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Media Centre | Letters
Open letter to leaders and members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), by Zwelinzima Vavi
17 December 2014
A response to comrade Jeremy Cronin and an open letter to leaders and members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
After reading Comrade Jeremy Cronin’s public response to my address on 21 November 2014 at the ceremony to mark the 40 years of the South African Labour Bulletin on the topic “Is the labour movement at the turning point?", I was convinced that a public debate was necessary, not just with comrade Jeremy but with the entire leadership and membership of the SACP. I am doing this not just as a General Secretary of COSATU but also as a member of the SACP.
I know I am taking a risk in that, as is fashionable in the current poisoned environment, some will choose to conveniently ignore the pertinent political and ideological issues I am raising and play the man - so yes I expect insults and questioning of my bona-fides from the usual suspects. Time has arrived however for certain uncomfortable truths be stated at this historic conjuncture.
You are all aware that COSATU, and therefore the organised section of workers, are going through the most painful period in our history - a period of divisions, factionalism and paralysis which will continue to haunt the working class for many years to come. All our best efforts to arrest these developments have so far been frustrated.
In times like this, the mature and considered council of the South African Communist Party (SACP) has generally been invaluable in helping to navigate the challenges facing the organised working class.
Therefore it is especially painful that the vanguard party of the working class, the party which is supposed to lead and unite the working class, is this time deeply involved in these divisions.
In the heat of such conflicts, rationality and sober political reflection often go out of the window. Comrades do and say things which in normal circumstances would be completely foreign to our revolutionary political culture. Labelling, rumour-mongering and character assassination become the order of the day. This is in itself a potential prelude to the unthinkable - physical conflict between the members and leaders of the working class.
Unfortunately, instead of calming the situation down, and assisting the Federation to resolve its difficulties, the Party leadership’s interventions have in many cases exacerbated the problem and added fuel to the fire. The fact that some in our ranks may have made reckless statements aimed at the Party, sometimes (but not always) in response to these interventions of the SACP, has not helped matters. We expected the SACP to rise above this but have been utterly disappointed.
Many statements have been made recently by the SACP about the crisis in COSATU by both the Polit Bureau and Central Committee, in the December 2013 African Communist and in a series of polemics in Umsebenzi Online. We have had serious disagreements with many of these, and have often been shocked by their sectarian character.
I have refrained from responding, for fear of worsening the situation. I have confined myself to focusing on explaining my approach to addressing the crisis in COSATU.
But the point has now been reached where certain matters need to be placed on record, specifically in relation to questions relating to the SACP.
I do this not only in defence of the members we represent, but also out of genuine concern that if the Party does not change course, it will increasingly discredit itself amongst organised workers, and forever lose its ability to unite and lead the working class.
I therefore outline the emerging alienation of workers from the SACP, not to attack or snipe at the Party, but as constructive criticism. This aims to assist the Party in holding up a mirror, to assist in a sober, deeply ideological reflection on how to correct the serious disjuncture which has emerged.
Often when we are engaged in a fierce political battle, our emotions and loyalty do not allow us to clearly see our role in the unfolding conflict. I therefore appeal to all concerned to step back and carefully consider the nature of the challenges COSATU is confronting, and also to understand that the SACP itself may face a crisis, if it fails to arrest some of the developments outlined below.
Going to the root of the problem
Despite the historical loyalty of many workers to the SACP, and the fact that we have been together in the trenches on a number of campaigns, questions have increasingly been asked about the direction of the Party, and whose interests it is representing.
What is at the root of these negative perceptions, which have emerged amongst many workers about the role of the Party, particularly since 1994?
All mass formations have faced fundamental political questions of how to relate to both the opportunities and challenges of the 1994 democratic breakthrough, especially the implications of direct access to, and participation in, the democratic state and all its institutions.
This political challenge was especially acute for our Alliance formations. The ANC, SACP and COSATU have all had to grapple in our own way with the organisational, political and ideological ramifications of this new reality. But it is not an exaggeration to say that the challenges of power and incumbency have had the greatest impact on the ANC and the SACP, who have been most affected, in an organisational and ideological way, by these historical developments.
It would be helpful for the Party to conduct a frank class introspection on how this proximity to the state has impacted on it over the last 20 years - organisationally, ideologically, and in terms of material interests. There is no doubt that the relationship has been complex, and gone through different phases. So we won’t attempt to conduct a detailed analysis here. That is the role of the Party itself.
But what informs the negative perceptions of workers about the role of the Party on particular issues, despite the many good things the Party has done? It is informed by the following key issues:
• The changing impact of the Party’s relationship with the ANC and its leadership, and that of government;
• The impact of these political relationships on the SACP’s response to critical issues confronting the working class;
• The role of individual Party leaders in driving policies hostile to the working class;
• The balance between the SACP leadership’s participation in the state and political organisation and mobilisation of the working class.
