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The Economic Freedom Fighters: Red or Pink?

Weizmann Hamilton is the general secretary of the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and serves on the editorial board of WASP's paper Izwi la Basebenzi. WASP was launched on Sharpeville Day by the Democratic Socialist Movement and the independent National Strike Committee established by mineworkers following the Marikana massacre. He was detained and banned under Apartheid. In exile he was on the editorial board of Inqaba Ya Basebenzi, journal of the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC. He is a former chairperson of the Eldorado Park/Kliptown ANC and Secretary of the Greater Johannesburg branch of SAMWU.

While all serious revolutionary socialists would have cheered along with the crowd at the dressing down the capitalists so rightfully deserved, at the time of the EFF’s march on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, our evaluation of the their politics cannot be guided by the fears of the bosses.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ march to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange made headlines at the end of October. It bolstered the movement’s claims as a force on the Left prepared to speak truth to power, in this case, white monopoly capital. But a closer scrutiny of Commander-in-Chief, Julius Malema’s, remarks show that underneath the radical rhetoric, the true colours of the EFF’s socialism are becoming apparent.

Estimates of the EFF’s march vary (from 50,000 to as low as 8,000) but, whatever the actual numbers, the 15km march, from Johannesburg to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in Sandton, SA’s new seat of financial power, would have reinforced the fears of big business about the fate of their wealth in a political future, in which, as the ANC’s power declines, the EFF appears set to play a more influential role.

In his customary radical rhetoric, Moneyweb Today (28/10/15) reports that Malema berated business shouting: “Down with capitalism! Down with the racist JSE!”  In front of cheering supporters dressed in red party T-shirts and waving “capitalism sucks” banners a finger-wagging Malema shouted at a group of white businessmen standing on the JSE balcony: “You bloody racists. It is the ANC who has spoiled you. Your days are numbered.”

Following Malema’s appearance before the American Chamber of Commerce September 29 breakfast briefing, the discussion leader described the EFF Commander in Chief’s address as “chilling and charming”. The Chief Executive Office of the JSE, Nicky Newton-King would have felt the same feeling running down her spine as she accepted the memorandum and thanked comrade Malema for making the effort to come, assuring him that SA had taken notice.

While all serious revolutionary socialists would have cheered along with the crowd at the dressing down the capitalists so rightfully deserved, our evaluation of the EFF’s politics cannot be guided by the fears of the bosses. Following the EFF’s impressive show of strength at the JSE, the commentariat of the capitalist media has been hard at work, pouring their usual scorn on the idea that any policies, other than those promoting the free market, are, at best fanciful, and any economic system other than capitalism downright dangerous. The EFF has been painted by the paranoid capitalist media as socialist, red in tooth and claw, a threat to bourgeois “civilisation”, and much worse. However, are EFF policies revolutionary or reformist?

Genuine socialists must judge the EFF’s policies by whether they constitute a programme for the emancipation of the working class through the socialist transformation of society. The only way out of the impasse capitalism has created for society, one of grotesque inequalities, structural unemployment, denial of access to decent education and healthcare, chronic corruption, environmental degradation, ethnic, racial, national and religious strife and war. For genuine socialists the choice before humanity is socialism or the barbarism of capitalism.

The list of demands the EFF handed to the JSE appear revolutionary, not because they will bring about a radical redistribution of wealth or the eradication of capitalism. They seem so mainly because of the extremely rapacious nature of SA capitalism. The country’s hideous inequalities are reflected in the following facts: just two people – Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert – own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of society, put together; the average worker in the platinum industry would take 300 years to earn what a CEO earns in one year; 54% live in poverty; 15m go to bed hungry every night, and 500, 000 children with disabilities are not accommodated in the schooling system. At the same time, the Zuma government remains stubbornly committed to spending the near equivalent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product on nuclear power stations, when people are living in mud houses, when children can drown in pit latrines in schools, a significant number of which lack decent sanitation, libraries, computers laboratories and sporting facilities. These are but a few of the damning statistics that make capitalism morally repugnant.

The case for socialism however, does not rest on the undoubted moral superiority of a society whose foundations would be built on social solidarity rather than individual competition; on the appeal of the replacement of the dog-eat-dog culture of capitalist individualism, with social cooperation for the common wealth of all; on the cooperation of nations rather than the subjugation of the weaker, less developed by the militarily stronger and economically more powerful, on peace rather than war, on a society living in harmony with nature rather than the destructive exploitation of the environment; on production for social good rather than for private profit; on gender equality rather than the incessant reproduction of prejudice and bigotry towards and oppression of women, gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and queer people. All of these are reason enough to abolish capitalism.

