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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Central Exec  |  Affiliates Speeches

Address of the SACP General Secretary to the 5th Central Committee of COSATU

28 July 2011

Let`s close ranks to defeat the "new tendency" and its "vanguard" populist demagogy

"Finally, some words about `corruption`. Most speeches from the [current Egyptian] `transition regime` concentrates on denouncing it and threatening prosecution (Mubarak, his wife, and some others arrested, but what will actually happen remains to be seen). This discourse is certainly well received, especially by the major part of naieve public opinion. But they take care not to analyze its deeper causes and to teach that `corruption` (presented in the moralizing style of American speech as individual immorality) is an organic and necessary component in the formation of the bourgeoisie. And not merely in the case of Egypt and of the Southern countries in general, where if a comprador bourgeoisie is to be formed the sole way for that to take place is in association with the state apparatus. I maintain that at the stage of generalized monopoly capitalism corruption has become a basic organic component in the reproduction of its accumulation model: rent-seeking monopolies require the active complicity of the State." (Samir Amin, 2011: An Arab Springtime?", Monthly Review, June 2011)

On behalf of the Central Committee and the now 130 000 members of the SACP, we bring fraternal and revolutionary greetings to this 5th Central Committee of our ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) - Inqola emasondosondo!

We would like to anchor our message today around some of the key tasks facing the working class in the national democratic revolution in the current period. The best way to do this, from our standpoint as the SACP is to locate the tasks of the working class in the current conjuncture within our Medium Term Vision (MTV). Our MTV sets the tasks of the SACP, and the working class as a whole, as that of leading a struggle to build working class hegemony and influence in all key sites of power, with 6 key sites of power being a priority: building working class hegemony in the state, the economy, the community, the workplace, ideologically and through deepening proletarian internationalist solidarity.

It is through the implementation of our MTV that we will ensure that we consolidate and deepen the national democratic revolution (NDR) as our most direct route to a socialist South Africa!

But before outlining some of the key tasks of the working class as flowing out of our MTV, let us contextualise these.

Locating the strategic tasks of the working class in the current conjuncture

Recent developments within our country need to be understood within a broad analysis that has consistently been advanced by the SACP over many years. In brief: The 1994 democratic breakthrough opened up the prospect for a new phase of the NDR in our country a phase in which the prime task became (or should have become) the structural transformation of our socio-economic reality including, critically, placing the economy onto a radically different growth path. Owing to a variety of factors, including the hegemony within the ANC and new democratic state of the "1996 class project", there was a failure to seriously mobilize working class, popular and state power in the direction of this new phase of the NDR.

Instead, the growth path associated with white minority (CST) rule was stabilized and returned to some 15 years of modest growth. This stabilization was accompanied by an attempt to create a new black capitalist stratum (by way of narrow BEE) and relatively large-scale redistributive (but NOT structurally transformational) programmes RDP housing, water and electricity connections, social grants, etc.

By 2007 the internal contradictions and crises associated with this "1996 class project" were becoming increasingly evident - established capital benefited from stabilization and liberalization measures, but the primitive accumulation measures associated with the attempt to promote a new stratum of black capitalists produced major anomalies, it played into the hands of established capital, and it created factional havoc within the state and movement.

For the working class and poor majority in our country, the redistributive measures partially raised the floor of absolute poverty but failed to keep up with the burgeoning challenges of mass retrenchments, casualisation, farm evictions, the influx of economic refugees from all over the continent into informal settlements, apartheid spatial geography, and the general reproduction of class, race, youth, and gendered poverty and inequality. The impact of the 2008 global capitalist crisis on our own economy further exacerbated all of these problems and particularly exposed the highly indebted BEE capitalist stratum as share prices in mining and other stocks tumbled. Hence, the call for nationalization by elements within the ANCYL, whose intention is to save these BEE elements in crisis, and not to address the interests of the workers and the poor of our country. This is the distinction we must be able to make as the working class - "Ukuthi ibhasi ibhalwe ukuthi iya kwaDambuza kufanele ubheke umshayeli ukuthi uyamazi yini, ngabe uya khona ngempela"

It is at this point that we wish to restate our goal of the public ownership of the means of production through socialization. Nationalisation is but one way of achieving this overall objective, but nationalization is not inherently progressive, as it depends on whose class interests is it advancing. Nationalisation has been undertaken by Hitler, just as it was undertaken by Fidel Castro. It is not the phrase that is critical, but the class content of such nationalization!

