The ANC and South Africa’s radical left, 30 years after the first post-apartheid elections: An interview with Mazibuko Jara

On the eve of South Africa's May 29 general elections, Federico Fuentes from LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal spoke to veteran South African socialist Mazibuko Jara about the African National Congress’s (ANC) prospects of holding onto power after 30 years in office, and how some of the new right and left forces are likely to fare. 

Many are talking about these elections as the most significant since the first held after the fall of apartheid 30 years ago. Why? What is at stake?

The significance lies in that the ANC may get less than 50% of the vote. If it does, the ANC will follow the trend of liberation movements in southern Africa losing power after 25-30 years in power due to their failure to transform society, and address the grievances and demands of the popular masses through economic redistribution.

For the white liberal parties — and increasingly for Black and white conservative forces — this provides them with an important opportunity to gain power. These forces have already inflicted two defeats on the ANC. In the 2016 and 2021 municipal elections, they won in traditional ANC working-class mainstays. Those elections saw the ANC lose power in every major metropolitan centre and relegated to holding power in the provinces where there is less tradition of radical working-class organisation and the liberal-conservative opposition are weaker. 

This advance by the liberal-conservative opposition and weakening of the ANC represents a significant step backwards for Black working class interests. After fighting and winning a protracted, difficult, heroic and valiant struggle to defeat formal apartheid, a liberal-conservative electoral advance will be a historic brake on any forward movement in favour of redistributive popular interests, let alone the longer-term struggle for socialism. A decline of the ANC leading to either an ANC-led or opposition-led coalition would represent a deepening of the neoliberal trajectory the country has been on since the ANC was first elected in 1994. The policies, platforms and rhetoric of the opposition are all geared towards speeding up the country’s neoliberal trajectory. In contrast, the ANC’s neoliberalism is a form of social liberalism that is somewhat more attuned to responding to popular interest because of its working-class base. But it remains an anti-worker and anti-poor neoliberalism, nonetheless. 

How are South Africa’s capitalists responding to the possibility of the ANC losing power?

From the mid-to-late ’80s, South Africa’s capitalists were willing to forgo apartheid and seek a more legitimate political manager to run the political system. The ANC became that manager. Through the political compromise of the 1994 deal that ended apartheid, the ANC acquiesced to managing society on the basis of restoring capitalist profitability and capital accumulation, which at the time was constrained by apartheid. The ANC ruled out any significant changes in the economic structure, even if a small niche of Black ANC-aligned political leaders were allowed to become business owners and incorporate themselves as junior compradors into the main capitalist class. 

Today, South Africa’s capitalists are ready to consider another political manager. This is in large part because the ANC has proven itself to be quite corrupt. Every state institution has been affected by ANC corruption — state-owned enterprises, municipal councils, development agencies, government departments, etc. This has generated certain negative impacts for capitalists. For example, international authorities have issued warnings about South Africa’s banking system, saying corruption in the public sector has affected its credibility. This affects South Africa’s credibility in international financial transactions given its reliance on financial markets for credit. The publicly-owned but now largely corporatised electricity company Eskom has been unable to provide a stable supply of electricity for the past 15 years. South Africa’s capitalists always relied on three things: cheap minerals, cheap energy and cheap labour. Another important state enterprise, Transnet, which operates rail, ports and pipelines, has been on the brink of collapse for the past 15 years due to corporatisation, mismanagement and corruption. Capitalists need reliable electricity supply and an efficient logistics chain — but with the decline of both Eskom and Transnet, capitalists’ trust in the capacity of the ANC to run a modern capitalist state has significantly declined. There are just a few examples of the impact of ANC corruption, there are many more. For South Africa’s capitalists, these are important concerns.

The capitalists are ready to see another political player coming into power because they know any new political manager will not challenge existing economic policy. But they also know the ANC will still loom large in politics, as polls suggest at worst it will get about 45% of the vote. That means, most likely, a coalition government at the national level and also in some provinces. Capitalists have therefore significantly financed the political campaigns of the liberal-conservative opposition as well as the ANC. We are left with a typical murky capitalist democracy, in which capitalists are seeking to ensure that any political realignment does not alter the accumulation trajectory the country has been on since 1994. 

