South Africa: Declaration of the Democratic Left Front; New left seeks revamped SA

By the steering committee of the Democratic Left Front (previously the Conference of the Democratic Left)

January 24, 2011 -- Post-apartheid capitalism is leaving a trail of hunger, poverty, anger and misery. The wealthy elite, the bosses and their hangers-on refuse to concede a single inch to the urgent needs of the majority. They label even the most modest reforms as the thin edge of the wedge of communism. And as always the government shakes and concedes … And a new round of suffering begins for our people.

From January 20 to 23, 2011, at Wits University in Johannesburg, 250 delegates from around the country representing a diverse range of social movements, popular organisations and anti-capitalist formations gathered to forge a united political front to break this cycle which has made South Africa the most unequal country on Earth. The cry of the Conference of the Democratic Left is KWANELE, KWANELE, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, GENOEG IS GENOEG.

ANC managing capitalism

Every progressive program, strategy and intention is either abandoned or rejected by the [African National Congress] government in the face of the brutal logic of managing a capitalist state. The ANC has shied away from confronting capital and white privilege that was left largely intact when the end of apartheid was negotiated. This has resulted in a situation where the ANC leadership has adapted itself to the power of capital. Many of our former comrades are now comfortable members of the business elite.

Our recent history could have been different: if the productive potential of our economy and the spirit and traditions of resistance and organisation had been harnessed to overcome the deprivation of the past. But this would have required breaking with the logic of profits over people, capital accumulation over human need, competition over solidarity, and breaking with trickle-down economics and thinking. And it would have required continued and continual struggle, organisation and mobilisation. In the face of the global crisis and the generally unfavourable international balance of forces it would have required a courage and boldness capable of sustaining the confidence of the oppressed in an alternative vision of socialism.

With a great sense of urgency we have come together as the democratic left and are uniting our separate and often fragmented efforts, to build solidarity, restore confidence and hope among the masses of this country. The building of working-class and popular power lies at the heart of our initiative. We come together convinced that a re-awaking of struggle is at hand. The so-called service delivery protests and the recent public sector strike are just the first signs of what is to come.

We are activists with a long history of building trade unions, civics, women, youth, student and political formations. We have been at the forefront of building a many of the new movements that have been formed to resist neoliberalism and have struggled too rebuild the broader popular movement. We are activists who see as our first and main task to build these movements and to unite them in resisting retrenchments, cut-offs, evictions, violence against women, discrimination and abuse of gays and lesbians, the collapse of our education and health systems and the retribalisation of the countryside. We are activists who believe racism has not been eradicated from our society and continue to struggle against all forms of discrimination, prejudice and injustice. We are activists that believe the oppression of women is deepening as the economic and social crisis unfolds in our country and must be central to all our efforts for social justice.

We are for a new, united and democratic mass movement of the oppressed and exploited that builds a counter power to the power of capital, the market, the investors, the black bourgeoisie, the state functionaries and other social layers that the capitalist state in South Africa rests upon.

In coming together and building this anti-capitalist front we hold up a mirror to ourselves as the left. We have many weaknesses, frailties and deficiencies. We have made many mistakes over the last two decades of struggle. We are conscious that it is not enough to be enough to be against, it is not even enough to have a programme spelling out what we are for. For us the ends do not justify the means. Our practice, our organisations and methods of struggle must reflect the new world we aim to create. Integrity, justice and democratic practice shall be methods by which we seek to fulfil our aims.

Red and green

We believe that our anti-capitalism must be green as well as red. Global capitalism threatens our world with disaster. If it is left to plunder the natural resources of our planet and pollute the atmosphere, the oceans and the soil, life itself will be under grave threat. The current global economic crisis represents the exhaustion of a system that is driven by profit and competition. The basic tenet of capitalism is to grow endlessly with no regard to natural limits, to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few.  It explains why wherever we look we see the crisis and decay of the system: be it financial, energy, food, environment, cultural and social. War, global warming and health pandemics threaten the annihilation of humanity within a couple of generations.


