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COSATU Today  |  Affiliates Speeches

SACP General Secretary Cde Blade Nzimande Speaker's Notes address to COSATU National Congress

24 November 2015

"Unite the working class, our communities and our movement: Build a militant COSATU”

Comrade President and delegates,

I bring fraternal and revolutionary greetings from the leadership and membership of the SACP. The Party's membership has been continuously increasing and is now just under 240, 000.

This year as an alliance we merged from a useful alliance summit prior to our successful Special National Congress as the SACP.

At your 11th National Congress the message of the SACP emphasized the fact that it is important for the working class to take responsibility for the national democratic revolution. Indeed that was at the time when the offensive against the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had reared its ugly head. It was an offensive, as we insisted and warned at the time - that was intended and directed at the COSATU itself and ultimately the ANC-led alliance as a whole.

But it is clear now that the same offensive that was directed at the COSATU aimed at the left inside our Alliance, as we now see the intensified attacks on the SACP. That is why your theme for this congress is absolutely important, that of uniting the federation to play its proper role in the national democratic revolution.

Why and what is the context of these developments?

This Congress takes place in a matter of months after our Alliance Summit. It is important to remind ourselves of what that alliance said, emerging out of that summit. In its declaration the alliance said:

"Discussions in the Summit focused considerably on a range of internal weaknesses, difficulties and challenges found across all our formations. These include: A growing social distance between leadership and our mass constituency, including disconnect between the focus of branch activities and the social and economic realities of communities, including crass displays of wealth and arrogance.

"These problems reinforce and are connected to the deliberate manipulation and subversion of internal democratic processes through the manipulation of membership through gatekeeping and the use of money to advance individual ambitions and factions based on patronage and nepotism. This behaviour is also the entry-point for corporate capture and private business interests outside of our formations to undermine organizational processes.

"The Summit resolved that these deviations must be dealt with firmly and without fear or favour. Those guilty of funding factions and those guilty of accepting money for these purposes must be exposed.”

Perhaps the problem of circulation of money in our conferences and the dangers of corporate capture reflect a deeper problem - an intensification of class struggles in society, parts of which aim to replace our Alliance. Our Alliance is principally based on the working class as its anchor. But there is now a new attempt to replace this alliance with a new alliance between sections of our own movement and the capitalist class, where the capitalist class will be a new anchor.

For instance when some of our comrades begin to say the SACP and COSATU add no value to our alliance they are in fact beginning to say the working class is of no value to the political direction they are pursuing.

The question then becomes, if the working class, according to them is of no value any more, then which class is now of value to them?

The problem and threat of corporate capture faces not only the ANC or those in government, but all our formations, and not least the trade union movement. We know that for a long time, the capitalist financial sector has been targeting the trade union movement for its debit orders for insurance, funeral and other financial products. It has been this behavior of financial capital that has been the foundation of business unionism that we have been talking about. For instance the SACP hopes that this congress will discuss and face these challenges head-on in the trade union movement.

We are asking these searching questions as the Communist Party because it is absolutely essential to always contextualize our struggles against the background of what the Communist Manifesto says, that: the history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggle.

Also as the SACP we feel very strongly that it is time that just over twenty years into a democratic South Africa there are some serious reflections we need to make. We must reflect on some of the problems and challenges that have faced many other liberation movements after ascendancy into power. This is a debate and a reflection that is important if we are to avoid some of the mistakes made in many other revolutions, a matter we shall return to.

But what is the broader - class - context within which all this is taking place?

Since the decisive advance that we all welcomed way back in 2007, that advance has partly been frustrated by the global capitalist crisis. On the eve of the 2009 elections, when the leadership elected in Polokwane took the formal reins of government, the world went into a global capitalist crisis starting in the preceding year. The crisis has since become an albatross on the economic objectives and goals of Fourth Administration, led by Comrade President Jacob Zuma.

