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South Africa: 'Political power without economic power is like an empty tin' -- NUMSA leader Irvin Jim

Irvin Jim.

For more on NUMSA, click HERE.

It is obvious that the black capitalist class favours capitalism and that it will do its best to influence the post-apartheid society in this direction.

It is obvious that the black middle and upper classes who take part in a broad liberation alliance will jostle for hegemony and attempt to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans.

It is obvious that (like their counterparts in every part of the world) the black middle and upper strata, who find themselves on the side of the people’s struggle, are often inconsistent and vacillating. They are usually the enemy’s softest targets for achieving a reformist, rather than a revolutionary, outcome.

-- Joe Slovo, The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution, 1988.

Irvin Jim, general secretary, National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (NUMSA), presented the 2013 Joe Slovo Memorial Lecture, on October 20, 2013

Comrade chairperson,

Leadership of South African Communist Party present,

Leadership of COSATU present,

Leadership of the ANC present,

Comrades and friends.

I am humbled by your invitation for me to share with you my thoughts on our late general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), member of the national leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) and a loyal revolutionary fighter of the working class, Comrade Yossel Mashel Slovo, whom we all knew as Comrade Joe Slovo or simply Comrade JS.

Comrade Slovo was born on May 26, 1926, to a Jewish family in Lithuania and died from cancer on January 6, 1995, in South Africa, where his family had migrated to. He was born in a working-class family.

By the time of his death Comrade Joe Slovo had served as the general secretary and chairperson of the SACP, as the chief of staff of Umkhontu we Sizwe (MK, "Spear of the Nation", the ANC's armed wing), and as a key and leading player on the side of the people’s camp, during the negotiations that gave birth to the new bourgeois democratic society and country we now live in.

Comrade Slovo is credited with having authored the “sunset clauses” which inevitably broke the deadlock which had been preventing real movement forward in the negotiations for a democratic South Africa.

Slovo was a communist revolutionary and leader of the SACP, a leading member of the ANC, a great Marxist thinker and a loyal working-class fighter for a Socialist Republic of South Africa.

Comrades, I thank you for giving us all time, in our busy schedules, to reflect on one of our greatest South African practicing communists –- Comrade Joe Slovo.

I want, 18 years after the death of Comrade Slovo, to reflect on what South Africa has become, and what are some of the challenges and revolutionary tasks of the working class today.

The Slovo I know, as a great Marxist thinker, theorist and practicing communist, will be very happy to know that there are still some among the working class in general, and the leadership of the South African working class in particular, who passionately believe in the inevitability of a Socialist Democratic Republic of South Africa as the only solution to our socioeconomic and political problems. I am one such communist, comrades.

As I reflect on the history of our liberation movement, as led by the ANC and look at today's momentary challenges facing the working class, I want to make my own honest reflection on the state of the working class -- organised, unorganised, employed and unemployed, ravaged by poverty and inequalities -- in this country.

I must make a confession comrades; it is not easy to speak, today, about the communist giants of our revolution. There is so much going on which challenges the very basis and strategic objectives of our revolution. There are those in the camp of the people who are doing everything to distort, dilute, revise and ultimately defocus us from our historic mission of building a Socialist Democratic South Africa as the only solution to the historic problems of South African colonial capitalism.

We all know that in our history there was a heroic time when the ANC, the SACP and the congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) proudly emerged as defiant revolutionary standard bearers marching at the head of our militant working class and the youth axis, across the length and breadth of South Africa, proclaiming the imminent demise of the apartheid system.

Economic power

Now we know after more than 350 years of struggle, that in 1994, we have secured only political power. We have not won economic power, and we must know that political power without economic power is hollow, empty power. It is like an empty tin without any content. It does indeed make a lot of noise.

It is precisely because we have now become acutely aware of the dangers of holding on to an empty tin, pretending to have political power when we do not have economic power, that we are now demanding and calling for a radical and revolutionary socioeconomic transformation program to transfer the economy to the people’s camp. If we fail to win this fight, it will spell the end of the glorious liberation front!

