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Is the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution speaking to a world that no longer exists?

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

The ANC keeps waiting for market capitalism to lose its legitimacy. But is this really going to happen, or is it just wishful thinking?

The ANC, at every elective conference, goes out of its way to analyse both global and domestic balance of forces, primarily to identify opportunities and constraints in the journey to a national democratic society.

Over the last few conferences, the ANC has made relatively similar conclusions on the state of the global balance of forces.

At the 2012 National Elective Conference, the ANC made a crucial observation that the world was on a retreat from the beloved laissez-faire market ideology, after two decades of dominance. This, the ANC noted, had “reopened discourse on the relationship between the state, the market and the citizen on a global scale”.

The ANC also concluded that neoliberal ideology was facing a crisis of confidence and credibility. This has brought to the fore the question of the very legitimacy of market capitalism as well as that of the state and the polity in these developed countries.

It is important to note that these observations, implying less market capitalism and more National Democratic Revolution (NDR)-leading policies, as observed by the ANC, and more of the Democratic Developmental State, even socialism itself, is seen by the ANC as an enabler to creating the platform to speed up programmes of social transformation and creating the national democratic society so envisaged.

The ANC therefore, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, felt there was fundamental shift in the global environment inhibiting the implementation of the NDR which it had earlier anticipated.

One however can’t help but think such an analysis reflects both a certain wishful bias and a limited interpretation of the perceived shifts in global polity. This is not unlike the predictions that characterized Classical Marxist socialism over the last 200 years, one prediction on the economics and the other on the morality of market capitalism. Economically, Classical Marxist socialism has argued that capitalism was driven by a logic of competitive exploitation that would cause its eventual collapse; and that socialism’s communal form of production, by contrast, would prove to be economically superior. Morally, it argued, capitalism was evil both because of the self-interested motives of those engaged in capitalist competition and because of the exploitation and alienation that competition caused; socialism, by contrast, would be based on selfless sacrifice and communal sharing.

The initial hopes of Marxist socialists centred on capitalism’s internal economic contradictions. The contradictions, they thought, would manifest themselves in increasing class conflict. As the competition for resources heated up, the capitalists’ exploitation of the proletariat would necessarily increase. As the exploitation increased, the proletariat would come to realize its alienation and oppression. At some point, the exploited proletariat would decide that it was not going to take it anymore and a revolution would ensue. So the strategy of the Marxist intellectuals was to wait and mount a lookout for signs that capitalism’s contradictions were leading logically and inexorably to revolution.

As is evident, this is exactly what the ANC analysis of the global balance of powers has been; a wait for signs that market capitalism was slowly losing its legitimacy. But is this true or has it been informed by a misreading of global political dynamics and a wishful desire to see a world that espouses a certain version of socialism or what we now term the Democratic Developmental State?

Marxist intellectuals have waited a long time. By the early part of the twentieth century, after several failed predictions of imminent revolution, not only was it becoming embarrassing to make further predictions, it was beginning to seem that capitalism was developing in a direction opposite to the way that Marxism said it should be developing. Yet that was not how it worked out. By the early twentieth century it seemed that all three of the predictions failed to characterize the development of the capitalist countries. The class of manual labourers had both declined as a percentage of the population and become relatively better off. And the middle class had grown substantially both as a percentage of the population and in wealth, as had the upper class.

Marxist socialism thus faced a set of theoretical problems:

The ANC knows this however and due to being anxious to retain ‘sovereignty’ over South Africa it adopted policies such as GEAR, which it saw as essential to bring down the budget deficit and avoid a debt trap which could have led to structural adjustment programmes under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank. The ANC nevertheless feels the pressures arising from globalization. These include the importance of export markets, the need for more international competitiveness, and the need to attract foreign investment.

The question then becomes, given the persistency of market capitalism, is whether there is hope for the full implementation of the NDR. Given some of the successes of market capitalism, on economic growth, on reducing poverty, and in decreasing dependency on the State, what is the future of the NDR?

Is market capitalism a countervailing factor that militates against the success of the NDR, or does the NDR itself rest on a false premise that has in fact self-destructed under an ANC that is a multi-class, multi-ideological political formation that today prefers a mixed economy, leaning towards a more market capitalism?

The ANC must have this conversation in the next policy conference. DM

Yonela Diko is ANC Western Cape Spokesperson


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