South African Communist Party at 90: Is it still relevant? Two views
By Jeremy Cronin
July 31, 2011 -- Amandla! -- Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the liquidation of his own communist party, is not generally well regarded in communist circles. There is, however, at least one pertinent observation in his book, Perestroika. There he writes that he realised there was need for change in the former Soviet Union when the program of the party was increasingly determined by the march of the calendar, by a ritualistic commemoration of historical dates.
This weekend [July 31] the South African Communist Party (SACP) marks its 90th anniversary. But it would be a mistake for us to celebrate the occasion as mere ritual.
As a young operative I was proud of being recruited into a party that, from its outset in the early 1920s, had pioneered non-racialism -- not just in principle, but shoulder to shoulder in active struggle. It was the party that started night schools and literacy classes [for blacks].
Like other young recruits I regarded the party's history of persecution as a badge of honour. There was a long list of martyrs -- dating back to Johannes Nkosi, assassinated in 1930 while addressing an anti-pass rally. But what most impressed me was the SACP's analysis of the South African reality and how it connected to a wider global struggle. In the 20th century we were not alone. Everywhere communists were at the forefront of struggle and sacrifice.
We had a sense of being a part of shaping world history. Individually, many of us might not survive, but, so it seemed, we were on the side of history in the struggle for a better world. This was not about instant personal gratification.
Everywhere across the 20th century, the left in opposition performed heroically. But what about communists in power? Alas, that was often a different story.
The very sense of history being "on our side", a powerful narrative for communists enduring torture chambers, could turn into an authoritarian arrogance when in power. The 20th century is littered with tragic "great leaps forward" as history was frog-marched in the direction it was supposedly meant to go.
All of this made the dialectical twist of the late 1980s and early 1990s particularly poignant -- but salutary -- for South African communists. At the very moment we were poised, locally, to make the democratic breakthrough for which generations had sacrificed, the Soviet legacy which had inspired us seemed to be lying beneath the rubble of the Berlin Wall. History wasn't necessarily on our side, after all.
The imminent breakthrough locally and this wider global context led to senior departures from the party. Politics, for some, became just the art of the possible -- and not also the science of the probable, and a passionate struggle for the desirable. It was as if the collapse of the Soviet bloc suddenly made capitalism a wonderful friend. But despite some departures from the party, thanks to the leadership of Joe Slovo and Chris Hani, the SACP grew and navigated the democratic transition as an important protagonist. Our membership now stands at over 140,000, making us the second-largest political formation in South Africa.
But what, in 2011, does the SACP bring to the party? In the first place, we remain a party of activism. A key campaign at present is the struggle against the corrosive impact of corruption. It requires no less courage for those on the frontline than our struggles of the past. Already, tragically, there are communist martyrs in this new struggle, among them Radioman Ntshangase, gunned down for exposing corruption in Mpumalanga. In the second place, without being the ruling party, the SACP assumes joint and collective responsibility for active governance.
Thirdly, the party continues to advance a critique of capitalism. Capitalism has shown a capacity to survive its crises -- at huge cost to the majority of humanity. But the replacement of capitalism has now become a civilisational imperative. Capitalism cannot self-perpetuate without constantly pursuing incremental growth, without transforming everything into a commodity (health care, education, water, shelter, and now even carbon emissions). But this relentless drive for profits is leading us into ecocidal extinction. Armed with a proud 90-year history, the SACP seeks to confront these challenges which, after all, are no different from those facing all of humanity.
[Jeremy Cronin is deputy general secretary of the SACP.]
'The SACP is largely invisible in popular struggles for social justice'
By Mazibuko K Jara
July 31 -- The South African Communist Party can be faulted on many fronts, but its sterling contribution to defeating apartheid and challenging capitalist exploitation was personified in the principled socialist morality and selflessness of Chris Hani, Joe Slovo and others.
In Hani's words: "To be the general secretary of the SACP was belonging to a party that must link up with day-to-day struggles of the people."
Yet today's SACP is largely invisible in these popular struggles for social justice. At worst, the SACP proclaims these struggles as social liberalism and counter-revolutionary.