• The necessary debates about the state of the NDR and whether the current trajectory can ever herald a seamless movement towards socialism as per the Party slogan – ‘Socialism is the future; build it now!’
Some would like to believe that the SACP has been able to manage its leadership role of the working class - and combine this with its relationship with the ANC and government - in a seamless and unproblematic way. However the Party’s response to key issues affecting the working class post-1994, and the emergence of some serious contradictions and anomalies, suggests that this has not been the case at all.
Part I: Underlying Policy Differences
On key issues confronting the working class post-1994, the SACP’s response has often been found wanting. If the Party has corrected this, it has usually only done so after COSATU and other progressive civil society formations have taken a clear stand, or has mobilised workers and communities on the issue.
The perception is that the Party’s failure to respond is because it is conflicted and unable to manage the balance of being a vanguard for a struggle for socialism but with many of its senior leaders also being leaders of the multi-class ANC, as well as the essentially democratic but capitalist state. This failure to manage this dynamic and at times conflictual role has at times undermined its role as a reliable ally of workers, let alone a vanguard of the working class.
Issue 1: GEAR
The best known example of this relates to the SACP’s response to the unilateral announcement of the GEAR macroeconomic framework in June 1996. It is worth quoting the SACP press statement in full:
Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy, 14 June 1996
“The South African Communist Party welcomes the government`s Growth, Employment and Redistribution Macro-Economic Policy. We fully back the objectives of this macro-economic strategy and note, in particular, the following key features:
“Contrary to certain attempts to use the macro-economic debate to shift government away from its electoral mandate, the strategy announced today firmly and explicitly situates itself as a framework for the RDP.
“Resisting free market dogmatism, the strategy envisages a key economic role for the public sector, including in productive investment.
“On the restructuring of state assets, the strategy reaffirms and reinforces the bilateral (between government and unions) National Framework Agreement process.
“On labour markets, the new macro-economic-strategy envisages the extension of a regulated market and it introduces an innovative approach to flexibility. It rejects laisser-faire market-driven flexibility and instead calls for negotiated regional and sectoral flexibility.
“The most important contribution of the strategy is its consistent endeavour to integrate different element of policy and, in particular, it provides a clear frame work within which monetary and interest rate policy must work.
“The SACP, in the context of our tripartite alliance with the ANC and COSATU, intends to take forward discussions, elaboration and debate on this path-breaking macro-economic strategy. All the questions of detail and of implementation require ongoing scrutiny. We have every intention of making an ongoing and constructive contribution to this process.” http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?ID=363
History will record that, on this critical issue of GEAR, which was to divide the movement for many years to come, virtually every line of this statement proved to be incorrect and problematic, and the SACP itself subsequently came to realise this fact. This is important because it raises the question as to how such a fundamental error of judgement could be made, on such a vital question for the working class.
The only explanation which makes any sense is that a decision had been made to give political cover to a policy which the ANC and SACP leadership knew at the time would be highly controversial and unacceptable to the working class.
The issuing of the statement immediately after GEAR’s release made it clear that no opportunity had been given to Party or ANC structures to discuss this major policy departure, and that the intention was to ram it through. The SACP only later acknowledged its error.
The SACP statement on every key topic makes assertions, which would later be exposed as the opposite of the truth, by claiming that:
• GEAR “firmly and explicitly situates itself as a framework for the RDP”. It is now history that GEAR sought to replace and overturn the RDP;
• GEAR “resists free market dogmatism, and envisages a key economic role for the public sector”, when we know that GEAR espoused market fundamentalism, and sought to slash the public sector;
• GEAR “extends a regulated labour market”, when it in fact aimed to remove key rights of workers in the labour market;
• GEAR “provides a clear frame work within which monetary and interest rate policy must work” and is a “path-breaking macro-economic strategy”. We now know that the ‘clear framework’ it provided was a comprehensive neo-liberal macroeconomic strategy, which the Party was later to denounce as the 1996 Class Project.
This is this still relevant because it was seen by the working class as a major betrayal of trust in the SACP’s responsibility as a leadership, rooted in its attempt to retain its proximity to power. Others on the left of the SACP argue that this was not a misjudgement but a political choice and have from that time written off the SACP. It didn’t help that a leader of the SACP, Cde Alec Erwin, was a prominent driver of the GEAR strategy.
It is also worth recording that COSATU, together with the National Institute for Economic Policy, had issued a detailed critique of the strategy within a month of GEAR being released. It issued a statement on 19 July 1996, which said:
“Key areas of concern with aspects of the Framework were identified, which in the view of the Executive, would take us in a direction diametrically opposed to the economic growth path outlined in the RDP. These areas included the proposals on rapidly slashing the budget deficit; contractionary monetary policy and the lifting of exchange controls; labour market policy and unemployment; investment and industrial policy; and trade and tariffs…
“These conservative models are not going to bring about the envisaged creation of … new jobs, nor going to deliver the social needs of our people. At the most it will increase the gap between the poor and the rich, and condemn the homeless and jobless into extreme levels of poverty… COSATU is committed to the elaboration of a Macro-Economic Framework which first and foremost addresses the national priorities and interests of our people.”
