win to its side other sections of the working people, both now and after the popular seizure of power. The landless rural masses, sections of the intelligentsia, students, large contingents of youth and women (as social groups) and some small businessmen and other forces stand to gain from the victory of the socialist revolution.

The transition to socialism will be neither completely separate from nor contradictory to the tasks of the national democratic revolution. On the one hand, consistent implementation and defence of the national democratic programme constitute a major guarantee for progress towards socialism.

On the other hand, many of the major objectives of the national democratic revolution will be fully accomplished in the process of socialist construction. Among these tasks are complete national liberation and equality, elimination of sex discrimination, and, more significantly, the elimination of monopoly domination over the economy."

Today Numsa is vilified; insulted, isolated for doing what in fact is a perfectly logical socialist demand on the working class in South Africa today, as articulated by the SACP of old.

F. Conclusions

As Numsa we have consistently maintained that the National Democratic Revolution is off track in South Africa today.

Twenty years after 1994 the land question remains unresolved.

20 years after 1994 South African wealth remains concentrated in a few hands, while poverty, unemployment and extreme inequalities afflict the majority of South Africans.

Systemic and widespread corruption has become the order of the day, inevitably, in an untransformed post 1994 South Africa.

A once proud people are now largely converted into baggers from the state to survive on social grants.

Racism is alive and well, since no new property relations have been introduced in South Africa post 1994.

Millions of South Africans vegetate between insanity and suicide due to poverty, and violent crimes have become accepted as a South African reality.

Rural poverty is killing our population in the countryside.

Our environments are polluted, damaged and destroyed by private greed.

The South African dream for a revolution for a new post 1994 South Africa in which we would all live peacefully and happily, in equality and justice is dead.

The only track for the NDR is towards socialism because we believe many of the major objectives of the NDR can be fully achieved in the process of socialist construction. Our call for a United Front of the working class and a Movement for Socialism is precisely a defence of the national democratic programme, the Freedom Charter, which remains the only programme that is capable of laying the basis for socialist transformation of South African society. 

We appeal to all of us to be tolerant of one another, to encourage and promote the discussion of any and all ideas with respect, to be democratic, to strive towards maximum unity in action, if we do all this, we shall succeed in our struggles for a transformed South Africa and world.

There is no turning back, for us in Numsa. We will do whatever it takes to contribute to uniting the working class and communities behind the demand for the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter, for the struggle against a neoliberal capitalist post-Apartheid South Africa, and for Socialism.

In this Assembly, we invite all South Africans of good will to join us.

Irvin Jim

Numsa General Secretary

13th December 2014.

Issued by NUMSA, December 13 2014

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