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COSATU 10th National Congress - SACP Message delivered by Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

21 September 2009

Building working class hegemony on a terrain of the national democratic struggle

It has certainly been a tumultuous three years since COSATU’s 9th National Congress in 2006. South Africa is a different place and it is sometimes difficult to believe how dramatically the ANC, our Alliance and government have changed in the space of just 36 months.

When we addressed COSATU’s 9th Congress, we observed then that it was taking place during an extremely challenging and complicated period in the history of our revolution and that all our formations in the Alliance were faced with complex political challenges. Hence our refrain ‘The revolution is on trial’.

At that time, we were in the grip of the intolerance and offensive of the 1996 Class Project, our state organs were under siege, COSATU and the SACP were being subjected to ridicule and derision, particularly as a result of our principled support for the then Deputy President of the ANC, Comrade Jacob Zuma. The Alliance was a pretence. The working class was viewed as a general nuisance to the domination of the class project. We were also being warned to butt out of commenting about matters in the ANC that affected our alliance and government as we were told these were matters exclusively for the ANC. It was a top-down, arrogant and know-all attitude and set of practices.

The eight-year persecution of President Zuma nearly brought the ANC to its knees and threatened to destroy the traditions and values of an almost century-old organisation. Parallel to this was the alienation of the alliance partners, all the leagues, former MK combatants, and an onslaught on its leaders, in an attempt to forge a “pure” ANC pursuing a centrist-reformist agenda.

At the last COSATU Congress we also observed: “The attempts to “modernise” and transform the ANC have ravaged the ANC’s organisational capacity. It is increasingly unable to provide local political leadership in communities, or lead mass mobilisation and campaigns outside of election time. The attempt to foster a leading cadre of emerging business people and state technocrats has resulted in multiple crises of corruption, factionalism and personal careerism. These problems are not accidental; they are inherent in trying to build a leading cadre based on capitalist values and on a symbiotic relationship between the leading echelons of the state and emerging black capital.”

With regard to the Alliance we noted that there was something fundamentally wrong in the functioning of the Alliance after 1994, and especially after 1996. Within that context, we were justified in asking whether it was not time to change the configuration of the Alliance and whether the SACP should not field its own candidates in the next election.

When we met at COSATU’s Central Committee two years ago, we diagnosed that our revolution was under threat of “palace politics”, noting that this “is the politics of backstabbing, pursuit of individual wealth, use of state organs to settle factional scores, use of media leaks to destroy each other, patronage as a means to consolidate political (and often class) power.”

But three months later, the ANC Polokwane Conference changed the course of history in our country when the general membership of the ANC and the working class reclaimed our organisation. Polokwane brought us back from a point of near no-return and liberated us from the stranglehold of political and class bullying of the worst kind.

The winds of change have continued to blow since Polokwane, also freeing COSATU from the menace of false leaders. The SACP also cleansed itself as we had also produced some of our own political factory faults. Then in September last year, a KwaZulu-Natal judge confirmed to the world what we all knew – and what COSATU had the courage to say way back at its Central Committee in 2005 – that President Zuma’s rights were violated in a politically motivated prosecution aimed at destroying his path to the presidency.

And so, exactly a year ago, our revolutionary movement turned the corner and began a new journey leaving behind a class project and programme that required the marginalisation of the SACP and COSATU and the demobilisation of the ANC.

The recall of Thabo Mbeki, the most powerful leader on the continent, was significant for African and world history as it demonstrated a peaceful removal of a sitting president through democratic and non-violent means. The ANC’s management of the recall and transition period also raised the bar of power dynamics and ultimate political accountability. And despite the warnings of the doomsayers, South Africa moved neatly from one political administration to another, preserving its international standing and proud democratic legacy.

Comrades, with all that we have been through and conquered, we have every right to look back with mixed feelings – anger that our President and our organisations have suffered intolerable abuse and pain, happiness that the ANC has been rescued from the clutches of the 1996 Class Project and relief that an atmosphere of tolerance, openness and respect now prevails.

As the representatives of the working class, we in COSATU and the SACP must never forget that one of the principal aims of the Class Project was to drive us out of the Alliance so that monopoly capital, senior state leadership and a BEE faction of capital could hold the ANC hostage. This project had the support of some sections of the media and analysts who actively promoted the marginalisation of the SACP and COSATU and sold the notion that it would be better for everyone if the Left was to break away from the ANC.

