Opinionista Nel Marais 9 July 2015

SACP special congress: Let’s go left (but whose left?)

The South African Communist Party (SACP) might regard itself as an ideological signpost within the ruling party – a kind of sophisticated, if somewhat covert, lobby group – but what it really has become is a parasite, reliant on the ANC and Cosatu.

President Jacob Zuma probably knows this, but the party’s loyalty to him makes him inclined to over-accommodate them in his already underperforming cabinet. The net result is that the SACP has become a policy distraction, talking and taking the country and the ruling party to the left, at a time when we should be avoiding dogmatic socialism as well as unrestrained corporate capitalism.

Gone are the days when the SACP could rely on the intellectual and doctrinal clarity expounded by Joe Slovo or the charismatic militancy espoused by Chris Hani. While attending the party’s special national congress, many of the ANC and SACP members who were in exile during the liberation struggle must have had fond memories of the lectures they had received from political commissars – almost without exception members of the SACP – explaining to them the national and international meaning of the struggle against Apartheid.

What is left (no pun intended) is the bullying approach and the obvious own political agenda followed by Blade Nzimande, who is inclined to refer to the “days in the trenches”, although he played an insignificant part in the liberation struggle. Then there is the party’s current tsar of Marxist dogma, Jeremy Cronin, he of few original ideas, who borrows so easily from Gramsci to explain “the objective realities” to the masses.

The communist leadership’s observation that the influx of new members had diluted the “quality” of its members must also be one of the most insulting things ever said about their ostensibly cherished proletariat.

For now, as some in the ANC want to save the party from the damage being done by Zuma Inc seek an alternative, some in the SACP must surely contemplate how they could rid themselves of Nzimande and Senzeni Zokwana, and persuade the likes of Solly Mapaila to take hold of the reins.

In 2015, the party is still clinging to its default policy position, i.e. the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), but to all but the faithful it sounds like the tired repetition of an outdated paradigm. Even worse is its attempt to justify its preoccupation with the NDR theory by insisting that the ‘second phase’ of the NDR remains imperative.

Nzimande’s three-hour-long keynote address to the congress on Wednesday was little more than a diatribe about the evils of “(white) monopoly capitalism” and foreign agents that plan to launch a counter-revolution with the help of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the former Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and everyone else unable to “grasp” the fact that South Africa is on its way to “the final and complete liberation of the working class”.

The party leadership seems wholly unaware that part of its conspiracy relies on substantive fact – it no longer has any claim to being the vanguard of the working class. It is, slowly but surely, being replaced by a plethora of organisations, including the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the United Front (UF) and even the EFF, with its own quasi-Marxist rhetoric.

That the associated convictions are entrenched in a hotbed of political arrogance and impunity is however, indisputable and the SACP made it clear before and during its congress that its “first task” would be on how to “radicalise” the National Development Plan (NDP).

Shortly before the congress, Cronin – the deputy minister of public works and the first deputy general-secretary of the SACP – criticised the way the plan was formulated and said it did not match with government policy and had no real enforcement mechanisms. He added that the plan entrenched South Africa’s reliance on monopoly capital.

Cronin described the NDP as more of a social accord between government, unions and business, but said it excluded the unemployed and contradicted government policy. “That is a nice idea, but it’s totally unrealistic. One, because it cuts out millions of people, people who are just unwaged. When you talking about business, who is going to be business? Well inevitably it’s going to be the big hitters, monopoly capital.”

Cronin said the NDP should not be “monumentalised” as the plan that would save South Africa and admitted that this had been done by Zuma, adding, “At a senior level within government and within the ANC one understands the pressure is on them, the climate and huge pressure from big capital in South Africa”.

Cronin’s remarks reflect the SACP’s dilemma, which it has faced since 1994. The NDP has been accepted by the ANC and it is official government policy. Cronin as deputy minister thus has a responsibility to defend and implement the NDP, something he is not able to do, given his socialist, SACP roots. However, it also partly explains why the ANC as ruling party has lost momentum – too many senior ministers are in Cabinet as a result of tripartite alliance politics and Zuma’s need to appoint loyalists, which most SACP ministers are – rather than as a result of their willingness to drive the ANC’s strategic vision, i.e. the NDP.

Meanwhile the country’s ‘working class’ is shrinking by the day as it converges in a new and snowballing configuration of the ‘unemployed class’ who remain on the fringes of the sideshow that has Nzimande, Cronin, Zokwana, Vavi and Numsa’s Irvin Jim trying to outperform one another on radicalism and excess; spouting vitriol while drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label or travelling in 7-series BMWs.

It is a far cry from the beautiful and pure words of Chris Hani when he said, “The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody would like to have a good job, a good salary… but for me that is not the be-all of struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle. The real problems of the country are not whether one is in Cabinet… but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our country.”

The SACP is clearly a political anachronism and it does not know how to renew itself. It will, of course, claim success by pointing to the growth in membership, which now reportedly stands at 230,000, but based on the unemployment, inequality and poverty in South Africa, especially in the case of young black people, almost anyone with promises of the redistribution of wealth and massive social welfare programmes will be able to attract support. The reality is that if the SACP took the only credible step available to it, namely to became a fully-fledged political party, participating in elections, it would struggle to surpass the representation the EFF has in Parliament, largely because of the un-inspiring, some would say utterly boring and boorish leadership the SACP is stuck with.

On 9 July, during Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the congress, Cronin underlined the SACP’s disregard for constitutional democracy by tweeting, “thanks for reminding us that the road to state power is not a narrow road through parliamentrary (sic) path.’’ That says it all, doesn’t it? DM

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