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Shopsteward Volume 26 No. 1

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, on the occasion of the African Communist’s 50th anniversary

26 October 2009

The trade union movement and the African Communist Magazine

On behalf of COSATU’s two million members I bring birthday greetings to the SACP leadership and cadreship. It is a great privilege to be invited to address this historic 50th anniversary celebration of a publication, which has quite literally changed the course of history.

There is not the slightest doubt that without the African Communist and the generations of communists who produced it over half a century, we would never have made the advances we have achieved over the last fifteen years.

For fifty years, the African Communist provided a platform for debates not only within the South African Communist Party but also across the Alliance, the mass democratic movement and society as a whole. It provided that much needed voice to the struggling and marginalised majority.

The African Communist was a source of ideological grounding and political training to hundreds and thousands of cadres. Because of this it serves as both a training mechanism and effective mobiliser for struggle for freedom, democracy and socialism.

COSATU is the today revered as the militant, independent revolutionary and transformative union – thanks to the contribution of the African Communist magazine. Friends and foes of COSATU agree have come to accept and have a consensus that without COSATU our democracy will be much weaker. More will agree with our international icon, comrade Nelson Mandela, that COSATU is the conscience of our young democracy, a voice of the most marginalised and the fearless spokesperson of the most downtrodden in our society. The African Communist made an immense contribution in building ideological foundation of COSATU to be what it is today.

The SACP and the ANC are here to speak for themselves, but I can state without any fear of contradiction that the SACP itself benefited greatly from magazine, even though the African Communist is its own magazine and the overwhelming number of the writers in the African Communist were its own leader,.

The African Communist was a platform for debates to clarify the line of march and resolve thorny theoretical issues that we do not always have time to discuss exhaustively within our structures. Without it, the SACP could have easily become an ordinary communist party. In many parts of the world, in particular after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Communist Parties are became such tiny, discredited and irrelevant formations that society has no time to engage with their ideas.

In South Africa we have a growing, militant, revolutionary communist party with a coherent ideological and theoretical perspective about our national democratic revolution and its relation with the struggle for socialism. It is thanks to the African Communist that we have achieved this.

Equally the ANC would never have succeeded to be the oldest liberation movement in our continent that continues to grow from strength to strength - a movement that is a home to all – a movement that is capable of uniting all freedom fighters irrespective of their ideological makeup and political background. The ANC could have easily become like many others – a narrow nationalist movement that sees no other contradictions in our society except the need to have a right to vote.

As we said at the recent COSATU National Congress, “The SACP is the workers’ vanguard, without which workers are weak and vulnerable politically and ideologically. Just think what could have happened to COSATU, if the SACP had not been strong and independent in the period of the intense class battles over the direction of our revolution.”

The delegates to the Workers’ Parliament took the message to heart, which resolved, “to strengthen the SACP to play its vanguard role and to mobilise sympathetic individuals within and outside the movement for a socialist course. This will include converting our members into staunch socialists who are active in the SACP.”

COSATU has a responsibility, and a mandate, to build a strong and ideologically sound Communist Party, which can arm the class with socialist policies for the struggle against the capitalist class enemy.

COSATU recognises that we are not a Communist Party, but a federation of unions that has set itself the task of achieving socialism and seeks to lead the organised working class. While we have hundreds of revolutionary communists within our ranks, that does not make us a vanguard party, because we have to grapple with the inherent contradictions of a trade union movement operating within a capitalist society which aims for socialism but has to make tactical compromises from time to time.

We therefore still need a Communist Party, which is not constrained in this way, to provide political leadership. That is why the federation is committed to strengthen the SACP’s capacity, including at this stage when it has sent some of its finest leaders to serve the revolution in government, parliament and the provincial legislatures. We have to ensure that the Party in general, and in particular the African Communist, has the resources to continue to play the same revolutionary educational role in the next fifty years as it has so far.

The Alliance’s two socialist formations - the SACP and COSATU - need a united and coherent Marxist-Leninist leadership, so we can act consciously to strengthen the current leadership of the ANC and the Alliance as a whole and become the political engine room of our national democratic revolution.

This is as vital now as at any time in our history. We face enormous challenges, but also have unprecedented opportunities to advance our revolution. The main challenges are:

  • The economic recession which threatens thousands more jobs in a country which already has a totally unacceptable level of unemployment
  • The continuing casualisation of jobs, worse conditions of employment and the scourge of labour broking
  • The threat to ban trade union rights in the armed forces
  • The cancer of corruption and the culture of crass materialism

The greatest opportunity on the other hand is that, as a consequence of the ANC 2007 Polokwane Conference, we have a government and ruling party that is broadly in agreement with the policies of the SACP and COSATU and is prepared to listen, debate and engage on all policies, even in the small number of areas where there are differences of opinion.