We stand here today, able to proudly declare that “The Left hasn’t left; but the Right has left”. The ANC has returned to its pro-poor, pro-worker bias, the way its founding fathers intended it to be. The Right has now regrouped under the banner of COPE, a failed attempt by the class project to regain its footing. It includes people who operated in stealth in the ranks of our organisations, including the trade union movement, to sow turmoil and disunity. Some of them are now trying to reinvent themselves and their hopeless agenda by impersonating COSATU in a COPE-sponsored puppet show.

1. A strong and united COSATU

Comrades, it is no secret that it was the voice and might of the workers which first rebelled against the capitalist agenda of the class project and propelled the process of change. COSATU, like the SACP, was able to stand up to the abusive use of state resources and speak out for the long list of casualties, including Comrade Zuma, long before it was fashionable to be associated with him. Even though COSATU was itself experiencing convulsions instigated by villains in its own ranks, it was able to lead the working class rebellion against a capitalist hegemony in the ANC at the Polokwane conference.

There should be no doubt that our resounding victory in the April elections was delivered by the workers of our country, who worked tirelessly to mobilise community-based support for the ANC and who stood for hours in queues – in wretched weather conditions in some parts of the country – to vote. It is time that we, the leadership of the Alliance, acknowledge and pay tribute to the workers for the Polokwane and election victories.

It is also an imperative now that COSATU remains united in this new phase of the revolution as part of the motive forces for the deepening of the national democratic revolution and in our struggle for socialism. There is no time for complacency during the honeymoon period of our new government. We must also be under no illusion that the forces who sought to divide us in the past few years are still hard at work to wreak havoc and confusion in our organisations. We dare not gloat, instead we must remain focused on our crucial task to build working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle.

There are many tasks and challenges ahead of us, including eradicating the legacy of the 1996 class project, rolling back the grip of capitalist power in society through a principled anti-capitalist struggle; dealing with the current global capitalist crisis and building the unity of our alliance. It is to some of these issues that we shall now turn.

2. The SACP Special Congress and the tasks and challenges for the working class

One of the most immediate and pressing challenges is to ensure that the advances made in Polokwane and the 2009 electoral victory must not be allowed to be narrowly claimed by forces, whether inside or outside of our movement, who do not have the interests of the workers and the poor at heart. These were victories of the ordinary people of our country, and must be defended and protected as such.

In order to deepen and consolidate the national democratic revolution post the 2009 April elections, it is important that the SACP, and indeed the entire liberation movement focuses its attention on intensifying the struggle to build a developmental state, buttressed by working class power.

One of the critical terrains for building a radical, working-class led developmental state is that of exposing and seeking to roll back and disrupt the intersection between the holding of public office and business interests, and to defeat the corrupting influence that this has had, and continues to have, on our movement as a whole. To wage a consistent battle against such practices and tendencies, including corruption, is not a factionalist battle, but the only guarantee of the unity of our alliance achieved through Polokwane and the April electoral victory!

We must seek to unite our movement as a multi-class movement. There is absolutely no contradiction between the multi-class character of our movement, and the leadership of the working class.

We need to defend the general set of themes that united all of us at Polokwane. These include the following:

  • The need to defend inner democracy within our movement
  • A rejection of a style of politics that was intolerant of difference and constructive debate, that encouraged a cult of the personality and an inner circle of flatterers and courtiers, in the true sense of palace politics
  • To put an end to the abuse of state structures and the use of corporate and/or personal wealth to advance factionalist interests within the movement

We dare not allow these tendencies to re-emerge again. Where they do, we need to expose and defeat them, in whatever guise they may emerge!

We need to send out a strong and clear message that the ANC is not for sale and our Alliance is not for sale. In order to expose and defeat the corporatisation of the state and the movement, we need the workers to be our eyes and ears on the ground, as was demonstrated by SATAWU in the Great SAA rip-off.

Comrades, you will be aware that the SACP will be holding a special congress in the historic city of Polokwane in December. As part of our preparations for that Congress, our Central Committee has drafted and released our main discussion document. In this document we seek to identify some of the key challenges that lie ahead for us.