But it is worth noting that while the 1994 political settlement between the ANC and the apartheid government essentially restored profitability, popular demands continued to challenge that consensus in various ways: through the struggles of the new post-apartheid social movements in the late ’90s, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)-led worker strikes against job losses and privatisation in 1999-2004, the Marikana mineworkers strike in 2012, the Fees Must Fall student rebellion in 2015, and many localised and ongoing popular explosions in different parts of the country. We have seen sustained working class discontent. Unfortunately, this discontent has not consolidated itself into any significant alternative left political force. The ANC’s potential loss of power is not going to be matched by the concurrent rise of a left alternative capable of making use of this discontent. That means the political realignment will not be in the interest of popular forces, particularly as South Africa’s capitalists are actively shaping it. 

How has the ANC tried to revert this decline in support? Could the ANC mobilise voters through fear of what a liberal-conservative government might mean for working people?

In previous elections, the ANC would proudly say: “If you vote for the Democratic Alliance” — the main white liberal party — “then you will see the return of apartheid.” They would express it as directly and crudely as that. This time around, it is interesting to note that they do not have the confidence or coherence to say that. I think this is partly due to the fact that the liberal-conservative opposition, and the media supporting them, has installed in public discourse the notion that you cannot continue blaming apartheid forever. That message has caught on in a significant way, particularly among younger generations. 

The ANC has been trying to say that the ANC’s story has been a good story for everyone. They have pointed to significant changes that have affected people’s lives in the areas of water, electricity, social security grants, housing, infrastructure and education. But all these changes have been significantly hampered by neoliberalism, continuing apartheid geography and corruption. Look at housing: most of the four million houses built since 1994 have been located far away from the centre of the neo-apartheid city, thereby reinforcing poverty in areas away from significant economic zones and major urban centres. Another example is land reform, where the measures have been subjected to the logic of the market without alternative pathways of redistributive agrarian reform. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have used this to attack the ANC and speak out against its neoliberalism. Meanwhile, the liberal-conservative opposition have responded by showing that they can implement the ANC’s neoliberal policy better than the ANC because they appear not to be as nakedly corrupt as the ANC.

Another way the ANC has sought to respond to its decline in support has been through different episodes of what it has called organisational renewal. For example, the last ANC conference in 2022 elected a new National Executive Committee that contains many new and younger faces. I know about 45 of them from our time together in the student and youth movements in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of them were quite radical back then: some were in the South African Communist Party (SACP), while others were in the then-radical ANC Youth League. But while they are younger and appear cleaner than the older leaders, they remain within the fold of the ANC and the state. They do not have a vision or strategy that goes beyond the same old politics and strategy of the ANC’s “National Democratic Revolution. What they are ultimately attempting to do is provide a legitimate gloss to the same neoliberal trajectory. 

Take for example David Masondo, with whom I served in the national leadership of the Young Communist League. Today, Masondo is SACP Second Deputy General Secretary and an ANC National Executive Committee member. He has also been the Deputy Minister of Finance for the past five years. The Minister of Finance (Enoch Gondongwana) is also a former SACP leader and a former radical leader of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), one of the country’s most militant unions. But the two of them have presided over five years of harsh austerity budgets. Moreover, even some of the new leaders have been implicated in corruption. The most obvious case is President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was unable to account for the $4 million he was holding in foreign currency — illegal due to limits on how much foreign currency an individual can hold — before it was stolen from his home. 

All this demonstrates the ANC’s contradiction: this new block of younger leaders has promised to renew the ANC but is perpetuating the same old policies and corruption. A number of us joked that when the ANC government decided to take Israel to the International Court of Justice, many people started to once again feel some sympathy towards the ANC and even considered voting for it. But within weeks, the ANC’s speaker of parliament had to resign over a corruption scandal and those sympathies quickly dissipated. This has been the pattern: attempted renewal; certain positive policy initiatives but subordinated to the dominant neoliberal policy trajectory; and then the ugly face of corruption rears its head. 

Also important is that when it comes to cleaning up the state, the ANC have not been able to offer any real program for tackling corruption or confidently building a progressive developmental state agenda. The ANC has failed to take any decisive action against corruption, for example by criminally prosecuting those who have been exposed for corruption by various government Commissions of Inquiry or where evidence has been taken to the police. There has never been a genuine, principled and sustained political push to ensure people were prosecuted. 