SACP

I must be upfront from the start that I cannot, today, stand here and proudly say that the SACP of today is the SACP of Joe Slovo.

It is impossible today to honestly say that the SACP and the ANC are pursuing a radical socioeconomic program to uproot our "Colonialism of a Special Type" and to destroy capitalism.

We find every day that there is a very big difference between the theory of communism and its practice in South Africa. We also find a very big difference between the theory of revolutionary anti-colonial struggles, which are struggles against imperialism, and the practice of our nationalists in the ANC. There is therefore a very big difference here between theory and practice. There is no revolutionary praxis in both organisations.

But we practicing revolutionary communists are not surprised at how things have turned out in South Africa since our 1994 democratic breakthrough.

I have prefixed this input with Slovo’s almost prophetic warning when, writing in 1988 about the role of the revolutionary working class during the phase of the National Democratic Revolution he said:

It is obvious that the black capitalist class favours capitalism and that it will do its best to influence the post-apartheid society in this direction.

It is obvious that the black middle and upper classes who take part in a broad liberation alliance will jostle for hegemony and attempt to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans.

It is obvious that (like their counterparts in every part of the world) the black middle and upper strata, who find themselves on the side of the people’s struggle, are often inconsistent and vacillating. They are usually the enemy’s softest targets for achieving a reformist, rather than a revolutionary, outcome. (Joe Slovo, The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution, 1988).

Slovo consistently warned us that should the revolutionary working class not impose its hegemony and leadership on the National Democratic Revolution, we should kiss goodbye to socialism precisely because the black and African middle and upper classes in the people’s camp would easily be won over by white monopoly capital and imperialism, to advance a capitalist NDR. We are now witnesses of this ugly reality!

Writing in the same piece, Slovo was very clear what the revolutionary theory of the SACP and its revolutionary tasks were. He said:

The South African Communist Party, in its 1984 constitution, declares that its aim is to lead the working class towards the strategic goal of establishing a socialist republic "and the more immediate aim of winning the objectives of the national democratic revolution which is inseparably linked to it". The SACP constitution describes the main content of the national democratic revolution as the national liberation of the African people in particular, and the black people in general, the destruction of the economic and political power of the racist ruling class, and the establishment of one united state of people's power in which the working class will be the dominant force and which will move uninterruptedly towards social emancipation and the total abolition of exploitation of man by man.

Comrade Slovo fully appreciated and understood that it was impossible to achieve the objectives of the NDR without simultaneously achieving the destruction of the economic and political power of the racist ruling class. This is precisely why Slovo recognised the Freedom Charter as the basis of the revolutionary alliance of communists, the revolutionary working class and all the nationally oppressed strata.

Global crisis

Comrades, we are living in the midst of a vicious global crisis of capitalism. Capitalists all over the world are forcing onto the working class the cost of their global crisis. They are cutting jobs, reducing wages, eating into our pensions, restructuring the working place in favour of profits, demanding youth wage subsidies, forcing governments to privatise social services such as health, education, transport, and so on.

Our own democratic government killed miners who were demanding a meagre increase in their misery wages in Marikana. We see social protests every day. Violent crime is on the rise. Our babies and boys and girls are no longer safe in our communities because of violent crime propelled by massive poverty, unemployment and inequalities.

Because of the continuing low and violent colonial wages of the black and African working class, we are seeing violent and militant strikes every day. But our bosses and the ANC government want us to survive on low, savage and violent colonial wages and meanwhile we must remain humble, be gentle, non-violent and easy to manipulate and handle, during strikes. They are so convinced we are sub-human beings who must be happy with our poverty wages.

Nothing best proves the continuing white supremacist capitalist philosophy and ideology post 1994 in South Africa than this: that both white monopoly capital and our ANC government now somehow think that we the black and African working class must be happy with our inferior colonial wages and inferior inhuman social conditions. They do not regard us as full human beings, we the black and African working class. Meanwhile none of them can survive our conditions of life!

