The SACP, the crisis in the liberation movement and the state of our country
- Phillip Dexter
- 18 Apr 2017 12:44 (South Africa)
In 2005 and 2006, when the seeds of our current crisis were being sown, the SACP was a significant organisation, having been built on the political capital it was bequeathed at its unbanning by the likes of Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Ray Alexander, Moses Kotane, Dora Tamana and many other heroes and heroines of the Congress movement.
A layer of younger activists, recruited in the 1980s and 1990s, were taking up positions in the party under the guidance of veterans still involved in the party, such as Ronnie Kasrils, Raymond Mhlaba, Essop Pahad, Kay Moonsamy, as well as George and Joyce Mashamba, to mention a few. Today, as our country teeters on the brink of a social, political and economic meltdown, the focus is predictably on the ANC and its weaknesses.
But the SACP leadership in office today has a lot to answer for. Decisions it made and the manner in which it positioned the party have contributed to this crisis and have left the party bereft of any credibility. The factionalism practised by this leadership, the poor theorisation of the current conjuncture, the lack of discipline among party members, rampant populism, as well as the corruption and patronage we see across our organisations, were and in some cases still are a hallmark of this leadership of SACP. It is clear that there has been infiltration of the SACP by counter-revolutionary elements who have basically sought to destroy the party. This, when the country needs a revolutionary Marxist party most of all.
Theory in the party has been on the decline for the last 25 years. The collapse of “really existing socialism” led the likes of Joe Slovo to build on the critiques made by Ruth First, Pallo Jordan and others that sought to honestly account for the failures of the socialist and communist movement and governments. Such self-criticism led to a debate about the nature of socialism, the practise of democratic centralism and of Stalinism, both in general terms but also in terms of the SACP itself and its forerunner, the CPSA.
Sadly, Chris Hani’s assassination robbed the party of a leader that had credibility, a grasp of theory, experience in practice and courage. The decline of the party, after its brief internal spring following the unbanning and the period of Hani’s leadership, was crushed by the factionalism that followed in the rush for seats in government. Anybody who disagreed with the decision to support Jacob Zuma in the run-up to Polokwane, no matter at what cost, was purged from the SACP. Rigging of conferences, buying of branches, fake intelligence reports, downright lies and even collusion with criminals and intelligence operatives were also used to consolidate the current SACP leadership.
Two examples of the theoretical confusion of the party; the slogan “socialism is the future, build it now” and “the 1996 class project”, are instructive. They were utilised to present the party as socialist, while all the while it was tailing the neoliberal project it criticised and was being used as a platform to install some of its leaders in government in return for the support of Jacob Zuma at the Polokwane and Mangaung conferences of the ANC. These personal interests determined the positions the party took, not any commitment to socialism. The intention of the slogan “socialism is the future, build it now” was not to engage in repeated complaints about the banking industry in the country, or the role of the national Treasury in government. It was to mobilise the working class around a programme that would – in the medium term – build organisations and institutions that would provide a base for the working class to consolidate its power to prepare it to actually take state power at some point. Yet all the structures that were to be built or developed and strengthened, from co-operatives to trade unions, today lie in tatters, including the party itself.
Part of the reason is because even though it has this slogan, the party has not been able to articulate a coherent vision of socialism and measure progress towards it. Ironically, Chris Hani gave it this vision in clear and simple terms. He stated that:
“Socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about healthcare, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between rural and urban areas, it is about a decent education for our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.”
While part of the statement is arguably overly simplistic, such as the point about theory, it at least presents an alternative to the current lived reality of most South Africans. The former part of the statement has been the ANC’s programme, except for dealing with the tyranny of the market and the capitalist system of ownership. If only the SACP had focused on these words. Instead, it has stood still and even worse, taken the working class and the poor backwards. The party has been captured itself, by certain business interests, by those in the structures who are simply there to have government positions and collect the cash and in certain instances by elements of the old order. This is hardly surprising, since the ANC faces the same problem. There is no disease, illness, manifestation or condition that the ANC has that does not affect the SACP and, vice versa. It is the dishonesty of those in leadership of the SACP that pretend otherwise that seeks to create the impression that this SACP is similar to the SACP of Slovo and Hani. They are polls apart.
While one could accept that a mass-based organisation such as the ANC, or a trade union federation such as Cosatu, may have counter-revolutionary elements in it or be found ideologically wanting, how could a communist party? Even if it were inevitable that it would be infiltrated, that it would be subject to the pressures of the society we live in, how could it be so blinded by the trappings of office that it could not articulate a position that could advance the interests of the working class and the poor?
The second theoretical confusion is the concept of “the 1996 class project”. Class interests do not manifest themselves in a project. To argue that the government of Thabo Mbeki was implementing a project on behalf of the bourgeoisie is just a lie, finish and klaar. In any case, the SACP was part of determining the Constitution, the policies of the ANC and participated in the Alliance during Nelson Mandela’s and Mbeki’s tenures as president. So if these leaders were doing anything on behalf of the capitalist class, it was with the SACP’s consent. It is the capitalist system that is the bourgeois class project. This “1996” slogan was merely a dummy, sold to activists to get them to organise along factional lines to oppose the ANC government led by Thabo Mbeki. The proof of this is that government has differed in no significant way from its predecessor in policy terms other than that which had to do with the prevention and treatment of HIV and Aids. That issue alone was reason to mobilise around, but the SACP was in fact even conflicted on this issue and very few of its leaders actually spoke out on it at the time.