For all its 90 years of history, current radical rhetoric and the continued presence of many genuine rank and file socialists in it, the SACP is a shell that stands for a demobilising politics of intrigue, power battles, self-justifications for indulgence in trappings of state power, and promotion of personality cults.
The SACP has failed to move beyond a state-obsessed centralism. The SACP is now reduced to the role of mollifying increasingly desperate and restless poor and working people, who bear the brunt of post-apartheid capitalism.
The crisis of the SACP cannot spell the end of left renewal. The challenge for forces of the left, poor and working people, and others committed to social justice, is how to engender a new counter-hegemonic politics that is relevant and concrete. The formation in January 2011 of the Democratic Left Front is only one step in the much larger long-term processes of political, social and economic struggles ahead.
One of the most important struggles in this regard is to build alternatives to limited conceptions of political agency where, to count as a political force, a political actor has to form a party and contest elections in a one-party dominant model in a capitalist society.
This conception displaces the politics of the people with the self-serving politics of politicians. Politics can and must be about the people. Ordinary people cannot just be regarded as merely disgruntled and powerless protesters. They can go beyond apathetic one-off voting every five years or limited wage-based challenges to the wealthy business elite, or powerless grumbles against the failures of the ANC government.
Like Abahlali baseMijondolo, the Social Justice Coalition and many other localised struggles, the Grahamstown-based Unemployed People's Movement shows the possibilities of a people-based politics. Formed in August 2009, it has become the most powerful force in the Makana municipality. Its formation represented a collective recognition of the appetite for self-emancipation, and without self-organisation, the unemployed in Grahamstown might as well have remained on the margins of that divided small town.
In its short two years of existence, the movement has marched, written deputations, submitted memorandums of demands, held sit-ins, held meetings with the state, used the law and more.
It has challenged unemployment, poor-quality housing, lack of housing, lack of water and sanitation, lack of electricity and street lighting, violence against women and problems with the social security system. The movement has humanised politics by concerning themselves with how to rebuild the social fabric of a poor community.
In all this, the movement has no illusion that the gradual recognition of constitutional socioeconomic rights and holding government accountable will be the ultimate answer to the systematic and structural marginalisation of the unemployed. The Unemployed People's Movement is grappling with how to connect immediate struggles with their systemic roots and how to challenge the state as the main transmitter of inequalities.
The movement's experience is only the start of what will definitely be a long-term process to renew politics in South Africa.
It is this kind of renewal that Chris Hani yearned for when he said: "In the struggle ... we have always identified the central role of the oppressed." Hani's yearning lives in the Unemployed People's Movement and challenges the many genuine socialists in the SACP's rank and file to ask and answer hard questions, lest they get left behind by history.[Mazibuko Jara is a former SACP member and a co-founder of the Democratic Left Front.]
31 July 2011
Communist cadres in all fronts and terrains of struggle to build people’s power for socialism
Celebrating 90 years of the South African Communist Party
Celebrating 90 years of the SACP is most of all a celebration of a heroic and persistent struggle by South African communists for national liberation, people’s power, socialism and for the reconstruction of our country from the ravages of colonialism and apartheid. Ours is a principled and unshakable struggle for a better South Africa and a better world.
A vanguard party of socialism
Capitalism constitutes the gravest threat to the survival of humanity and our planet. Whilst the world today produces enough food for everyone to eat, billions of people go to bed hungry every night. Our rivers are destroyed, our forests are cut down, the air we breathe polluted in the drive to increase profits for the few. Factories are closed, workers are retrenched. There is one simple reason for this, it is that the minority of the rich are only interested in proftis for themselves. . Only a more human system, socialism, can harness the energies of all our people, the human inventions and technology for the benefit of humanity as a whole.
As we celebrate 90 years of heroic struggle, the SACP can proudly claim its many unique contributions to the struggle for liberation in our country. Indeed no history of South Africa can be written without the role of the SACP. Our Party was founded in 1921, some four years after the triumph of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia in 1917.
A party for national liberation
The SACP has, since its foundation, been part of all the major political developments in the struggle against national oppression. We were part of heroic workers struggles against capitalism and exploitation.