It is by sharing with you some of the propositions and arguments in that document that I will also be outlining some of the SACP’s views on the challenges especially after the April elections.

2.1 The Great Recession

We are in the midst of the worst capitalist crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Still late last year illusions prevailed that South Africa was relatively insulated. As part of maintaining this illusion we were being told as the socialist left that we must not be ‘reckless’ by making statements that may further upset the markets. It was as if it was going to be our analysis of this crisis, rather than the crisis itself that would punish us.

This illusion has now been cruelly exposed. In the first half of 2009, with a deep local recession, nearly half a million jobs have been lost in the first half of this year, thousands of workers have been put on part-time, factories have been closed and businesses liquidated. Some 50 000 people are being black-listed by the credit bureaux per month, and car and home repossessions have soared.

Our view continues to be that capitalist crises are not an abnormality but a norm. There are no solutions within capitalism for these crises, they are systemic and inevitable as long as we remain imprisoned within the capitalist system.

We have said that in response to this crisis, we need both defensive and offensive measures. We welcome the National Framework Agreement as agreed to at NEDLAC. It is an important defensive measure and shield against this crisis. In implementing this agreement we need to ensure that it is not workers who are made to pay for a crisis brought about by capitalist greed.

However a bigger challenge is that of coming up with offensive measures in response to this crisis. The present global capitalist crisis is not over, and, in any case, any return to global capitalist growth will simply be laying the basis for the next crisis. Moreover, even in so-called “good times”, the majority in SA, like more than a billion people elsewhere in the world, live in abject poverty. We cannot simply adopt defensive measures now, and wait for the next global capitalist up-turn. We have to advance a transformative agenda here in SA and as much as possible globally. We have to roll back the empire of the capitalist market that turns everything from health-care, livelihoods, education, mobility and shelter into a commodity for profit for the few. We have, as much as possible, to use the crisis to de-link ourselves from the grip of the capitalist market place.

How? In the first place, in times of crises like these, private capital becomes more dependent on the state, for bail-outs, state procurement and state investment into infrastructure. We need to use this dependence of capital not only to regulate the system, but to begin to seriously reconfigure key aspects of the capitalist relations of production themselves. But to do this, we need to consolidate working class hegemony over the state, we need to strengthen the strategic discipline of the state through effective planning, and we need to eliminate all entry-points for a bourgeois hegemony over the state – in particular corruption.

For us, offensive measures must be anti-capitalist measures that begin to undermine the very logic of the system. When we come out of this crisis it should not merely be a return to the past, but we need something radically different that is capable of meeting the needs of the workers and the poor of our country.

And, indeed, we need to understand that this perspective is written into the logic of our key Polokwane and Alliance Economic Summit resolutions, and the key priorities outlined in our April ANC-led election manifesto. When we prioritise job creation, or education, or health-care, or rural development, or the fight against crime and corruption, we are NOT just providing a list of sectors into which there must be more “delivery”. We are highlighting key areas that require radical, i.e. systemic, transformation. These are catalytic areas – i.e. sectors in which transformation is both necessary and critical to advance our NDR. And these advances can only be made if they have an anti-capitalist – or, which is the same thing, a socialist-orientation.

THIS IS THE CHALLENGE FACING THE WORKING CLASS AND ITS FORMATIONS IN THE CURRENT PERIOD!

So what are these key sectors?

a) Four key systemic features for radical transformation

The key challenge for the working class in the current period is to ensure the most thorough implementation of the five key priorities in the ANC’s election manifesto. It is our contention that it is only through building working class hegemony that the most thorough implementation of this Manifesto will be achieved. It is also by thoroughly implementing this manifesto that working class hegemony will be built in society. So there is no conflict, but a dialectical relationship between the implementation of the ANC manifesto and building working class influence.

For the SACP, the most thorough implementation of the ANC’s Manifesto means the thorough transformation of four key realities that continue to reproduce the grip of capitalist power and worsening racialised, gendered, and class poverty and marginalisation.

