Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 14 April 2014

Wake up, Irvin Jim – it’s 2014

Irvin Jim is confused. In all his “up the workers!” rhetoric, he accuses the present capitalist system of being out of date and a “dogma from the past”. And yet he advocates a socialist solution for South Africa, quoting Lenin and Marx – two of the most defunct thinkers who influenced the last century.

At the The Gathering, in a roving discourse in which he bemoaned the fact that workers were underrepresented, Irvin Jim said: “We must organise the working class as a class of itself, as Karl Marx understood and explained. Because the working class is the only class which can carry the revolution to its logical conclusion.”

He went on to say, “There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa… we call for the nationalisation of the mines, the financial sector and other monopolistic industries.”

He added: “It is an immediate and urgent requirement to save our economy for the majority of South Africans, who are the working class and the poor.”

His talk was entitled, “It’s time for the country’s wealth to serve the people.”

While his fight for the working class and the poor must be applauded, his outspoken support of a communist ideology to win the fight is, in this day and age, surprising. No; as the influential leader of a powerful trade union and speaker for its cause to support the Marxist ideals espoused more than a hundred years ago, and found to be completely unsustainable, is no less than disastrous. All the business of the class struggle and the ownership class being blamed for owning the means of production and the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” has been given up by every country that hung on to it except Cuba and North Korea. They are not two encouraging examples of happy places. What’s left of the old Soviet Union, Vietnam and China all lurching to their own versions of capitalism should not count as Communism any longer.

Instead of persisting with his quest for a full implementation of the Freedom Charter and nationalisation of banks, mines and industries, one would think that he had taken note of what happens when government runs businesses and where nationalisation is failing so disastrously. Our embarrassing list of crippled state-owned enterprises does not require further explanation. He rails against the private sector, which he blames for favouring profit over jobs. Why does he not understand that the only way to make more jobs is to increase investment, which ultimately does it only to make a profit?

The old Soviet Union realised eventually that creating great big state-controlled industries just to have the benefit of the jobs they established was totally unworkable. Sad as it may be, the prospects of profit and financial advancement are much greater motivators than the opportunity to support some cock-eyed economic philosophy of worker participation.

It’s people like Jim and Julius Malema who also shout about nationalisation and economic freedom without having the faintest notion of how jobs really come about. It is them who chase away the powerful investors that may build industries in South Africa and, as a result, deprive the country of the jobs their investment would bring. There are too many other countries now that offer attractive investment opportunities for the big investors to work their minds around such disagreeable circumstances.

It is also them who want everything and all ownership to stay in South Africa. They actively discourage investment from international companies and speak disparagingly of companies like Lonmin, a company which still puts up with the risks of being here.

The rest of the world is moving forcefully in the opposite direction, with countries everywhere working hard to make themselves attractive prospects for investment. They develop expensive television commercials and host big trade shows to exhibit their offerings. They know that a dynamic international market plays on a much wider stage, exporting their own products and importing what is not available on the local market to build international trade. It is a reciprocal business.

Instead, Irvin Jim criticises and complains about the “liberalisation of trade and…the removal of exchange controls”. These are some of the very measures we have implemented to build the business of South Africa in the international marketplace. What can he be thinking?

He closes his presentation by saying again, “It is time. It is time to fully implement the Freedom Charter. It is time to ensure that the basic wealth of the country is taken into the hands of the people and is not manipulated by individuals, be they white or black. It is time to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control. It is time to use the surpluses of the mines and the banks to build a manufacturing industry that can bring jobs; real, sustainable jobs, in order to place society on a path to social emancipation.”

There we have it.

But we know that the leaders of trade unions have always espoused a worker’s cause and inevitably have ended up in the cul-de-sac of communism. Advocating power for labour as the mandate of a trade union leader can be understood. What one fails to understand is how someone who has such a commanding position of leadership can have such a poor grasp of history and can be so ill-informed. DM


In other news...

July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It's a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn't going to cut it though.

In the words of Madiba: "A critical, independent and investigative free press is the lifeblood of any democracy."

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