That is why, despite the attempt to present a cleaner face, corruption is the reason why the ANC’s message falls flat. This incoherence and lack of political will means that today there is not a single ANC candidate who can confidently and publicly say: “Let’s rebuild a public Eskom. Let’s rebuild a public Transnet that is accountable and democratically controlled rather than based on profits.” Whatever they say is half-hearted and unconvincing. This points to how discredited the ANC is in the public eye. Unfortunately, that discrediting of the ANC has also discredited the idea of public ownership as an alternative. Even the SACP and COSATU are no longer consistent, bold, clear or impactful in putting forward alternative perspectives in favour of public ownership. 

Overall, the ANC-Communist Party-COSATU alliance has proven incapable of providing strategic answers for society. The result is that the ANC is no longer the glue that can hold society together. It was able to do that under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki — even if they too implemented neoliberal policies — because they were able to project the image of a clean state, even as the seeds of corruption were taking root around them. But the new forces leading the ANC have not been able to do that.

The ANC's decline seems to have been hastened by former president Jacob Zuma’s decision to split from the party and back the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party. What does MK represent in SA politics? 

The MK party originates from a faction within the ANC that referred to itself as the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) forces. Broadly speaking, the RET forces argued for nationalisation but did so from within the logic of state capitalism and often with the aim of resolving their own accumulation problems. For example, when the RET faction argued in favour of nationalising mines, they were promoting the agenda of certain new mine owners, in particular junior ones, that had run into financial crisis due to declining commodity prices. In their cases, nationalisation would have saved them from this crisis. The RET forces never spoke about building state capacity or democratic accountability over public companies. and pointed to [Russian president Vladimir] Putin as leading RET forces globally. 

Zuma, himself a former SACP member, pretended he supported the RET agenda. For this, he received support from SACP and COSATU leaders in the period from 2005 to roughly the end of 2020. This meant those forces ended up being implicated in Zuma’s rotten state-capture project, which was riddled with naked corruption. Certain SACP and COSATU veterans were widely discredited as a result, and therefore unable to contribute to the renewal process in the ANC. Subsequent to Zuma’s ANC presidency coming to an end in December 2017 and ultimately being forced to resign as the country’s president in February 2019, the Ramaphosa wing dealt several blows against the RET forces, including expelling the RET-aligned ANC secretary general Ace Magashule last year. His expulsion became a point of mobilisation for some of those who went on to form MK. 

What is interesting to note is that, even before it had developed clear political positions, MK was able to obtain mass support in certain parts of the country, in particular the KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces. This was because Zuma’s figure has been able to mobilise public support. But so far, no other senior ANC figure has crossed over to the MK party, unlike the previous split in 2008 that led to the formation of the Congress of the People (COPE). This too, is due to Zuma’s involvement.

MK’s election manifesto is basically a quite confused set of demands. On LGBTQIA+ and sexual rights they are quite conservative, but they also have a mishmash of radical-sounding economic policies, much like that of the RET forces. So, from the perspective of democratic rights, political rights and economic rights, the MK party is a backward step; when it comes to economic policy, it has a confused set of demands that seeks to tap into the still existing radical sentiment within society for radical change. 

The MK party has aligned themselves with Zulu tribal chiefs — which are among the most reactionary elements in South Africa society — as well as conservative forces within the church. Overall, the MK party represents both a shift to the right and a response to the emergence of two other right-wing parties: ActionSA, an explicitly neoliberal and xenophobic party, and Patriotic Alliance, a coloured nationalist party (by coloured I am referring to mixed race people within the post-apartheid context). MK is trying to cut off space for ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance. Ultimately, there is nothing progressive in the politics they put forward. 

We saw the emergence of two potential left projects out of the “Marikana moment”: the EFF and the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP). Could you explain what the Marikana moment was and what these forces represent today?

The Marikana moment refers to the period from late July 2012 to the end of February 2013, which saw two significant strikes. The first involved workers in the platinum belt — largely in Marikana in the North West province — going on a long and difficult mass strike. At its height, about 100,000 mine workers were out on strike across the platinum belt from mid-August to the end-September. Their strike demanded a living wage of 12,500 rand a month, about US$1000 at the time. Concerned by these developments, Ramaphosa, who had financial interests in the mines, made a call to the police minister demanding he put an end to the strike. A day later, 34 mine workers were shot dead by security forces. 

The Marikana strike was very significant. It struck at the heart of South African capitalism — the minerals-energy complex — which had not been challenged in such a way since the 1987 miners’ strike. Many workers were not just taking industrial action for the first time, but doing so in defiance of the union bureaucracy and politically challenging ANC hegemony over mine workers. Seeing the democratic state kill 34 workers was both an educational and shocking moment for many people. 