The internal events within the ANC in 2007 (the policy conference and subsequent 52nd National Conference in Polokwane) and the 2008 recall of ex-President Mbeki all need to be situated within this wider context. At the ANC`s Polokwane Conference a wide array of forces lined up in opposition to the previously hegemonic bloc within the movement. However, this wide array of forces (as the Party was the first to note) was constituted essentially out of an "unholy alliance" (or "marriage of convenience") between broad left forces opposing in principle the strategic and tactical line of the 1996 class project, on the one hand, and other forces who were essentially frustrated personal accumulators and populist demagogues articulating a sense of anger and alienation particularly amongst the youth sector. We have characterized the latter broad grouping as the "new tendency". At the ANC`s 2010 NGC the demagogic "vanguard" of this "new tendency" was exposed, and its style of politics roundly rejected by an overwhelming majority of ANC delegates. But these advances have not been effectively pressed forward , as a result, this dangerous demagogic "vanguard" has acquired new life, resourcing and arrogance.

That is why it is important to know that being a vanguard is not like a tender award (`One for you, one for me`), but is earned in struggle, on the ground, and therefore not declared through podiums. Perhaps this illustrates the extent to which tenderpreneurship mentality and practices have penetrated our ranks. The "vanguard" role we are hearing today is that of being a vanguard for tenders, and not for the workers and the poor of our country.

The populist demagogic tendency represents the cutting edge, the battering ram, the "vanguard" of the "new tendency" - but it is not the totality of that tendency. Behind the populist demagogy are well resourced business people and well located politicians (particularly, but not exclusively, within the state apparatus and our movement.

Of course, this comprador new tendency and its populist "vanguard" do not (at least not on their own) constitute the principal long-term strategic threat to the NDR, but they certainly represent the most immediate tactical threat to our struggle, and they also certainly represent the key SUBJECTIVE threat to the unity and integrity of our tripartite alliance, our government, and our hard-won democracy.

George Bernard Shaw describes demagogy thus:

"But though there is no difference in this respect between the best demagogue and the worst, both of them having to present their cases equally in terms of melodrama, there is all the difference in the world between the statesman who is humbugging the people into allowing him to do the will of God, in whatever disguise it may come to him, and one who is humbugging them into furthering his personal ambition and the commercial interests of the plutocrats who own the newspapers and support him on reciprocal terms".

It is in the same spirit and with the same intent that the SACP has identified and characterized both the broader "new tendency" and its demagogic, shock-trooper "vanguard" as the most immediate threat to the national democratic revolution.

Our post 1994 strategic and tactical positioning: Socialism is the future, build it now, the Red October Campaign and our MTV

After 1994, as well as after Polokwane, the SACP knew that the struggle would have to be intensified, radicalising the NDR through building capacity for and momentum for socialism. This would require strengthening a campaigning Alliance. We also refused to be confined purely to a party of theory, and repositioned the SACP, principally through the Red October Campaign to be an activist Party. In this context we threw ourselves into the struggles of organized workers, deepening relations with Cosatu and it`s affiliates. Some of our momentous achievements, being in the trenches together, include the defeat of the agenda for wholesale privatization, dislodging the 1996 class project, and placing on the agenda the five Alliance priorities, an industrial strategy, as well the necessity for a new growth path. Our relationship became the axis upon which to deepen the NDR as our most direct route to socialism.

Our Medium Term Vision (MTV), adopted in the wake of the bruising struggles against privatization, and the intensified offensive of the 1996 class project, and the job loss bloodbath, aimed to further strengthen both the ideological and activist role of the Party by clearly seeking translate working class power into a palpable reality in all key sites of power. To this end we committed to build working class hegemony and influence in the state, the economy, the workplace, the community, ideologically and deepening internationalist working class solidarity.