The reality of our situation is that the ANC, together with its Alliance partners, has had to grapple with the challenge of managing a capitalist economy, with a state inherited from the oppressors, in a hostile global environment. Instead of blaming and labelling individuals, it was the task of the SACP to theoretically analyse this conjuncture and to chart a path out of it to economic liberation and to socialism. It’s leadership previously had done so effectively and had fulfilled their historic mission and responsibility. This SACP leadership has failed, dismally, completely and utterly.
The strategy and tactics deployed by the SACP have been found wanting, since it has and continues to base its decision-making on personal and factional interests and not on the interests of the working class. Cosatu lies in ruins, destroyed by SACP cadres deployed in the unions who, instead of being principled and fighting for unity, expelled or removed various leaders, then Numsa itself, then Vavi, himself a key architect of the current crisis. They were removed not because they were failing at their jobs, but because a caucus, led principally by SACP members, said they should be so removed. The consequences are plain for all to see. Cosatu has been split, the NUM is half the size it used to be, Numsa has formed a new federation and is forming a political party. “Down with factionalism!”, the SACP speakers say at rallies and meetings. Yet, they are part of the most factional leadership in the history of the party.
The party has failed dismally to develop a way of operating as a socialist party while simultaneously being part of the government. To operate in such circumstances means being in charge of managing the capitalist system. The party should do this while simultaneously mobilising and directing its cadres to develop resistance and alternatives to capitalism. The SACP member heading the Department of Higher Education failed to ensure access to universities and colleges by working-class children and this led to the #Fees Must Fall movement, which the Young Communist League could not lead either. An SACP member heads the Department of Agriculture but is unable, in any significant way, to empower small, black famers. The same applies to all the SACP members who are ANC councillors, MPLs, MPs, MMCs, MECs and ministers. Their contribution is, at best, limited to implementing the social democratic policies of the ANC, which, while they do a great deal for people, are not really the product of any SACP input but of the ANC itself. They don’t actually transform capitalism or build socialism. Or, at worst, they are part of the very patronage, corruption, maladministration and failures that they now stand and accuse the ANC president and others of.
As with the HIV and Aids issue, the SACP members who are in government, with the exception of Pravin Gordhan, have said nothing about the problems with Sassa, state-owned enterprises, corruption, and looting, until now. There was a flurry of statements immediately before the Cabinet reshuffle, when those in Cabinet were anticipating their own axing. Since then, it is clearly back to business as usual. It was Jacob Zuma who in 2004 challenged the SACP to consider fielding its own candidates for election, while remaining in alliance with the ANC. The party leadership opted to remain as ANC members, principally with a view to being made Cabinet ministers. Talking socialism, practising opportunism, bolstering capitalism. Looking after their own, now very bourgeois backs, while selling the working class to any bidder, high or low.
The fight for political office has in fact been at the centre of everything this SACP leadership has been committed to. There was a view among some in the party that then President Thabo Mbeki was deliberately not deploying them as ministers, as if they were entitled to such positions. It was the bitterness around this issue and that of the current General Secretary about his not being made a minister in particular, that dictated the strategy and tactics of the party in the run-up to the ANC Polokwane conference. The use of embedded journalists, of fake intelligence reports, of character assassination and even death threats was all part of what was deployed to clear a path for the current SACP leaders to earn places in the government of President Jacob Zuma.
Patronage and corruption start in small ways. When the SACP General Secretary was shown, with a full report and supporting documents, to have misused millions of rand of the party’s money, this was covered up. Instead of being he held to account, he was able to concoct a story that in fact his accusers were guilty of corruption and theft, even despite evidence to the contrary being presented to the party. They let him off the hook. He went on to build a system of patronage and even possibly corruption that, while it is not as grandiose as that of the Guptas, may well have been their template.
That system has been extended into SETAs, universities and colleges, NSFAS and many other institutions under his Ministry. Whatever investigation is made into the affairs of the president of the country and other government ministers, and there should be one, it should include the likes of Blade Nzimande and others in the leadership of the SACP. They are, with few exceptions, no different from those nationalists and revolutionary democrats in positions of power.
This leadership of the SACP has no credibility, it has no credentials. It does not have the interests of the working class and the poor at its centre. It is no different and in some cases is worse than those it criticises today. It has no programme of action other than marching against the banks once a year. It certainly has no vision and programme for socialism.
It would be a good thing for this country, in the run-up to its congress in July, if the SACP could be honest with itself and with its constituency. Perhaps then it would take decisions that resulted in some difference to the lives of the people, that led to a change in the power relations in the country and possibly even led to the ultimate defeat of capitalism. In the interim, the reform and transformation of the state and the economy would go a long way to change the lives of the working class and the poor. But sadly, this SACP is an empty vessel. It will deliver nothing for the people and everything for its leadership. It would be the most naïve revolutionary who looked at the party of Slovo, Hani, Alexander on the one hand and the party of Nzimande on the other and did not see the hand of the enemy at work and of the dominance of a parasitic, opportunist cabal at its helm. DM