We have been on every front and terrain of struggle. We are both a party of socialism and national liberation. We resolved in 1929 to form an alliance with the ANC, as the best placed organization to lead the national liberation movement to which we are also committed. We evolved in practice dual political membership through a principled loyalty to both the SACP and all other political and progressive formations in which we have served, whether the ANC, trade unions or, of late, our democratic state. This has confused and often angered and frustrated our enemies and detractors alike. We have made enormous contributions and sacrifices in the building of the ANC into what it has become today. At the same time, the SACP has also learnt a great deal from the ANC, thus contributing to sharpening our theoretical tools of analysis as well as grounding our struggle in the realities of South Africa.
There are those, both within and outside our liberation movement, who are uncomfortable with the presence of a principled and activist Communist Party within the alliance. Today, the true agenda of many of those who take this anti- SACP position stands exposed. They want to plunder the resources of our country, they want to steal from working class and poor communities, so that they can accumulate for themselves.. Some even claim to substitute for the SACP as the vanguard of the working class. These are the brazen tenderpreneurs and capitalist accumulators who steal the language of ordinary people in order to accumulate for themselves .
Today, just as we did over 80 years ago in 1929, as South African communists we re-commit ourselves to our Alliance, to strengthen it as a multi-class movement, uniting all progressive and democratic forces, all those genuinely committed to struggling for a better life for all. But to build the multi-class unity of our movement, we need to expose and flush out all tenderpreneurs from the ranks of our movement. It is their money politics that lies behind the disruptive factional politics that distracts us from taking for the struggle for a non-racial, democratic and united South Africa.
A party with and for a progressive trade union movement
No political party in our country can claim to equal the record of the SACP in building the progressive trade union movement. From its inception the Communist Party in South Africa not only threw its weight behind the progressive struggles of the workers, but also, in its own right, initiated and built progressive trade unions. We helped to build the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in the 1920s, communists led the mineworkers struggles culminating in the great mineworkers strike of 1946, communists were in the vanguard of the formation of SACTU in 1955, and, through our underground structures, contributed significantly in the formation of COSATU in 1985.
Today we still continue to be in the trenches with the progressive trade union movement in the struggle for a living wage, the closing of the apartheid wage gap, and for vastly expanding the social wage. That is why today we are not only calling for a living wage, but for workers to be able to live closer to their workplaces, to have an affordable housing subsidy, for their children to enjoy access to schooling and higher education and skills. In addition we want workers and the poor to have affordable public transport and for national health insurance to ensure that all shall have access to health care.
We are also a party committed to building working class power in the workplace, on the shop-floor. Part of achieving this objective is to ensure that not only do we democratize the workplace, but also to make sure that the trade union movement itself is led by the workers through worker democracy and leadership inside the unions. Trade union leaders must themselves be subject to worker control and worker leadership at all times.
Much more critically for the SACP is the necessity to ensure that we build red trade unions. In our context red trade unions must mean congress-oriented unions, and a trade union movement that is genuinely committed to socialism. It also must be a union movement that must fight against all forms of workerism, liberalism and business unionism. We must continue to fight against all tendencies in the trade union movement that seek to position workers against the ANC, the alliance and the government led by these formations.
In this context, we re-affirm our commitment to deepen and strengthen our relationship with COSATU. Our relationship with COSATU still remains the principal socialist axis upon which we seek to consolidate and deepen the national democratic revolution. Together with COSATU, we have rolled back the late 1990s drive to privatize state owned enterprises, the struggle against outsourcing and casualisation of the working class.
Let us as communists deepen our work with the progressive trade union movement
A party of mass activism, people’s power and political education
We are also a communist party of mass activism, whether in the struggles of the squatter camps in the 1940s through leaders like Dora Tamana, to the 1950s Defiance campaigns and the mass offensive against apartheid, to the post 1973 mass uprisings and the Red October Campaigns of the post 1994 period.
Through our Red October Campaigns we have won the struggle against the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle in land reform, won basic rights for the workers and the poor to have access to financial services,, for the regulation of the credit bureaux and support for a progressive co-operative movement. These were the achievements mainly of SACP-led mass activism for radical land reform and the transformation of the capitalist financial sector.