It is the above strategic and programmatic perspectives that have informed the struggles of the SACP in the current period.

It is indeed possible that in the heat of the capitalist offensive against the working class, and that of the 1996 class project, we might have tended to conflate the distinct, yet complementary roles, of our two formations. The SACP is a political party of the working class, and COSATU is a progressive trade union federation committed to socialism. It is important to mention this point in order to underline the fact that our roles and participation in key sites of struggle may require different types of interventions, albeit in a complementary manner, guided by our common objective of consolidating and deepening the national democratic revolution as our most direct route to socialism.

The SACP and COSATU relationship: Guarding against tenderpreneurship, ultra-leftism, workerism and business unionism

Since the launch of COSATU in 1985, the bilateral relationship between the SACP and the federation has been an absolutely critical factor in the wider context of our NDR. It was this relationship that kept the struggle for socialism alive and mass-based through the difficult period of the collapse of the Soviet bloc. It was the SACP/COSATU axis that fought and basically defeated government`s privatization drive in the late-1990s. Likewise this left axis was critical to the defeat of the 1996 class project, the advocacy of an IPAP, and an NGP. And it is this left axis - working together with more progressive elements within the ANC and government - that is absolutely critical for the defeat of the "new tendency" that wants to steal our movement for private, personal accumulation interests.

But since 1985 into the current period, the consolidation of this critical left-axis has always had to meet various challenges, including the threats of tenderpreneurship, ultra-leftism, workerism and business unionism.

Workerism (or what Marx and Lenin described as syndicalism) is a natural spontaneous ideology within a union movement. In SA it has often been a reaction against populism - i.e. a reaction against those who hide their narrow, anti-worker, personal accumulation agendas behind a chauvinistic, anti-white perspective in which they seek to disguise their class interests as the interest of blacks in general - narrow BEE being a prime example.

In reaction, as a progressive but limited response to this kind of populism - workerism often calls for a "pure" working class struggle. In the 1980s, a variety of workerist currents in FOSATU and then (but less hegemonically) in COSATU called for the isolation of trade unions from community, youth and national liberation formations. They argued that national liberation movements mobilize workers in the struggle, but then "always" sell them out after independence. In the 1980s the SACP was instrumental in arguing against BOTH populism and workerism. Yes, we argued, we need independent organizations of the working class- trade unions and a communist party. But no, we argued, we cannot quarantine these formations, we need to contest for class hegemony in youth, community and NLM formations - otherwise the prediction that the workers will be sold out would become self-fulfilling.

Tenderpreneurship is an agenda aimed at capturing our organizations and movement for private and personal accumulation, represented by the new tendency as its vanguard. Business unionism represents the capture of some union leaders to deliver union procurement to established capitalist interests. It is also the capture of union by some corrupt elements within Boards of state entities where workers are represented as well union leaders having business interests in the sectors where they organise. We hope Corruption Watch will investigate this problematic area of corruption as well. Frankly, I did not realise the extent of the problem on this front until I went to government.

It is for these reasons that the SACP`s MTV correctly enjoins the working class to seek to build popular power and working class hegemony IN and OUTSIDE of the state. We cannot reduce our role, as Alliance partners to that of becoming a mere "check and balance" on the state, to safeguard the "constitution". Instead we need to define what the responsibility of the working class should be in governance and mass mobilisation and strike the balance in order to be effective in all sites of the struggle.

Closing of ranks that the SACP is calling for means that we must consolidate the SACP/COSATU relationship as the socialist axis of our Alliance. We dare not endanger this relationship, otherwise we are all in trouble. This relationship goes beyond the individuals who maybe occupying the leadership positions at this point in time.

Often what has caused some complications has been the public denouncement of the SACP`s decisions on the deployment of its cadres. Publicly, the SACP has said that we accept the bona fides of COSATU leadership who raised this point, and we accept that it is out of genuine concern for the well-being of the Party. We have also always stated quite categorically that this is a decision for the Party and not any other formation to make, and that this IS indeed a decision taken by the Party after long discussions and based on a very extensive internal Party debate around our MTV and around how we should engage with the State.