We are internationalists. We have no illusions that the crisis and contradictions of post – apartheid capitalism can be resolved without transforming our region, Africa and the world. For us as the democratic left there is no alternative but to unite our struggles with our compatriots in our region, across the continent, south and north, east and west. Most urgently we pledge our solidarity with our sisters and brothers fighting for democracy and social justice in Zimbabwe, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan, to name just a few of the most urgent situations in Africa. We understand that an urgent task for us is to fight the curse of xenophobia and Afrophobia. We welcome into the formations of the democratic left refugee and immigrant communities from our continent who, like ourselves know that globalised capitalism and imperialist aggression is making us refugees and migrants on our own continent.

The continuing crises in the core countries of globalised capitalism will affect  the structural vulnerabilities, and aggravate the unemployment, hunger and suffering of the masses in countries throughout the world. The deepening of the global economic and climate-change crises will aggravate these problems even further and result in spreading popular protests, uprisings and even revolutionary situations as in Tunisia recently.

Globally a new period of resistance to capitalist crisis is gaining momentum. From Athens to London, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Indigenous and peasant mobilisations to the reawakening of the traditional labour and social movements, there has been a renewal of struggle and organisation to the harsh attacks of capital. The reverberating call is we shall not pay for your crisis. As the democratic left we will use all our energies and resources to ensure this call echoes across our villages, towns and cities.

We call on the workers, the unemployed, women and youth, shack-dwellers, back yarders, landless and the dispossessed, to organise, mobilise and unite. It is not yet UHURU. As the democratic left we pledge our solidarity in your resistance and struggle.

Ours is a movement of hope!

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Aluta Continua!

Forward to socialism.

[Read the proposals discussed by the Conference for a Democratic Left HERE.]

New left seeks revamped South Africa

By Mazibuko Jara

January 22, 2011 -- Sunday Times -- Since Januray 20, some 250 delegates have been meeting at the University of the Witwatersrand in the historic first national conference of the democratic left. It was convened in response to the failure of post-apartheid South Africa to deliver sustainable and thorough change for the country's millions of unemployed and working people.

The conference decided that the best way to ensure the fundamental transformation of society was through the building of autonomous mass movements on the basis of democratic left, anti-capitalist politics. The most important decision was the call for a sustained mass campaign to ensure that every person in the country has a job.

This decision is not a pipe dream from some small left sect. It is a call to all who are committed to social justice in our country to join hands with the unemployed in the most immediate challenge facing our society.

The employed and the unemployed share a common interest. For the employed, there are many benefits of employing people in health, education, an ecologically sustainable manufacturing sector, infrastructure development and other sectors.

It is a call to involve millions of unemployed in the biggest campaign of mobilisation for social justice this country has seen. We need the mobilisation and focusing of national attention and public opinion on the need for concrete and detailed action to address the unemployment crisis.

This is different to the dominant chorus that government must primarily focus on creating conducive conditions for business to invest.

The crises and failures of post-apartheid South Afrcia's economy can be seen in increasing hunger, poverty, inequality and unemployment in our townships, informal settlements, inner cities and rural areas. These areas have become "closed-off mass prisons of despair". Living without a job does not only mean being unable to afford the basic necessities of life, but also means the loss of dignity, which destroys people and their communities. Without work, millions of people have no means to get food or pay service charges to the government.

Unemployment is a waste of human labour. This is why we can talk about unemployment as a virus that has turned our communities into places of fear and misery, with violence, abuse and crime our daily reality.

It is women -- the most exploited section of the workforce, as caregivers, as mothers and as young girls -- who are forced to carry the bulk of this burden.

The apartheid legacy of division often ensures that those who do not live or work in these areas are desensitised from the despair and hopelessness.