The Marikana strike also triggered farm workers — who had historically never gone on strike — to initiate a massive strike wave from mid-November 2012 to the end of February 2013. Invoking the spirit of Marikana, they too demanded a living wage and won a statutory minimum wage. Their strike ultimately led to significant changes in the law regarding farm worker wages. That period also featured an explosion of social protests in working-class communities, similarly evoking the spirit of Marikana. Many new informal communities have been named Marikana. 

As this was happening, developments were occurring in the ANC that led to the expulsion of Julius Malema, then president of the ANC Youth League, which had increasingly adopted radical demands including economic freedom and the nationalisation of mines. Following his expulsion, Malema sought to connect with the striking workers and, out of the strike, claimed workers had called on him to form a new political party. This led to the formation of the EFF in July 2013, with Malema explaining that workers wanted economic freedom from the shackles of exploitation. 

Despite this, the EFF has not found a way to connect with popular movements or trade unions. Instead, it behaves like any typical political party, with narrow political interests driving its political action. The EFF has built a mass base and an impressive electoral machine by attracting working class youth who are angry with the current situation. But this base is very uneven, the electoral machine is completely controlled from above, and the EFF has not succeeded in building coalitions with mass movements, advancing and winning real reforms and demands, or pushing for systemic transformation. 

Take one example: the EFF states that working-class people should occupy land. But it has no tactics to ensure this happens in a consistent way such that it could shift the balance of power. Many communities have occupied lands, but the EFF has offered them no sustained support (such as legal support when the state or private owners attack the occupiers in response) or political strategy. This speaks to a party that seeks to adopt a popular issue and take it to a certain point, but no further. Another example was when students rebelled in 2015 through Fees Must Fall. The EFF was at the heart of that movement, which was impressive. They were pushing for free decolonial education. But since then, they have reverted to typical political party mode, setting up the EFF Students Command to contest students elections while playing no role in sustaining a mass struggle for free decolonial education. 

When it comes to organising vulnerable workers, the EFF has done this in ways that serves its narrow political party interests over building workers’ power and a revitalised trade union movement. As unions are quite weak, the EFF will go to a workplace and force the often racist white male managers to be held to account by embarrassing them in front of workers. This is an interesting form of direct action. But the EFF does nothing to help workers organise themselves beyond the EFF’s public drama. Instead, they are left depending on the EFF the next time they have an issue, leaving workers vulnerable and without the ability to organise to challenge employers. In a few instances, this has led to workers being retrenched due to employers exploiting aspects of anti-worker labour laws.  

One very interesting political position towards the EFF has emerged from one of the biggest social movements in South Africa: Abahlali baseMjondolo, which means “the residents of the shacks”. It has about 100,000 members, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal but also in a few other provinces. Abahlali baseMjondolo organised a big rally on April 27 — the anniversary of apartheid’s formal end, officially known as Freedom Day. Abahlali baseMjondolo called it “Un-freedom Day”. At the rally, they called on their members and supporters to vote for the EFF. But they also said that they were aware the EFF operates like a political party, meaning they would not go into an alliance with the EFF and were willing to march against them if necessary. The question all this raises is why does the EFF continue to behave like other political parties? The Marikana moment should have influenced its approach towards political organising and new forms of mobilisation. Instead, today it hardly differs from the electoralist logics of the ANC and SACP.

It is also important to note what the EFF did in the 2016 municipal elections. The ANC’s vote dropped to close to 50% and it lost Johannesburg, Tshwane (new name for Pretoria), and Gqeberha (new name for Port Elizabeth), which were traditional ANC working-class bases. As no other party won more than 50%, coalitions were required to form local governments. At that time, the EFF decided to give power to the DA in those cities by voting for DA-led coalition governments. They said they did this to punish the ANC but, ultimately, they gave DA — the representative of white capitalist interests — the power to govern over billions of rands on the basis of their neoliberal program. 

In the 2021 municipal elections, they sort of reversed that position by, in many instances, going into power with the ANC. This saw the EFF obtain executive positions for the first time at the municipal level. But they have since used those positions to do the same thing the ANC does: namely, dish out state tenders to people aligned with them. They have not sought to radically democratise those municipalities or engage their mass base; instead, they have been quite managerialist. This is likely to continue if they enter into coalition governments with the ANC, or even the MK party, after these elections. 