Capitalist class rule

Unfortunately for us, as Comrade Slovo so correctly and accurately warned us, barely 19 years after 1994 it is obvious that the black middle and upper classes who take part in a broad liberation alliance will jostle for hegemony and attempt to represent their interests as the interests of all Africans – today, having first unilaterally adopted the right-wing neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) [economic policy] in 1996, the black middle and upper classes have adopted the right-wing neoliberal National Development Plan (NDP) and are demanding that we, the Black and African working class must accept low colonial wages and the youth wage subsidy which is nothing but a free grant to capital.

After GEAR was adopted in 1996, the SACP welcomed it. It took time for COSATU to win over the SACP in the fight against GEAR, which was also the fight against the "1996 Class Project" forces led by Thabo Mbeki.

In 2007 at the ANC conference in Polokwane we thought that we had dealt a deadly blow to the 1996 Class Project and its GEAR. We were terribly mistaken, comrades.

It did not take us long to realise that what looked like an improvement in the working relationship of the ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance was in fact merely the manoeuvres of the elites in the leadership of the liberation movement for personal positions and control of the democratic movement for their right-wing capitalist interests, wherever they were coming from, even if it was from the SACP.

COSATU raised the alarm over the mass migration into parliament, provincial legislatures and councils of leaders of the SACP in general and more specifically of the general secretary of the SACP into government. We knew then, as it has been confirmed now, that this migration was going to weaken the SACP, destroy its independence from the government and render it quite irrelevant to the struggles of the working class.

We have since seen how the SACP is now unable to take proper Marxist and communist positions on the goings-on in government, and over the clearly right-wing neoliberal NDP.

Rather than making the Alliance the strategic political centre of the liberation movement, we are all being invited to join the leadership ranks of the ANC if we must influence the ANC to govern in the interests of the working class.

Where is the Freedom Charter today, which is the revolutionary program upon which the Alliance is founded? [Full text HERE.]

We have seen how the Freedom Charter demand to return the wealth of the country to the people as a whole – to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy – which is the only true foundation upon which a democratic South Africa can be built, has been dumped in favour of pleasing white monopoly capital and global imperialism.

What then is the moment for the working class, as we continue to be inspired by Joe Slovo who taught us, correctly, that neither the National Democratic Revolution nor the plight of the working class could be resolved in South Africa without South Africa becoming a democratic Socialist Republic?

1. We are 100% convinced that our evolution since 1994 has experienced terrible setbacks because it proceeded on the basis of wrong revolutionary and critical fundamentals. We take the view that this is what caused the assassination of comrades like Chris Hani who knew and understood that unless we laid a solid foundation for an NDR that was to lead to a socialist South Africa, our evolution was doomed, just like most struggles against colonialism.

2. We have resolved that we must struggle both inside and outside the movement to fight against the dominance of white monopoly capital and imperialism, and the accumulation of wealth in our country by the white population at the expense of the black people in general and Africans in particular.

3. We have consistently called for the immediate and radical implementation of the Freedom Charter.

4. We have demanded, consistently, that the so-called democratic breakthrough is meaningless if it is not going to directly lead to the destruction of white and imperialist domination of our economy and population.

5. The internal policy formulation processes of the ANC clearly indicated a consensus on ensuring that the Freedom Charter is fully implemented, and there has been full support for nationalisation of strategic parts of the economy, in line with the Freedom Charter.

6. But as Slovo warned, elements in the leadership of the ANC from the middle and upper classes have made sure that the progressive positions have been diluted and ultimately, for nationalisation, removed as ANC policy.

7. They have done all this because they want to assure the local and international capitalists that South Africa is a capitalist state that has a stable capitalist policy environment. These elements have ultimately forced onto the ANC the NDP copied from the Democratic Alliance [former apartheid parties]. Again, it is important to remember the prophetic words of Slovo – he warned us that the black and African right-wing classes would be easily bribed, corrupted and won over to the agenda of white monopoly capital and imperialism.