Therefore, we wish to state categorically that the decisions of the SACP on the deployment of its cadres, is a now a CLOSED matter. None of us dare raise this matter in public, as this can only play into the agenda of the bourgeois media. None of us should seek to become heroes of bourgeois media at the expense of the very important relationship between our two formations. This is a matter that we have agreed to at our leadership bilateral meeting last week.

That is why we are saying we must close ranks against the "new tendency" and its shock-troopers -and we must unite in common action around the five key strategic priorities on which we have long agreed, as well as around joint SACP/COSATU programmes.

Let us then return to the key tasks of the working class in the current period as contextualized through our MTV:

Building working class hegemony in the state

One key task of the working class in our country is that of seeking to lead the building of a developmental state that is able to drive an agenda to transform our economic growth path. Building working class power inside and outside the state. But let us start by understanding what we mean by the `state`. There is a distinction but very close relationship between `government` and the `state`. Government represents the highest most concentration of the power of the state, but government does not constitute the entirety of the state. The state is made up of its executive arm (Cabinet and the bureaucracy), the legislature(s) and the judiciary, as well as other organs of state. As to who the executive arm of the state and the composition of parliament is largely determined through electoral means, but the totality of the character and nature of the state is not principally determined by elections, but instead by the balance of class forces in broader society. It is therefore possible, as I will illustrate later in the speech that a particular party can win elections, but at the same time its views and interests not be the dominant ones in the state. In 1994 we inherited an apartheid state apparatus, that we have not smashed entirely, and key components of the apartheid state still reflects itself in the bureaucracy, the judiciary and in various other areas of the state, not least the ideological orientation of the state organs.

The key question that both the SACP and COSATU has to discuss and relate to is how do we consolidate the fact that the current administration is as a result of our own participation in its creation. We cannot walk away from the state or adopt a simple outsider or oppositionist relationship, but we need to define our relationship to it informed by our quest to deliver on the five developmental priorities.

Transformation the colonial type growth path

Since the mid-1990s the SACP has been highlighting the need to place our country onto a different growth path that is focused on jobs and sustainable livelihoods, with a key element being a state-led industrial policy programme. It is in this context that the SACP strongly welcomed the paradigm shift in this direction represented by government`s New Growth Path framework document released late last year. We have urged our Alliance partners to join us, not in rubber stamping everything contained in government`s NGP document, but to seize the opportunity to consolidate, deepen and defend a new, state-led thrust in economic transformation.

As the Alliance, we cannot position ourselves as stand-offish theoretical textual critics of this key government strategic policy initiative.

Going forward it will also be important that, as Alliance partners, we deal frankly and constructively with the issues that have the potential to divide us. In our ongoing engagement with our Alliance partners the SACP will, amongst other things, seek to open up a discussion on grave challenges within the labour market. We reject those neo-liberal voices which are once more trying to recycle the claim that workers` in SA enjoy "too many rights". We also join COSATU in its call for the banning of labour brokers as modern day slavery, and an important struggle to achieve the objective of decent work.

Decent work is not just about levels of remuneration and work-place rights, it is a reality which must increasingly embrace the broader social wage - housing, access to ongoing skills training, a comprehensive social security net including a National Health Insurance, and affordable and accessible public transport. A capitalist SA will never be able to provide full employment for all our people, and in the face of the crisis levels of unemployment in our society, it is critical that we pay much more attention to strategies for sustainable livelihoods through the massification of the public works programme in which we move progressively to creating full-time work and not just temporary work opportunities. The self-employed sector, cooperatives and other initiatives that enable households to be productively engaged also need much more vigorous implementation.

Building working class hegemony in our communities

On this key site of power we would like to focus our analysis on a brief evaluation of the last local government elections.

Reading much of the media analysis in the immediate aftermath of May 18, it would have been possible to imagine that the ANC had "lost" the elections. It is only in South Africa where a party that gets 63% of the vote is projected in the media as having lost the elections, and that which got 23% projected as being the winner. This victory underlines the continuing popularity of the ANC-led alliance from the overwhelming majority of our people.