Our document ‘Going to the root' explains these challenges comprehensively and argues for an economic trajectory that is based on a partial de-linking from the main centres of imperialist economic power. A partial de-linking to buttress South Africa's ability to chart its own sovereign development path, including the following:

  • the cancellation of neo-colonial bilateral agreements, for instance, with EU and other countries;
  • local beneficiation of our mineral resources;
  • leveraging state procurement to ensure greater localization, as part of broader state-led industrial policy action plans;
  • infrastructure development that begins to partially de-link our productive economy from a neo-colonial pit-to-port pattern;
  • the active use of trade and tariff measures to ensure greater protection of local jobs and productive activity;
  • a shift away from BEE policies and codes that over-emphasize leveraged (indebted) share-holding for a few individuals who are therefore liable to be STRUCTURALLY compradorist (i.e. neo-colonial) towards a focus on nurturing (black) industrialists (i.e. a productive strata involved in local ownership and management),
  • using anti-competition legislation and agencies to weaken the collusive behavior of transnational monopoly capital;
  • addressing a range of financial sector challenges - including tax base erosion, transfer pricing, illegal capital flight, and implementing prescribed asset legislation on local and multi-national capital, etc.

In short, partial delinking is about advancing the capacity for democratic NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY as a critical dimension of the NDR.

Significant shifts underway in global economic (and political and even military - see Ukraine and Syria/Iraq) power since the dramatic setback of 1989/1990 with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, are also now creating some conditions for greater multi-polarity and therefore space for the advancing of progressive, democratic national sovereignty based on majority-rule in countries like South Africa. The BRICS formation, with its own internal contradictions but also many possibilities, needs to be appreciated in this context.

Over the past year and indeed even in the past weeks there have been important geo-political developments that underline that, while the United States (US) undoubtedly remains the dominant global hegemon, its ability (along with its allies) to unilaterally achieve its strategic objectives has suffered significant decline. The importance of the re-opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba should, of course, not be unduly exaggerated - the US will continue to attempt to erode Cuban socialism and sovereignty now much more through "soft” power (i.e. economic leverage and consumerist ideological power). Nonetheless, the re-opening of diplomatic relations marks a strategic defeat and reversal of four-and-half decades of US imperialist policy directed against Cuba and indeed the Latin America region.

In the course of 2015, US/NATO politico-military strategic agendas in the Ukraine and now in Syria have also suffered humiliating set-backs. In the past weeks, the Russian air campaign against ISIS and other terrorist groups has caught the US and its allies off-balance in the region, with Russia succeeding in forging a strategic alliance not just with the Syrian government, but also the Iranian government, along with operational collaboration with Hezbollah and Kurdish forces. There is also now intelligence sharing between Russia and the Iraqi government (installed originally by US intervention!). The Russians have also succeeded in achieving a major diplomatic victory in the Vienna declaration in which the US and its allies were forced (at least in words) to abandon the strategy of territorial fragmentation (along "ethnic/religious” lines) of Syria and the removal of Assad as a pre-condition for a political settlement, as opposed to the Russian line which has been consistent in saying the future of Syria must be determined by the Syrian people themselves.

All of these developments - political, military and diplomatic - have caused a substantial setback to US imperialist geo-political regime-change strategies that were honed in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and repeated in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

The recent events in Paris have been widely condemned in the Western media (as opposed to the somewhat lukewarm concern about the ISIS bombing of a Russian civilian plane, or the ISIS slaughter of thousands of Azidis in Northern Iraq, or ISIS bombs in Beirut, or the ISIS-aligned Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. Western public outrage has forced Western governments to work more closely with Russia and its allies to counter the ISIS threat. This past week there has even been cooperation in the Mediterranean between the French and Russian naval fleets.

Domestically we are faced with the persisting realities of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Whilst the SACP welcomes the very impressive government R1 trillion investment into infrastructure, this has served largely to cushion us from what could have been the worst situation given the continuing impact of the global capitalist crises this time occasioned by the 2008 global economic meltdown.

It was also against these realities that coming out of the Alliance Summit we had promised to unite ourselves as a movement.

National liberation movements, trade unions and their allied communist parties after independence

It is also important that we revert and seek to engage, through political education and through our internal publications, the literature of the 1960s-1980s on the challenges facing liberation movements in, or after ascending to, power. Such literature will also help us to (re)debate this matter thoroughly inside our movement, as part of our own reflection on our own experiences. The question will have to be posed and answered as to what our two decades in power has done to all our formations and the movement as a whole, both positive and negative.

What we have sometimes appropriately referred to as the ‘sins of incumbency' is relevant here. We must admit that these sins of incumbency have not only affected the ANC as the governing party. Most of our formations, albeit unevenly, have suffered from this, especially also in the trade union movement and in the mass democratic movement.