We have refused to be relegated to being only a party of theory, much as we have led the theorization and analysis of our national liberation struggle as a both an important objective in its own right as well as a terrain of struggle for a socialist South Africa.
Mass activism led by the SACP in particular, and our liberation movement in general, has been informed by the need to build people’s power from below. We have refused, and still resist, to being drawn into liberal struggle and notions to build a ‘civil society’ movement. These have often been movements of elites directed at weakening the majoritarian power of the liberation movement.
Instead, the SACP stands for the building of people’s power from below; to build street committees, a progressive civic movement, a co-operative movement, community policing forums, a shop steward movement on the shop-floor (including COSATU locals), a truly progressive youth and women’s movement of the workers and the poor, and generally a people-driven movement representing the aspirations of the ordinary workers and the poor of our country.
We are for a people’s movement and people’s power to ensure that indeed the people shall govern. It is a movement to ensure that it is not a DA that must govern, it must not be a coalition of elites of ‘civil society’ that must govern, not liberals and their ‘civil society’ tentacles, but the ordinary workers and the poor of our country, led by the ANC and its allies.
Building people’s power through mass struggles from below must also mean that we must refuse to be reduced to an oppositionist movement to the ANC and its government, or to become heroes of the media by virtue of unprincipled criticism of our own movement, its leaders and government. Taking co-responsibility for our revolution must not mean subsuming the independence of working class organizations. Just as the independence of our working class formations must not translate into oppositionist politics to our own movement.
It is through our principled campaign that this year we boast of a Party that has 130,000 members. At our unbanning in 1990 the SACP only had 3000 members, a number it had never exceeded throughout its period of its existence. Whilst many communist parties declined and even collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union (a setback indeed), ours has continued to grow and earn the respect of millions of the workers and the poor in our country.
An independent party, but a party of governance
The SACP is a political party of the South African working class. It therefore cannot only locate itself outside the state, but must also be inside the state. There is no contradiction for an SACP that, in the post 1994 period, is located both inside and outside the state. Instead, this dual and dialectical location can only serve to advance the building of working class power in all sites of power.
Building an independent SACP and an SACP participating in the state is the necessary condition for advancing people’s power and the socialist objectives in the current period. It is a necessary condition to ensure that the people shall govern.
Part of building independent working class power must be to ensure that the resources in the hands of the workers are controlled by the workers themselves. For instance, workers’ moneys must be under their control rather than under the unfettered control of bourgeois financial institutions and banks. Let’s build co-operative banks controlled by workers rather than bourgeois financial institutions. We are calling for workers power in the financial sector – workers’ pension and provident funds – to be controlled by workers, rather than allowing workers’ monies to be adjuncts to bourgeois financial institutions. Subjecting workers’ financial resources to bourgeois financial institutions, without a meaningful workers’ voice, can only promote business unionism rather than working class power over the financial sector!
True to the traditions of our party, that of night schools to educate workers and train communists, it is of absolute importance that we deepen political education amongst the working class in particular, and the poor of our country in general.
The relevance of communist values in the current period
The two biggest threats to our national democratic revolution today are populist demagoguery (underpinned by tenderpreneurship) and the anti-majoritarian liberal offensive. Populist demagogues hijack militant rhetoric in order to conceal their agenda of narrow capitalist accumulation, which is completely opposed to the interests of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor of our country. It is this reality that characterizes the close relationship between demagoguery, narrow capitalist accumulation and corruption today.
These opportunists also, increasingly, flout the longstanding non-racial traditions of our movement with a narrow and chauvinistic Africanism. They don’t want to change the underlying system of apartheid and colonialism, they simply want to expropriate some of the ill-begotten wealth of white capitalists for themselves. That is why, today, the SACP continues to be proud of its pioneering role in building the traditions of non-racialism in South Africa. From its very outset, the Communist Party pioneered non-racialism – not just in theory - but shoulder to shoulder in the trenches of struggle. We called for the unity of the working class and of all progressive and democratic forces regardless of colour, gender, or ethnicity.