These are:

  • Our economic growth trajectory which remains locked largely into the same, century-long trajectory, previously associated with white minority rule. Programmatically the SACP has consistently proposed – over the past decade and more – that the radical transformation of this systemic reality requires, amongst other things:

i. A state-led industrial policy programme that prioritises job creation;

ii. The alignment of trade policy to our industrial policy, with the latter playing the lead role;

iii. The alignment of macro-economic policies to a new developmental growth path

iv. An effective state planning capacity;

v. The strategic deployment and coordination of SOEs and DFIs to advance a different developmental growth path, with a particular focus on infrastructure investment;

vi. The progressive transformation of the critical financial sector – to ensure developmental investment

  • Education and Training: Fifteen years into our post-apartheid democracy we have become increasingly aware that the FORMAL creation of a single educational dispensation masks the material reality of a highly unequal and inequitable system that actively reproduces enormous race, class, and (to some extent) gendered inequalities. The SACP and YCL, together with our Alliance and MDM partners and with the new government administration, have succeeded in making the radical transformation of education and training one of five key priority pillars. Programmatically this requires, amongst other things:

a)Intensified effort towards strengthening and expanding early childhood development and Grade R

b)The need to increase post-school options for our youth

c)Revamping a diversified college sector

d) Intensification of adult education and training, including work-place training

e)Increased access to and success in higher education

f)The training and upgrading of teaching professionals, and the revitalisation of teacher training colleges.

  • The spatial reproduction of racialised, class and gendered underdevelopment and inequality. What was once actively planned by apartheid’s architects to control the location and mobility of the black majority is now perpetuated on “automatic pilot” by the capitalist market place. Programmatically (in order to radically transform the systemic features of our spatial reality) we need to:

i. Ensure a working class hegemony over the process of an accelerated and integrated rural development process

ii. Actively engage with the review of the future of provinces and local government, to ensure that the capacity to radically transform/democratise our spatial realities is enhanced;

iii. Ensure that a key mandate of the Planning Commission is the strategic planning for and monitoring of the democratisation of space and mobility

iv. Use the new Human Settlements Department to ensure that we move away from dormitory townships and suburban sprawl to a more democratic development of mixed income, mixed use and, where relevant, medium density built environments across our towns and cities.

v. Promote public transport as a catalyser for spatial democratisation and transformation, and reclaim public control and regulation over urban infrastructure (including routes and ranks)

vi. Ban the sale of publicly-owned land to property speculators and use much more aggressively property rates, local business taxes and other fiscal means to ensure better cross-subsidisation of municipal public services – including public transport infrastructure and operations.

vii. Ensure that we implement radical municipal legislation that calls for participatory planning and budgeting;

viii. Mobilise popular forces in favour of the above issues, and connect local protests (e.g. around housing, land, public services, transport) to a broader transformational agenda so that the wider politics of the built environment become campaign issues –rather than simply focusing on “delivery” into “townships”.

ix. Ensure that our state-led R787bn infrastructure programme contributes to the democratisation of space – rather than reinforcing current spatial inequalities through misallocation of excessive resources to serving the current capitalist accumulation path and its key enclaves.

  • The radical transformation of health-care: Racial, class and gendered inequality are also massively reproduced in SA by a “two-tier” health-care system. On the one hand there is a private health-care system that uses 60% of financial and medical personnel resources, but services a mere 14% of our population (basically those with Medical Aids). On the other hand, we have an under-funded, and over-whelmed public health system, further burdened by the HIV/AIDS and TB pandemics. The ANC-led alliance over the past year has begun to place this radical transformation challenge clearly on the agenda with the commitment to rolling out a National Health Insurance (NHI) system. The SACP fully supports this move which will mark a significant step in the direction of basing health-care provision (as the ANC NEC NHI briefing document puts it) “on the basis of from each according to their ability (to pay), to each according to their need” – in other words it will mark a major step in the direction of decommodifying (i.e. socialising) health-care.

It is as a result of all what I have said above the SACP has decided to focus its 2009 Red October Campaign on two critical issues that have a bearing on these realities: the radical transformation of health care and deepening the struggle against corruption. Once more, we call upon COSATU and indeed the entire alliance to join us in this year’s campaign.