Of course we must distinguish doing such an exercise from attempts by the anti-majoritarian (neo)liberal offensive to try and charge our movement as inherently corrupt. This is no different from the racist narrative of colonialism and apartheid that says look what happens when they take over.

It is under these circumstances that a reflection on the experiences of liberation movements including trade union movements and communist parties after independence or ascendance to state power is absolutely necessary. A survey of the progressive (academic) literature of the 1960s to the 1980s of liberation movements in power in our African continent highlight four key challenges, whatever advances are made, facing these movements:

Failure to transform the (post-colonial) state - Scholars like Fanon, Mahmood Mamdani, Ibbo Mandaza highlight the fact that liberation movements after ascendancy to power tend to be absorbed by the (untransformed) post-colonial state, where the only change is the colour of those who occupy senior political and bureaucratic positions but without any fundamental change to the state as an instrument of imperialist or former colonial bourgeoisie. Mandaza particularly bemoans the lack of an emergence of truly independent national bourgeoisie that is able to make its imprint on the state outside of the patronage of the national liberation movement. He makes an example of the Zimbabwean state that the vast majority of ZANU PF elites will not survive after Mugabe, or that their very means of continued accumulation and preservation is directly dependent on continued control of the state by ZANU PF.

Inability to address the national question - For all national liberation movements addressing the national question is often at the heart of the national liberation struggles or the national democratic revolution. Mamdani in particular points to what he refers to as a bi-furcated state, where the urban centres reflect the colonial past and the ‘grazing land' of the new national domestic bourgeoisie, whilst the rural population remains under the iron grip of traditional leaders. Sometimes the political elites in post-colonial states regress back to tribalism in their fight to retain both political and economic power.

Failure to transform the colonial and imperialist-based domestic economy- Guy Mhone, the late leftist economist originally from Zambia who passed away in March 2005, developed the concept of an enclave economy to describe both the colonial and post-colonial economies in the continent, with a particular focus on the SADC region. Mhone was pre-occupied with how neo-liberalism in sub-Saharan Africa reproduced dual economies, one modernized urban and the other underdeveloped survivalist in the hinterland. Mhone criticized the inability of the post-liberation state in the SADC region to eradicate what he calls the enclave nature of the economy, a dual economy characterized by a modernized and advanced formal economy in the city and a survivalist economy at the fringes of the urban economy and in the rural hinterland. It is interesting to note how the 1996 class project characterization of the first and second economies was in some ways reproducing the idea of an enclave economy without understanding how the systemic features of the so-called "first economy” were, precisely the engine that was driving chronic underdevelopment (poverty, inequality, unemployment) that the 1996 class project conveniently labelled as a separate "second economy”. This led the 1996 class project to advocate one-off measures (BEE, micro-loans, taxi-recap, EPWP "work opportunities”) to "graduate” those in the "second economy” into what was portrayed as a fundamentally "good” (i.e. neo-liberal capitalist) "first economy”. Mhone characterized the formal economy as an enclave because it is exclusive, only accessible to the colonial and post-colonial elites, while the majority of the people struggled on the periphery. But while there are clearly enclaves in South Africa is Mhone right to imagine that these are just about exclusion of the majority? The majority of South Africans WERE/ARE proletarianised and were/are therefore NOT excluded from the formal economy - the periphery (reserves and later the peri-urban townships and informal settlements) were/are the zones of social reproduction of an active and reserve army of labour. These forms of marginalisation in South Africa are not only about exclusion, but also about INFERIOR (racially, gendered, and spatially determined) inclusion within the circuits of a relative modern capitalist accumulation process. Our own South African economy still reflects these realities of colonialism of a special type.

In many instances the post-colonial state becomes a site for looting, not because Africans are thieves, but given the political economy of many post-colonial states in the continent. A number of factors contribute to this. In developing countries where there are few opportunities for capital accumulation due to a small private sector. The neo-liberalization of the state - where the state increasingly becomes dependent (and hostage) to the private sector for delivery of many of its services, it becomes a tendering state. A tendering state is further weakened by lack of adequate capacity to effectively monitor these tenders, thus increasing chances of corruption, as weak states are more vulnerable to corruption. From both the 1996 global financial meltdown to the current global capitalist crisis it is clear that during such crises opportunities for private capitalist accumulation become fewer, thus making the state an even bigger target for a quick buck.