On the other hand, South Africa today is experiencing a conservative, anti-majority liberal offensive which seek to maliciously use our institutions of democracy to undermine majority rule and try to discredit (and challenge or undermine) the ANC alliance led government. They pose as defenders of our democratic Constitution. But they pervert and vulgarise our wonderful Constitution, by narrowly focusing only on those elements of the Constitution that seek (quite correctly) to check and balance the State. But they ignore all of the rest of the Bill of Rights and Constitution which clearly mandate the democratically elected state to carry forward far-reaching, radical transformation in line with the document that inspired the Constitution – the Freedom Charter. Such a liberal offensive seeks to capture all our institutions that support democracy in order to use these to undermine the will of the people as expressed through the periodic democratic elections.
Many of these so-called ‘civil society’ groups are funded by the rich, both domestically and internationally, to try and subvert the majority voice of our people, and are worried by the staying power of the ANC and its allies. In many instances liberation movements do not last a decade or so in power, yet our Alliance looks strong. Such funding is normally in the name of promoting democracy, as if there is no democracy in our country, to strengthen the power of those who have lost elections, but supported to rule from the grave. We need to build a popular movement to defend the right of the people to govern after overwhelmingly supporting our movement.
It is in the light of all the above threats that we need to re-affirm the relevance of the values that have been espoused by the SACP over its 90-year existence. These include selfless service to our people without any expectation of reward. It has consistently meant too reducing the gap between rich and poor, and being humane and caring. It also means building the unity of our alliance through concrete struggles on the ground.
In the current period, the values espoused by the SACP over the last 90 years also mean fighting against all forms of factionalism and divisive behaviour within our movement. Factionalism today is very strongly linked to the politics of money and accumulation and an attempt to capture our alliance organizations for purposes of selfish interests.
The 90 years of communist activism must also mean reclaiming what is best from the history of our national liberation struggle and movement. This also means commitment to fighting against all forms of corruption, irrespective of who is involved. It must also mean that we wage a consistent struggle so that the supporters of a system of exploitation and their vanguard, the tenderpreneurs tremble before a national liberation movement in which communists play their rightful role.
As we celebrate 90 years of a non-racial SACP, we need to intensify the struggles for gender equality in society, by ensuring that we organize and mobilize working class women to be in the forefront of the struggles against partriarchy.
A communist programme of action to advance and deepen the national democratic revolution in the current period
Today, on our 90th anniversary, we call upon all communists, working together with the workers and poor of our country, to deepen mass mobilization to reduce inequalities and achieve a better life for all.
The SACP will continue to act together with the workers to fight for a living wage. It is for this reason that the SACP wishes to, once more express its solidarity with metal, engineering, chemical and mineworkers in their legitimate struggles for a living wage. South African communists have been, and will continue to be, in the trenches with the workers in these sectors to win a living wage for all.
In joining these struggles for a living wage, the SACP will continue to advance the equally important struggle for an increase in the social wage, for accessible and affordable public transport, for affordable housing for the working class, for access to education and for access to health for all.
Using our voting district based branches, the SACP also calls, and will struggle, for the building of street committees, community policing forums, ward committees, school governing bodies, local health committees and all other organs of people’s power. Let us not wage newspaper-driven, often elite programmes, but people driven campaigns on the ground!
Celebrating 90 years of the SACP must be about building organs of people’s power to deepen the national democratic revolution as our most direct route to socialism!
Since our formation, we have been a party of internationalist working class solidarity. We re-commit to intensify our solidarity with the Cuban people and call for the release of the Cuban Five from US jails and the end of the embargo against Cuba.
We reiterate our solidarity with the Swazi people in their just struggle for democracy. We call for the unbanning of all political parties, the release of political prisoners as a pre-requisite to the democratization in that country. We call upon government not to bail out Swaziland without a commitment to do away with the Tinkundla system.
The SACP calls for Morocco to grant the Saharawi people their right to self-determination, and for Palestinian independence with an end to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.
The SACP will strengthen its internationalist solidarity work, especially in the light of very real possibilities that the major capitalist economies may experience another economic crisis. Let us strengthen working class and socialist forces to roll back the capitalist system and prevent the rise of a neo-fascist movement exploiting the plight of the workers and the poor.