Rather the case for socialism rests on its superiority as a system for the economic re-organisation of society on the basis of a democratic plan, based on the full participation of society as a whole; in its capacity to utilise and release the full potential of society’s productive capabilities – labour, science and technique in contrast to the colossal waste of human potential that ravages society in the form of mass unemployment, whilst productive capacity lies idle worldwide. Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s have the prospects of global capitalism looked as bleak and its inability to meet basic human needs been so clear.

Capitalism’s role as a gigantic barrier to human progress is graphically illustrated by the behaviour of SA’s capitalist class who run the economy as near as possible to a system of organised crime. As the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) pointed out in the leaflet we distributed for the anti-corruption march: there can be no capitalism without corruption. The Financial Transparency Coalition told Fin24 that money connected to SA hidden in Switzerland at HSCBC was more than [the total amount of money companies connected to] France, eight times higher than [the total amount connected to the] US, and 3.5 times more than [money connected to] Spain. Account holders include CEOs of blue chip companies. (BDlive (01/10/15) Cosatu’s Strategy Coordinator, Neil Coleman reports that dividend payments to foreign companies in 2014 alone amounted to R163bn aggravating SA’s current account deficit. Academics estimate that between 2001 and 2007 capital flight increased from 12% to 23% of GDP – nearly a quarter of the country’s wealth was stolen in one year alone.  (DM 06/10/15)

No wonder The Times could report that “South Africa has ‘the most corrupt corporate class on earth according to the business consultancy Price Water House Coopers in February 2014. In the words of The Times, South African management ‘is the world leader in money-laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation, and cybercrime’, with 77% of all internal fraud committed by senior and middle management.”

 At first glance it seems rather curious that the EFF would set their demand for a minimum wage at a paltry R4 500 a month. It is well below the R12 500 for which 34 mineworkers were slaughtered at Marikana in 2012 – an amount that calculations by the Alternative Information Development Centre at the time showed was eminently reasonable, if the working class majority was considered as no less entitled to a decent standard of living as the rest of society. More revealing is the reasoning behind the “radical” demand for 51% share ownership for workers in JSE listed companies. In his address to the American Chamber of Commerce, Malema argued against nationalisation explaining that one way of countering it would be to offer mine workers shareholding in mining operations. “How can the EFF nationalise a mine if the workers own 50%?” If workers were shareholders, they would acknowledge that their performance was linked to a dividend, leading them to work “for their bosses, as well as for themselves”. “They would know that if they go on strike, their bonuses would not be thousands [of rands], but hundreds [of rands].” From a party that set itself apart from and in opposition to the ANC by committing itself unequivocally to nationalisation, the policy the ANC has abandoned, the EFF is now offering advice to the bosses on how to “counter” nationalisation. This is a strike-breakers charter masquerading as worker empowerment.

The hysteria in the capitalist press is actually obscuring the fact that the EFF’s policies are being subjected to a systematic process of dilution. It has been watered down from the red revolutionary anti-capitalist pre-election campaign rhetoric to the distinctly pink, reformist language of a party that wants to portray itself as more “responsible”. Its first act, upon taking up its seats in the national assembly was to jettison its commitment not to accept the creature comforts of parliamentary salaries and benefits using the spurious argument that the policy was meant to take effect only if they had won the elections.

It has followed that betrayal by “clarifying” its nationalisation policy. The EFF no longer stands for the wholesale nationalisation of the banks; it is in favour of a state bank leaving intact the domination of the SA economy by its most parasitic sector. It wants workers to be given a stake in private companies not to expropriate them.

The EFF is increasingly seeking not to abolish capitalism, but to find an accommodation within it. This explains the logic of its R4, 500 minimum wage demand, a figure adjusted to suit the appetites of capital. It explains its appeals at the JSE for business to sponsor education. It accounts for the abandonment of its policy of nationalisation of the banks, the mines and the factories in sharp contrast to their agreement with WASP in the talks about possible electoral cooperation which they initiated and scuppered when they failed to persuade us to liquidate ourselves politically. The EFF had then fully agreed with WASP on nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class.