Betrayal of the principal motive forces of the national liberation struggle - A lot of the critique of liberation movements after independence are about how, in the light of all the weaknesses just highlighted, the leadership of these movements finally betray the principal motive forces of the national liberation movement, the working class, the peasantry, as well as the urban and rural poor. As these motive forces begin to rise or protest against the elites in power, these former liberation movements begin to turn against them. Fundamentally the challenge becomes that of being a mass based movement that is simultaneously leading the government!

Often underpinning these is the emergence of what has often been referred to as a parasitic bourgeoisie that is highly dependent on the control of the state for purposes of capital accumulation.

However it is also important to reflect on how in a number of instances the trade union movement has been mobilized to become a platform for regime change agendas against former liberation movements in power. One classical example closer to home is that of Zambia where the trade union movement was used to dislodge Kaunda, but only to quickly embrace the worst of neo-liberal policies and presided over a government that ultimately turned against the trade union movement in that country. And indeed you will agree with us that the trade union movement in Zambia has never recovered from that disastrous experience.

These aberrations in many post-colonial states are not inherent in the nature of such political dispensations but are a product of the location of developing states in the broader political economy of the global capitalist economy, as well as class and other related struggles in such countries.

It is however important that in our case, we also reflect on experiences of communist parties and trade union movements that have been or are part of the national liberation movements after ascendancy to power by such movements. There is no space and time to do this in this today but it is something that we will have to do at some stage.

Part of the difficulty of doing an analysis as just outlined is that in the current period there are very few communist parties (or even trade union movements), if any, that are in a similar position to that of the SACP (and COSATU) today. Frankly, there are hardly any examples we can fully learn from, other than an open and frank examination and critical self-reflection on our own experiences over the past 94 years as the SACP in particular, but especially since 1994. This is an analysis and exercise we have committed to undertake as part of our own discussions on the SACP's relationship to state power.

The relationship between the SACP and COSATU: The socialist axis of our Alliance

Allow us to turn to the important relationship and tasks facing our two working class formations. We are very pleased to observe that COSATU is getting out of one of its most serious challenges since it was formed. We would like to use this opportunity to also salute you as you approach your 30th anniversary next month.

Driving a second, more radical phase of our transition requires a strong working class, and especially a strong, larger but quality SACP. This task also requires a strong, independent and militant COSATU. We do not want a COSATU that is an extension of the ANC or government. Also as the SACP we do not want a COSATU that is our extension. Given the challenges we have just outlined, South Africa needs a militant COSATU just as our dry weather now needs rain.

The principal task of our two formations is that of intensify the struggle to place the working class as the principal motive force in driving the second, more radical phase, of our revolution and intensifying the struggle for socialism . At the centre of such a struggle must be the struggle against corruption in the whole of society, the public and the private sectors.

Between now and our 14th Congress in 2017 we need to build a larger SACP and an even much larger COSATU! As the SACP we are inviting you to come and swell the ranks of the SACP. Our primary focus is to build a larger SACP through the recruitment of workers, especially those workers organized in the trade union movement, with members of COSATU affiliates being a priority focus. Recruiting more workers from the organized trade union movement will also serve to deepen and strengthen the relationship and historical ties between our two working class formations.

In uniting ourselves we must also wage a relentless struggle against factionalism, and seek to always focus on the programmatic priorities that we are facing.

But forging a closer relationship between our two formations must not just be a formalistic exercise. We must intensify mass activism and campaigning on a whole range of fronts, with the most immediate task being that of deepening our financial sector campaign, strengthening mobilization in campuses, township and village struggles for socio-economic development. COSATU campaigns on transformation of the workplace, the living wage campaign and progressive trade unionism to improve service to workers are crucial in thus struggle and very much part and parcel of it.

We wish to urge COSATU to once more join the SACP as we intensify our financial sector campaign. Through the financial sector campaign we are pushing for a new financial architecture in our country - a financial sector whose resources must increasingly be invested to support our productive economy.

We are pushing for an end to private monopoly domination of the banking sector. We are also calling for diversity and a greater enabling environment for the development of workers' and people's co-operative banks. In fact we are also calling upon COSATU affiliates to consider channeling some of their financial resources into building workers' co-operatives and co-operative banks. We are also calling for the Post Bank to be to transformed and supported to become a state bank serving a developmental agenda.