As the democratic left, we believe that the situation desperately calls for both bottom-up economic alternatives and reforms that immediately alleviate the hardships of millions of people while also overcoming the systemic causes of unemployment. To change this situation requires political will. It will not come without political and social pressure on the government.

The [ANC government's] New Growth Path (NGP) is inadequate to address the crisis. The NGP suffers from being a balancing act. It does not use space created by the global economic crisis to break from the policy package of trade liberalisation, financial liberalisation, labour market deregulation, limited intervention in the economy by the state (through the deregulation of markets, liberalisation of trade and markets, and privatisation), fiscal austerity, tight monetary policy, and central bank independence.

This policy package has seen increasing private-sector domination of economies and unprecedented levels of domination of economies by the financial sector. In this situation, finance has not been used to drive productive and employment-creating investment. The NGP is silent on the need for capital controls to pursue any of its more interventionist suggestions.

Parallel to the NGP, the Medium-Term Budget Policy Framework commits the government to a further relaxation of exchange control. Yet, legal and illegal capital flight in 2007 alone is estimated at a staggering R450 billion. This undermines any possibility to lock in and direct investment in long-term productive investment.

The NGP's adherence to the gospel of "fiscal restraint" is a barrier to the multiplier effects of public expenditure. In other words, as with past policies, the NGP falls short of being a detailed plan to create new jobs while also saving existing jobs.

It is possible for the government to adhere to the anti-poor, neoliberal policy because of the absence of the social weight and voice of the unemployed. Business continues to act on and through the state to sustain favourable conditions for recovery that can sustain the achievements of the post-apartheid economy in restoring profitability. Leading business voices are using the global financial crisis as a stick to beat back any progressive changes to economic policies.

The unemployment crisis underlines the need to transcend neoliberal policies. Ameliorative reforms such as social security grants can be easily rolled back. But if linked to a transformative vision, they can contribute to a transformed economic landscape. The right to work will only be guaranteed and sustained on the basis of an alternative economic development strategy. Such a strategy must be built on equality, people-centredness and sustainable development, as well as environmental and social justice.

This is the idea of a solidarity economy. The conference argued that the solidarity economy alternative is not the same as "enhancing social capital", "social economy", "social business movement" or "informal economy" seeking change within the system. It is not seen as an extension of the private sector or the state or a stop-gap measure in instances of state or market failure. It is independent and grass roots based. It is meant to be imbued with deeply ethical values and principles, and social goals in which profits and the market are subordinate to social need. It is meant to be transformative, seeking to go beyond capitalism.

It seeks to achieve collective self-organisation in order to sustain life (human and non-human). It is also about achieving the democratic co-ordination of self-managed economic and social enterprises owned collectively by workers. It also has deeply democratic participatory elements that go beyond the economy, suggesting a thorough transformation of political, civic and social spheres. It emphasises ongoing education and learning. It is also about subjecting the control of capital to social needs and ecological sustainability.

However, such a solidarity economy vision is not possible without sustained mass mobilisation. The envisaged campaign against unemployment will be a first step that will have to seriously challenge the workings of a capitalist government. This task is not just for the left, but for everyone committed to social justice.

What is the democratic left? It is an emerging broad and united front of more than 100 social movements, civil society organisations, community organisations, and progressive and socialist individuals committed to constructing a new set of politics in South Africa. It is about building a common platform to unite existing struggles and integrate currently disparate forces in real political action on the ground.

It is not a political party, as it seeks to be a united front of solidarity and struggle with local structures across South Africa.

It challenges the left to develop political responses to several big and tough questions. Can the South African left rebuild itself into a formidable political force capable of engendering new counter-hegemonic politics, casting aside old dogmas? How can we build a social force that is capable of combining anti-capitalist struggles with participatory organisations aimed at reconstruction and transformation of social and economic conditions of revolutionary subjects? How can we build a strategic new left pole in South Africa that is able to continuously and consistently build such a social force?

[Mazibuko Jara was one of the conveners of the conference of the democratic left.]