The other thing that is crucial to mention is their implication in corruption and alliances with capitalists. In terms of corruption, there was a mutual bank built by one of the apartheid homeland governments (the Venda homeland government), called VBS. It has been proven that both the ANC and EFF were involved in taking money from savings that poor and working class people had in VBS for the benefit of EFF and ANC politicians. When confronted about this, the EFF leadership opted to close down internal debate and expel the radicals who questioned what had occurred. The EFF also receives significant support from rogue tobacco capitalists, with EFF leaders proclaiming their close personal friendships with several tobacco moguls. Similarly, the EFF promotes coal as being part of a just energy transition, which many who analyse the financing of political parties say is due to coal interests financing the EFF. NGOs have been pushing for transparency in political party funding, but the EFF has effectively opposed amendments to the law that would allow for this. 

For me, all these features suggest that the EFF is not a viable left-wing political party. They may claim to be socialist and follow [Franz] Fanon and even [Karl] Marx, but their political practice is a long way from radical socialist politics. Evidently, they have opted for participation in the typical machinations of political elites over pursuing any kind of radical or socialist politics.

What about the SRWP?

Another important outcome of the Marikana moment had to do with the trade union movement. As you can imagine, the strike shook COSATU, because one of its largest affiliates, the Union of Mineworkers, had been left discredited. The farm workers strike also exposed that COSATU had failed to organise these workers — the most vulnerable section of the working class. This led radical elements within COSATU, in particular NUMSA and eight other unions, to challenge COSATU’s alliance with the party that had been responsible for killing workers: the ANC. 

That ultimately led to NUMSA holding a Special Congress at the end of 2013, which voted for NUMSA to, among other things: break with the ANC; lead the process of forming a new trade union confederation outside of COSATU; create a broad United Front between unions and social and community organisations; and explore the possibility of building what it referred to as a “movement for socialism” that could become a mass-based left-wing working class party down the line. But the issue was — to use a religious metaphor — that NUMSA’s break from the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance was merely a denominational break, not a spiritual one. Many NUMSA leaders came from the SACP and had been implicated in the SACP’s support for Zuma. They continued to hold quite Stalinist politics and remained closed to the idea of plurality or new ways of doing politics. 

This was confirmed when NUMSA leaders pushed through, in a very crude Stalinist manner, forming a party before engaging other forces or even having a real debate within NUMSA about the proposal. In 2016, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) — the new federation formed by NUMSA and led by a former militant COSATU general secretary — convened its second Working Class Summit. This summit was a significant moment in that it pulled together the new SAFTU affiliates as well as a large number of social movements, NGOs and even progressive elements from the church. At the summit, NUMSA tried to force those present to agree to the immediate formation of a new working-class party, arguing: “If you don’t agree, you are counterrevolutionaries.” In reality, those at the summit were willing to go further than the ANC and SACP, but felt a mass political debate was needed to clarify what would be new about this working-class party. 

To all this, we also have to add the dirty hand of financial influences. It is now public information that Roy Singham, a dubious American who made a fortune from IT in the ’80s, became a big financier of NUMSA. This led Singham to have a big influence on formulating NUMSA’s positions, including on speeding up the formation of the SRWP. 

In the end, the SRWP was set up in time to contest the 2019 national elections. Despite NUMSA having more than 300,000 members — making it the largest trade union in the country — SRWP candidates only obtained 24,000 votes. That speaks to just how much the idea was imposed without debate and worker conscientisation and mobilisation inside NUMSA. Today, the SRWP is not contesting the elections and there is no information on Facebook, email, WhatsApp or elsewhere about any upcoming SRWP activities. NUMSA has also stopped issuing media statements about the SWRP.

Given the situation you have outlined, what prospects are there for the radical left?

The past 34 years in South Africa has been a protracted moment of utter and complete defeat for the left as a political project. Overcoming this will take serious reflection and self-critique. It will require us to be able to learn anew and develop new ways to rebuild the left in ways that root and ground renewed socialist politics among the mass of poor and working people, far removed from narrow sectarianism or boardroom schemes. This will take time — there is no shortcut solution. 

Ultimately, the outcome of the 1994 political compromise set the left back in a big way. A major factor was the role played by the SACP, which outflanked all other left forces in terms of winning over radicalised workers but whose program remained tied to the ANC. No left group was capable of exposing the SACP’s limits nor capitalise on what happened to the SACP over its support for Zuma. The EFF and NUMSA did, but they too ultimately failed in terms of building a mass party of left renewal. The EFF and NUMSA missed out on making the most of the Marikana moment, the Fees Must Fall movement and the ongoing localised popular explosions because of their obvious shortcomings in terms of a scientific analysis of the balance of forces, the absence of a coherent and open-ended left strategy and actual political conduct. 