Some other positives that we can gather from this election campaign, it is also very important (not least for a Marxist-Leninist party) to note the massive display of popular mobilisational capacity evidenced in the almost unprecedented 90,000 strong Siyanqoba rally at Soccer City. While it was a symbolic display, the capacity to organize mass forces in defence of a revolution is an absolutely essential ingredient of any serious NDR. The rally also marked an important (if partial) turning point in what was often a relatively demoralized mass base nationally.

So much for some important positives - BUT it would be a serious mistake not also to take very seriously the many warning lights that this election is flashing at us. There is massive popular anger directed against many local ANC local councilors, and some of voters were giving us a "one last chance". The DA has also consolidated the opposition vote and made major inroads into so-called Indian and Coloured "minority" communities.

What lessons can we learn, and what is to be done?:

The ongoing factionalism within the ANC and across the Alliance is costing us. Until very late in the campaign, at least apparently, some forces within our movement appeared to be holding back. It also appeared that elements of the new tendency were, by contrast, fighting the 2012 ANC elections conference and 2014 elections campaigns rather than the May 18, 2011 campaign. Demagogic anti-white utterances and theatrical parading with sub-machine gun-toting heavies, fuelled the DA campaign not just in the white community, but also in other so-called "minority" communities - with the DA appealing to a sense of "minorities under threat".

Clearly, the election campaign further underlined the necessity and urgency to deal much more decisively with demagoguery, ill-discipline and factionalism associated particularly with the "new tendency".

But it would be wrong only to focus on subjective weaknesses. We need to appreciate the systemic challenges in our current local government dispensation. We need to focus on how we strengthen local government, create an equitable funding formula, and ensure that ANC councillors are active agents of transformation on the ground.

Apart from these systemic issues, the SACP used the local election campaign to once more highlight the importance of local participatory democracy (popular power) as a crucial element in any attempt to revitalize local democracy. In particular, we stressed the importance of local participatory involvement in the development of IDPs (rather than the current one-size fits all, consultant driven "IDPs"), the imperative of ward councilors to convene ward committee meetings and report backs to the community at least once every three months, and transparency to communities in regard to council tenders that are out for application AND transparency once they have been awarded. The SACP has also stressed the critical role of local government in the development of local coops and micro-businesses - through, amongst other things, procurement policies. As part of strengthening the developmental state, we emphasized the importance reversing outsourced critical services back to the state.

Transforming South Africa`s capitalist workplaces

It is also very important that COSATU and its affiliates increase focus on the transformation of South Africa`s capitalist workplaces. The struggle for a living wage and a social wage be linked to strengthening the presence of trade unions in our workplaces, including mobilization of more vulnerable workers, especially farmworkers, domestic workers and workers in the services sectors.

As the SACP we also urge COSATU to pay more attention to matters relating to skills development. The workplace skills plans must also pay attention to the opening up of workplaces for apprenticeships and learnerships, as part of addressing youth unemployment. In addition we need to ensure that skills development for the workers is really attended to, including the upgrading of the many artisan aides to become full artisans in a number of sectors. Most critically is to intensify the struggle to link workplace skills plans to equity goals. Principal amongst these is to ensure that worker representatives on Boards of skills levy institutions remain true to their oversight and activist roles by ensuring that every cent dedicated for skills development must be spent for that purpose and nothing else.

Intensify the Ideological struggles as a critical front in the battle of ideas

Apart from the necessity to expose the populist, demagogic agenda that uses leftist language to advance a narrow accumulation agenda, it is also important to fight another agenda that is threatening to undermine the national democratic revolution. This is the rightist, liberal (and neo-liberal) agenda that uses the language of defending our constitution, but in its essence it is narrow constitutionalism, anti-majority rule and narrow human rights activism that is largely being carried through most of the media houses in our country. This agenda in essence attacks what we have always struggled for, the liberation of the black majority and the achievement of `one person one vote` - universal suffrage. At the heart of this seemingly democratic posture is the defence of racialised elite class interests of the white minority.

It is for this reason that the SACP re-affirms the clarion call of our movement, that the PEOPLE SHALL GOVERN - not the liberals, not the DA, not the print media - but the PEOPLE, through their own genuine representative, the ANC-led alliance!