8. All the positive hype before the Mangaung ANC conference such as the need today for a radical second phase of the transition involving radical economic policies in line with the Freedom Charter have been drowned out by the NDP and the refusal by the leading elites in the ANC to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy.

9. We are now witnessing the destruction of COSATU as an independent organ of the working class.

10. Clearly, having destroyed the potential of the ANC Youth League to champion radical policy positions through the draconian use of disciplinary processes, with a pliant and soft-swallowed SACP, COSATU now remains the only organisation capable of independently articulating the interests and demands of the poor and the working class.

11. And therefore COSATU must either be converted into a toy telephone or destroyed altogether. This is the only viable and scientific explanation for the paralysis in COSATU today, and the troubles Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi is going through.

12. After the ANC policy conference held in June 2012, COSATU went to its own September 2012 national congress. It emerged with a real radical program for the working class, calling for full implementation of the Freedom Charter, nationalisation of strategic companies like Sasol, Arcello-Mittal, the Reserve Bank, formation of a state bank and so on. The COSATU national congress called for radical measures to be taken to promote manufacturing and industrialisation.

13. At the COSATU congress, we endorsed a radical collective bargaining campaign to deal with the apartheid colonial wage in South Africa especially in the light of Marikana massacre and crisis. The congress further called on COSATU leadership to immediately serve section 77 and mobilise the working class to take to the streets to fight for a radical change in the country.

14. Comrades, one unforgettable incident at the COSATU congress was when for the first time in the history of the liberation alliance components of the alliance stood up on the congress floor and suggested that the political report prepared by the COSATU general secretary must not be adopted, precisely because it, in our view, correctly captured the failure by the ANC-led Alliance to transform the South African economy and society, post 1994, in favour of the popular masses. The workers in the congress, however, demanded that the political report be adopted.

15. Comrades it is not a joke that in the NDP our ANC has adopted a DA policy that is clearly right wing in character. There is completely no radical agenda in the NDP. It keeps intact the dominance of white monopoly capital and protects the status quo of the white population to continue to accumulate, while the black and African majority continue to wallow in poverty. .

16. The ANC is refusing the full implementation of the Freedom Charter. It rejects to take ownership and control of strategic minerals through nationalisation. It has not moved swiftly to ban the exportation of scrap which is why we are experiencing closures of seven foundries, as is the case in Dimabaza. The ANC has failed to ban labour brokers. It is refusing to dump GEAR as a failed policy. It is refusing to give the Reserve Bank an agenda to target jobs, instead it allows it to represent the interests of finance capital and the minerals/energy/finance complex.

17. The ANC government continues to liberalise trade when it comes to tariffs, it continues to remove exchange controls allowing capital to take money our of the country through capital flight, which is money we need for investment in the productive sectors of the economy.

18. The rate of capitalist exploitation of the black and African working class has been rising. Half the South African working class for a period of 20 years has not received a real wage increase. This means the share of the national income has been bad for workers and the poor who rely on the few who work in South Africa.

Where do we go from here, then?

It is very clear that the South African black and African working class are faced with two extreme options: – succumb to the domination of right-wing neoliberal capitalism or fight to end national, gender and class oppression and exploitation by advancing the struggle for a National Democratic Revolution which is capable of producing a Socialist Republic of South Africa as the only viable solution to our inherited crises.

It is also very clear that the working class must either hand over COSATU to the right wingers in the liberation momevment and forget about a campaigning, militant and revolutionary federation; or fight to retain COSATU as a socialist and revolutionary federation.

We reject with contempt any suggestion or shallow analysis that that says public workers are reactionary because of their proximity to the government and therefore only industrial workers are revolutionary and militant because of their distance from government.

We think the real problem in COSATU manifests itself in the capture by reactionary forces of certain leaders of affiliates of COSATU, whichever union they may be coming from.

I am convinced Comrade Slovo would have had no problem in deciding which way to go: to continue to bravely and fearlessly shoulder the fight for a Socialist Republic of South Africa.

Thank you.

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