2.2 The Opposition

Comrades, we must be prepared for fierce resistance to these transformational imperatives that the Alliance agenda in its totality is advancing. This opposition will come from opposition political parties, amongst others. They are now seeking to club together against the ANC. The recent pronouncements by a leading COPE spokesperson that “there are no strategic differences” between his party and the DA confirms the pro-capitalist and anti-people nature of COPE and of the “1996 class project” from whose loins this anemic off-spring has emerged.

The founders of COPE and their liberal suburban allies had all predicted a democratic melt-down as a result of the recall of former President Mbeki a year ago. Far from there being a melt-down, there is an obvious flowering of democratic openness and of democratic debate in our country. Even the leader of the opposition, Helen Zille, is compelled to concede this. It is only a few lonely figures in COPE who still harbour nostalgia for the years of denialism and a cult of the personality. But COPE, the DA, and a section of the media will continue to advance their anti-worker agenda, and they will use three basic lines of argument:

  • The democratic "melt-down" card;
  • The personality assassination diversionary card; and
  • The pessimism about state power card.

The headlines in much of the media continuously play into the suburban opposition agenda with “melt-down” stories. What they fear is a working-class hegemony in our country, and they want to project working-class hegemony as inherently antagonistic to democracy and our constitution. It is, of course, bourgeois hegemony that poses the greatest risk to our constitution and our democratic values of non-racialism, egalitarianism and unity. In order to spread their lies about our position as the left, the opposition parties seek to conflate certain ill-considered, unprincipled, factionalist statements that emerge from within the broad ranks of our movement from time to time. That is why the SACP has said that we must nip in the bud any signs of chauvinism from within our movement. The working class and the broad popular movement are the key bastions to protect our constitutional order and our emergent democracy. We have shown this in the recent past, and we will continue to do so.

The second card with which we are all familiar is the personalized assassination diversionary card. We are living in the midst of the greatest capitalist crisis since the 1930s. But none of the opposition parties is able to analyse this crisis, still less confess their complicity in making our country more vulnerable than it might have been to the crisis. Even less are they able to advance any kind of systematic analysis and coherent programme of action to deal with the crisis. Instead, we are constantly plunged into diversions – personalized attacks on life-styles of leaders, a media created 2012 ANC election contest years before any ANC electoral conference, and the like. Again, from with the ANC-led alliance we must be careful not to get unduly caught up in these diversions, which simply draw us away from our core NDR and socialist tasks.

The third card, which the suburban liberal politicians, play is to sow demoralization about the importance and potential capacities of the state. Since Polokwane, and particularly since the April 2009 elections, the suburban liberals sense that they no longer have the same access to state power, and so they pick on issues (some of them real issues – like corruption in parastatals, or in line departments, or in local government) in order to spread a message of demoralization about the prospects of building a developmental state. As we have said, we must deal decisively with corruption in the public (and private) sectors, but we are doing so in order to build a developmental state capable of leading a national democratic revolution under working class hegemony.

It is not surprising that the suburban liberals should seek to under-mine confidence in this agenda. But the danger is that this anti-state agenda will also have an influence in our mass base and even within our own ranks – where, for a variety of reasons, there is often an ingrained suspicion of the state in general, and tendencies towards NGO-ism. Yes, we must mobilize, organize and unleash popular power to expose bureaucratism, technocratic aloofness and corruption in the public sector. But we must also contest the state in order to transform it, from within as much as from without. The suburban liberals see social movements, NGOs and public participation merely as means to “check and balance” the state. For the left, social movements, and popular participatory democracy are about empowering working class and popular forces, and this empowerment must be outside AND within the state itself.

Advancing the radical, anti-capitalist transformation agenda, the only way forward in our current reality, requires a progressive state-led, and mass-driven struggle.

3. Our internationalist tasks

More than ever before it is absolutely imperative that we deepen international working class solidarity. It is only through this effort that we can ultimately get rid of the crises ridden capitalist system that has brought so much havoc to lives of billions of people throughout the world.

The SACP wishes to further commit itself to solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba. We especially wish to call upon this congress to deepen its solidarity with the Cuban people and take forward the call for the release of the Cuban Five. All what these Cuban combatants were fighting for was the defeat of terror actions launched from US soil by the Miami mafia against the peace-loving Cuban people!

With these words we wish you a successful congress and for a stronger COSATU to emerge from this.

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