During the election campaign, the opposition to the ANC was a symbiosis of the DA and the major media houses together with an array of "civil society" NGOs (ranging from IDASA through the FW De Klerk Foundation to Afriforum). The glue holding them together is essentially a narrative that says there is a grave threat to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and to the Rule of Law. According to this narrative "media freedom" is under threat, non-racialism is under threat. Even the Afrikaner right-wing is now positioning itself as a pro-Constitutional force.

Based on this kind of narrative, these forces portray themselves as defenders of the Constitution, defenders of non-racialism, defenders of basic freedoms, and defenders of moral decency. They are even seeking to appropriate the icons of our struggle - cde Mandela, Solomon Mahlangu, the Freedom Charter, etc.

These are all attempts to use institutions of our constitutional democracy to challenge the legitimacy of the decisions being taken by the ANC-led government. This liberal agenda, actively supported by most of the print media, seeks to create new heroes out of all those who are seen to be in opposition to our Alliance and government.

All these underline the necessity to safeguard the ideological integrity of our revolution, whose central challenge is also to intensify the struggle against corruption, both in the public and private sectors.

Internationalist proletarian solidarity

One of the most significant developments internationally is that of the popular uprisings in North Africa and parts of the Middle East. The SACP condemns the state-inspired violence directed against protestors and civilians in general in these areas. But the SACP notes that these uprisings mark a decisive resurgence of popular agency in the Arab world, breaking the bonds of fear and repression, and asserting a profound democratic yearning for popular sovereignty.

In some respects the Arab popular uprisings are directly connected to the evolving global capitalist crisis which has seen its epicentre shift from US financial markets, to sovereign debt crises in key parts of Southern Europe. While there are national specifics in different countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, etc.) - there are important common features at play in the uprisings. These popular uprisings are largely urban in character - reflecting an increasingly new reality of the Arab World, and indeed of the Third World more generally - rapid urbanization and the burgeoning of squalid slums and high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment.

The evolution and eventual outcome of these uprisings is uncertain. Years of repression have meant that progressive political; trade union and civic organizations are weak. The quality and durability of the democratic uprisings underway will critically depend on the ability of the working class, the youth sector, various professional and other middle strata, and the rank-and-file and junior officer corps of the armed forces to find common cause.

It is therefore important that all progressive forces in the world express practical solidarity with these popular uprisings, as part of ensuring that the progressive forces emerge stronger in this region.

The SACP also wishes, once more, to express its solidarity with the legitimate struggles of the Swazi people against the Tinkundla system. We wish to urge our government not to bail out the Swazi government, until and unless it allows for free and democratic expressions by the people of that country. The SACP demands the unbanning of all political parties in Swaziland and the creation of conditions for free and full political participation by all in building a democratic Swaziland.

The last and very important matter that the SACP wishes to place before this Central Committee is that of debating the current international affiliations of COSATU and its affiliates. In the light of the realignment of the global economic forces, the emergence of BRICS, and the failure of the Western trade union movement to confront the capitalist class in the wake of the recent global capitalist crisis, whether it is not time for COSATU to seriously debate and review its own international affiliations. Is it not time for COSATU to align itself closer with class oriented global union federations?

Towards a joint SACP/COSATU and Alliance programme of action

Arising out of all we have said above, and in the wake of our bilateral meeting last week, it is absolutely important that we develop, as per our agreement, a concrete programme of action on the ground, as also raised by Cosatu President in his opening address to this Central Committee. We will only be able to close ranks to defeat the new tendency and consolidate the NDR through concrete struggles on the ground. An important element of this is for union leaders and members to be active in party structure. We are making this call in the same way as we call upon party cadres in the ANC and government to be equally active in the SACP. It is important that all of us participate in these different spheres of society outlined in our MTV while at the same time ensuring that we do not abandon activism in and building the party structures. This is our collective revolutionary responsibility. It is through such concrete struggles that we will be able to defeat all our enemies and detractors including monopoly capital.

The SACP hopes that this Central Committee will reflect on all these matters and emerge with a programme that will contribute to working class unity and a concrete programme of action. The SACP will be standing alongside you, as a dependable ally and as the vanguard of South Africa`s working class.