The Polokwane resolutions and the ANC Election manifesto raised the expectations of millions of our people that their plight will change for the better. These policies represent a major shift and we are already seeing these changes being implemented. Government’s economic policies are now centred on employment creation and poverty alleviation and a rejection of the discredited neoliberal, free-market policies. We thus have the best ever chance of making real, tangible progress towards the more equal and just society which we are all trying to build.

There has been a sharp move away from the pre-Polokwane environment, which bred new alien cultures and traditions that provoked the grass roots revolt by the delegates. These included:

1. Adopting neoliberal economic policies, including privatisation, that left the material base of the economy virtually unchanged.

2. Subordinating the development programme of the RDP to the logic of GEAR, tight macroeconomic policy, a lean state and trade liberalisation.

3. Leaving economic power in the hands of the white-owned monopolies that ran the economy during apartheid.

4. Using the capitalist media and embedded journalists to pursue factional battles within the movement, leaking damaging information and character assassination against opponents, spreading lies and defamatory allegations in the media and launching media trials.

5. Using state institutions, the judiciary and SABC, to unfairly target opponents, which did untold damage to the standing of the judiciary.

6. Using state power to distribute patronage and build a reward system for loyal friends, which led to the appointment of people with no capacity to lead important areas of transformation. This developed a culture where mediocrity was tolerated and talented individuals sidelined for factional reasons.

7. Corruption and deepening of the culture of accumulation and self-enrichment, with increasing blurring of lines between political and business interests.

But now we are starting to see a democratisation of our society, state, economy and communities. There is far more public consultation on policy issues, for example the public hearings on labour broking and public broadcasting. The Alliance is functioning better than for years and we eagerly look forward to the Summit in November.

Non-performing councillors, and those who award tenders to their family businesses, are quite rightly being recalled. Measures are being taken to curb corruption, though far, far more has to be done in this are to rid the country, and in particular the public service, of this culture of self-enrichment. Even among some of our own cadres the view that those in public office have the right to R1m cars and weeks in top 5-star hotels has become deeply ingrained, and it has to be fought with every weapon at our disposal.

We have to rekindle the spirit of self-sacrifice and service to the people who elected us, and reject the cynical view that public servants have the right to the same sort of obscene perks and privileges as those in business, which have made South Africa the most unequal society on the planet. We will never curb the greed of the capitalists if our own leaders follow the same path and adopt their greedy morality of “me first”.

The recent community protests are stoked by legitimate grievances about the terrible levels of poverty and poor service in our poor communities. But they are just as much a revolt against people they elected to serve them as councillors and mayors but who move out of the community, live a life of affluence at the people’s expense and do little to help those they have left behind. We equally recognise that many councillors and mayors continue to do wonderful work in support of the goals of revolution often under difficult conditions.

We must ensure that the elected officials and the state bureaucracy continues to become more responsive and accountable to the masses, that they listen to the concerns of our members and the working class as a whole, and that our Alliance organisations are treated as the legitimate voice of our communities, not as one more in a queue of special interests.

The mass base of our movement remains our guarantee against the entrenched power of capital and the privileged minority. All efforts must therefore be directed at reinforcing and strengthening mass power and leveraging that power to bring about changes at the top. This requires:

1. A functioning Alliance that jointly determines strategy and deployment, with an apparatus to manage its day-to-day affairs.

2. A strong and vibrant SACP in the vanguard of our struggle

3. A large and well-functioning ANC at branch, regional and provincial levels

4. Internal cohesion and unity in all Alliance formations at all levels, with an organisational programme to build and unite the Alliance on the ground.

5. A clear programme to eradicate the pre-Polokwane ideology and practices

Ours is a revolutionary struggle that seeks to radically change our society. For some within the Alliance the NDR constitutes the ultimate destination, and for others it is a means to an end – the creation of a future socialist South Africa.

But we are all united in the belief in fundamental and thoroughgoing social change. We all want to see a far more egalitarian and just society. We all recognise that we are far from achieving the goals of the NDR and that the struggle must be taken to new heights.

The movement was fragmented and to a large extent demobilised in the first years of democracy. But our people always remained active in the ANC, trade unions, the SACP and social movements and they are now coming back together united and strong. There is a social base that is readily available for the movement to mobilise at community, workplace and national levels.

The Alliance-led campaigns against crime, on health and education and on rural development must be used to revitalise our organisation at street and workplace levels, linked to a programme of mass political education programme to raise the level of consciousness of our people.

As this generation of activists we must reconnect with the mass base and build a popular movement for transformation. The African Communist, along with Umsebenzi, Umrabulo and ANC Today, the Shopsteward and COSATU Today, all have a crucial role to play in this revolutionary struggle.

Best wishes for the next 50 years of the African Communist!

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