What existed previously was the Democratic Left Front (DLF), whose formation was inspired by the ANC split in 2008. From 2008 to 2011, myself and a good number of comrades initiated the Conference for a Democratic Left, which led to the formation of the DLF in December 2011 — before Marikana. The DLF was an important moment in gathering disparate left forces and connecting them with socialist elements active in popular movements. It did important ideological work and created a certain national presence for a new democratic left politics. What the DLF lacked was a significant break from both the SACP and COSATU. The reason that mattered is that the SACP and COSATU are mass-based organisations. If just 500 people from the SACP and COSATU had joined the DLF, it would have made a significant difference as, despite their limits, they would have brought with them their tradition of mass organising. The DLF suffered from that and struggled to deepen its influence and roots within working class organisations and communities. Old sectarian practices also tainted the DLF. The DLF was later displaced by NUMSA’s United Front, at which point we decided it no longer made sense to exist independently. This was partly because of our weaknesses, but also because of the significance of what NUMSA’s rupture with the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance represented. I think that was the correct decision, despite what happened with NUMSA. 

When the NUMSA project failed, the same core forces from the DLF regathered together with new forces both in the SAFTU leadership and some that had emerged from Fees Must Fall in a process called Dialogues for an Anti-Capitalist Future. But even with these newer forces, they still lacked a significant mass base. In the end, impatience led to substitutionism. The Dialogues for an Anti-Capitalist Future process, in my view, was short-circuited into creating what comrades refer to as a “pre-party political formation”: Zabalaza for Socialism (ZASO). These comrades believe there should be a left party in the elections that can claim the working class for itself. I have no problem with the left contesting elections. But no left party can simply stand up and say: “Come to us”. This support has to be won through a range of struggles, battles and other processes that help win over the necessary social forces that could constitute the basis for a party formation down the line. The ZASO comrades are well-meaning and committed socialists, but I think they have miscalculated the level of working class consciousness and the readiness of radicalised elements of the class to construct a party-political formation. 

Overall, I see that a major flaw of the left is its lack of patience. As socialists, we need to be much more humble about what we can contribute at a given historical moment. We need to be patient in terms of our analysis and understand the long-term nature of the task at hand. Yes, we have a significant number of popular movements who have different understandings of the capitalist crisis. These movements focus on immediate issues but are keen to explore how their struggles connect with the need to fight capitalism. But while there are forces fighting on the streets, it is also the case that mass anti-capitalist consciousness has declined.

So, what we are left with today are different groupings of left comrades with long histories of involvement in the struggle, sprinkled together with a younger layer of comrades who have emerged in the past 15 years. There are also a myriad of single-issue movements with significant constituencies that are characterised by their unevenness when it comes to challenging neoliberalism and capitalism. Many left comrades today are no longer rooted in working class communities or even in working class organisations. Some are active in their own left groups while others are implanted in radical NGOs, which is a problem — NGOs may do good work supporting social movements and trade unions, but they are ultimately donor dependent, not accountable to working class people and often act in problematic ways that undermine working class independence. Broadly speaking, that is the context facing the left. 

The question for me is what can we concretely do, picking up from where we are at. There are five major tasks in this regard: one, building and contributing to the radicalisation of a wide diversity of strong and impactful mass movements (workers, youth, students, women, land, housing, and other single-issue movements), which take up immediate issues and struggles; two, radicalising reforms and mass demands into coherent transformative/transitional demands and mass-rooted alternatives with an anti-capitalist logic; three, strategically contesting common sense and knowledge production including in the cultural and heritage space now completely dominated by conservative forces; four, sustained, deepened and strategic political education, thereby building a massive new layer of capable mass-movement rooted socialist activists to sustain the required political work over the long-term; and five, initiating directional and intentional left dialogue processes to explore new left political formations over time and informed by the four earlier tasks. 

A key moment for testing the various ideas on the left will be the 2026 local government elections. Many movements have already begun debating what to do at those elections. The left could really connect with those debates — and both enrich and learn from them — but only if it does so without seeking to control those movements, and in ways that seek to use municipalities as a basis to build popular power.