The stridency of the EFF’s radical anti-capitalist rhetoric conceals the reality that its policy is to create the conditions for the more rapid development of a black capitalist class. In that sense it shares the same historical aims as the ANC. Its policies reflect the frustrations of the emergent black capitalist class over the continued crushing domination of the economy by white monopoly capital after more than two decades of democracy. Malema repeatedly cites the fact that only around 10% of the JSE is owned by blacks as a prime example of the ANC’s failure to redistribute wealth concentrated in white hands during the apartheid era. Just as the Nationalist Party used the state under apartheid to develop an Afrikaner bourgeoisie, so too, the EFF seeks to accelerate the development of a black bourgeoisie.

Yet without the policy it has now abandoned – nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy — it will not be possible to expropriate the R1.5 trillion that lies idle in corporate bank accounts, nor to seize the R1.8 trillion held by the Public Investment Corporation for the benefit of capital, nor to arrest the wholesale pillage of the country’s resources by foreign and domestic corporations through capital flight — legal and illegal. This would require a full frontal confrontation with capital, something the EFF is more clearly signalling as an assurance to capital it has no appetite for. The expropriation of the land is all that is left of the EFF’s radicalism. But the logic of its policies on industry and the banks, which dominate agri-business, means in time that policy too must fall.

The phenomenon of the EFF was made possible by the development of a vacuum on the left of the political spectrum, opened up incrementally over the past two decades by the decline of the ANC into in effect a minority, rural party, enjoying the declining support of only 34% of the urban vote and overall only 35% of the eligible voting population but accentuated by the change in working class consciousness produced by the Marikana massacre.

Despite its spectacular electoral success, the EFF no more than matched Cope’s 2009 vote despite the far more favourable conditions that prevailed in 2014 compared to 2009. The crisis in the ANC had reached the point where Zuma’s personal and corruption scandals, his booing by the crowd at Mandela’s memorial service in front of an international television audience had become so serious that consideration was given to Zuma not being on the ANC’s election posters.

Among organised workers, there is a healthy class suspicion towards the EFF, not only because of the whiff of corruption that continues to swirl around its CIC, who has become a millionaire, as one shop steward pointed out at Numsa’s international political school, despite never having worked a day in his life. The EFF also has limited appeal amongst the more politically educated, advanced workers who see it, at best, as a sjambok to punish the ANC.

More importantly the EFF’s life as the main left force will be prolonged by the continued absence of a mass workers party. The birth of a workers party faces a number of serious obstacles. The United Front (UF) is paralysed, strangled by opposition from within the leadership to adopting socialism as its guiding ideology, putting it out of step with the ideological traditions of the union that gave birth to it. The UF leadership is uncertainty about its attitude to the 2016 local government elections. Its leadership is inclined to take up not unworthy issues like the secrecy bill and the defence of Chapter 9 institutions, but which are abstract to the masses involved in the daily struggle to survive. Consequently the UF has failed dismally to embed itself in or to provide leadership to, and unite the masses in service delivery protests with the organised labour movement – its primary mandate.

The workers party is enduring an elephantine pregnancy within Numsa in an ongoing but unresolved debate on whether it should be a vanguard or a mass party. These factors, combined with the fact that other than Numsa, the left forces in the Movement for Socialism have no mass base, as well as the ideological and organisational incoherence between the UF, Movement for Socialism and UF – will continue to leave the EFF as the sole occupant of the political Left field for the foreseeable future. But as the explosive uprising of the students has shown, the historical process towards a mass workers party will find other avenues, if the road through Numsa remains blocked by a leadership that mistakenly seems to believe that it has its hands on the clock of history.

Politics like nature abhors a vacuum, if it is not fulfilled by progressive content it will be filled by reaction like the “xenophobic” outbreaks have shown. The student uprising inflicted on the ANC its most humiliating defeat since it came to power. It also put the labour movement to shame by achieving for outsourced workers what organised labour has failed miserably to. The student uprising has the potential to give new impetus towards a workers party.  For such a party to succeed in uniting the working class across all three main theatres of struggle – service delivery protests, student protests and the struggle of the organised working class –and to provide a real alternative to a capitalism undergoing its worst crisis since the 1930s, it would have to recognise that capitalism cannot be reformed, it has to be abolished. For this it would need a red-blooded socialist programme. DM

Weizmann Hamilton is a Marxist and General Secretary of the Workers and Socialist Party. WASP works closely with the Socialist Youth Movement which is working towards unifying students nationally in a Free Education Movement.


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