Through our financial sector campaign we are also fighting against the alarmingly high levels of housing evictions and bank repossessions of workers' houses. From our campaigning on this front we have found that there is a lot of corruption and collusion between some bank officials and some officials in the court system.

Free education for working class and poor students

From our Central Committee this weekend we saluted the widespread, radical mobilization of students over the past several weeks. We fully associate ourselves with the demand to advance towards free access to higher education for the working class and poor. No qualifying student should be excluded from post-school education and training on financial grounds.

In the course of the student mobilization the liberal smugness of many university administrations has been exposed. At Stellenbosch and the University of North West student mobilization with academic support has exposed language policies that have been used to perpetuate exclusion and frustrate transformation. In many cases, the student mobilization has also achieved important non-racial unity. The student mobilization has also added fresh impetus to the long-standing struggle of the SACP and the union movement against outsourcing of campus workers. These are important advances that must be consolidated and strengthened as part of the wider national democratic struggle.

It now becomes imperative that we build on the energies, aspirations and concerns of students, many of whom have become politically active for the first time. To take this momentum forward we need to expose a small minority of externally-funded, anarchistic forces who are seeking to use the legitimate demands of students for entirely other agendas. Indeed, over the past weeks in particular, these forces have exposed themselves. The destruction of university property, and criminal actions are not the work of those who genuinely seek to transform the higher education and training terrain. On the UWC campus, 300 odd, misguided anarchists associated with reactionary groupings have tried to disrupt examinations, holding the majority of students at hostage.

What is the way forward? The ANC-led alliance and particularly the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) formations, NEHAWU and SADTU have a critical responsibility in this situation. We must speak with one voice, and we must listen patiently to the many issues confronting students. We must provide concrete leadership on the ground, campus by campus, addressing the specific issues in different localities. We must not provide leadership arrogantly or by proclamation, but on the basis of a common radical programme for the transformation of the entire post-school education and training system.

In the immediate short-term, resources must be found to meet the commitment to a zero fee increase for 2016, as well as to address the debt crisis confronting returning students in the new-year.

As we move forward, a comprehensive review must be undertaken to ensure that the government's budgetary processes are aligned with the key strategic priorities of our country, including how to achieve the appropriate balance in funding universities, on the one hand, and vocational technical training, on the other. While upholding the constitutional principle of academic freedom, the modalities of university autonomy when the evocation of autonomy blocks progressive transformation must be addressed. In an extremely unequal society, simply implementing free university education for all will actually reproduce class, racial, gendered and geographical inequalities. As long as South Africa remains grossly unequal, there needs to be a graduated, means-tested application of fees. Those who can pay, must pay.

The funding of post-school education and training needs also to be integrated into a more general struggle for the transformation of the financial sector. Consideration should be given to an income tax add-on dedicated to post-school education and training. The SACP's campaign to enhance community re-investment obligations on the financial sector needs also to be included in the funding challenges. Monopoly capital is the principal beneficiary of the public funding that goes into post-school education and training, greater mobilized pressure must be directed there.

We also pledge to support COSATU improving service to workers and in the struggles against outsourcing, casualization and labour broking.

We also wish once more to dismiss the claims that the SACP is trying to divide and weaken COSATU. No political party in this country has a similar record to the SACP in building and defending the trade union movement in the entire 94 years of its existence. This claim is an attempt to drive a wedge between our Party and trade union organization. Similarly we have no negative attitude towards any of the COSATU affiliates. Instead we are not only calling for unity in COSATU - we have been working towards that and side by side with COSATU in the trenches, real theater of struggle.

For instance those who say we have a negative attitude towards for instance SACCAWU or FAWU and completely out in opposition to concrete reality. We would like to engage with you comrades in the same way as we engage with all other COSATU affiliates. The SACP is calling on all COSATU affiliates to close ranks and unite from this congress onwards. Let us invert and turn the inward focus into a united offensive against the bosses. Let us concentrate the battle in the enemy camp, not in our own camp.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that ours is a struggle for socialism, and we have to pay close attention and seek to deepen our relationship. No other class will pursue the interests of the working class other than the working class itself!

We wish you a successful Congress!

Thank you all, dear comrades!

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