The SACP had thus failed to play its role as a vanguard, Marxist/Leninist leadership on a critical issue for the working class, and left it to COSATU to fill the vacuum so that the trade unions had to step in and make the ideological intervention that the party should have been making. Later some in the SACP were to complain that COSATU was attempting to position itself as a vanguard, which later developed into the current accusation that some in COSATU are syndicalists or are harbouring ambitions to form a workers` party. This failure to play a vanguard role remains a source of divisions to this moment.
Issue 2: The 1995 6-pack and privatisation
In 1995, then Deputy President Mbeki announced a set of policies, which was to be the forerunner to GEAR. It was the so-called ‘six pack’ of measures, which included proposals for privatisation of state assets and cutbacks, or ‘downsizing’, in the public service.
COSATU led a programme of resistance to these initiatives, including national strike action, engagement with government and in the Alliance, engagement at Nedlac etc. COSATU’s response on the restructuring of state assets were contained in a detailed statement issued on 7 December 1995.
The SACP again sent out confusing and mixed signals on this issue. At one level, three prominent SACP leaders (together with Cde Thabo Mbeki) were entrusted with spearheading implementation of this neoliberal package: Alec Erwin (Deputy Minister of Finance), Jeff Radebe (Public Enterprises Minister) and Geraldine Fraser Moleketi (Public Services Minister). So in the negotiations on privatisation for example, the government position was advanced by Cde Radebe.
At another level, the SACP articulated a confusing position, at times appearing to support COSATU, and at times supporting government. Indeed Umsebenzi in February 1996 even complained that “Some journalists have said the SACP supports the government against COSATU. Others have claimed the exact opposite, saying the SACP and COSATU stand together against the ANC”!
Yet the confusion and contradiction was clearly expressed in Umsebenzi of February 1996, which stated “Comrade Mbeki`s announcement … approached the question of restructuring from the perspective of the RDP and the provision of services. Contrary to many press reports, the GNU position actually calls for the basic retention of Telkom, Transnet, SAA, etc. in public hands, while allowing for some minority strategic partnerships with private companies to bring in technology, capital, or other advantages (e.g. SAA co-operating with one or more international airlines on routes and schedules).”
“The SACP has welcomed this basic, developmental starting point. We see in it a rejection of mindless privatisation that simply takes the resources of the country out of the hands of the people. We also welcomed comrade Mbeki`s very clear statement that the positions were a point of departure for negotiations, in particular with labour.”
While stating support for some of the principles articulated by COSATU, the Party appeared to straddle the fence by claiming that government in essence was not opposed to what COSATU was arguing, despite the fact that COSATU had completely rejected government’s announcement, and undertaken to embark on national mass action to resist it. The reality was that COSATU had major problems with the content of government’s proposals, including on SOE restructuring, which led to massive battles.
The SACP attempted to position itself as an arbiter in what was a class-based conflict between COSATU and government. It was only later, once the extent of resistance became clear, and the extent of the problems with government’s proposals apparent, that the SACP came out more clearly in support of COSATU’s campaign.
But it was the exercise of power by the Federation’s membership, which in the end partly halted the privatisation drive in its tracks. Areas which the SACP, perhaps naively, encouraged COSATU to consider (although COSATU never accepted this argument), such as the private equity partner for Telkom, were subsequently imposed in a way which made it clear that this ‘privatisation through the back door’ route, was equally a disaster for the developmental agenda of our democratic state. Today workers at Telkom and other SOEs are still paying a heavy price of private equity partnerships and commercialisation and therefore neoliberalism.
Some may argue that these episodes - GEAR, the 6-pack etc. - represent a different era, and that the SACP of 2014 is different from that of 1996. Yes and no. Yes, contestation in the Alliance, and in the SACP itself, led to the SACP shifting significantly from some of these positions. But no, the proximity of the SACP leadership to government continues to this day to stifle the ability of the Party to take vigorous, independent positions, when the interests of the working class are under threat.
Let us fast forward to 2014, and recent years, and we see why the allegation of the SACP being ‘missing in action’ in key areas of working class struggle, continues to have strong resonance amongst workers. On the one hand, the SACP has taken up some important campaigns such as on the Financial Sector and land reform. But deeper analysis suggests that it has studiously avoided anything, which could be construed as taking on the state, or taking on capital in the state. It has tended to steer clear of issues which would ruffle the feathers of its partner in government, and where it has raised criticisms they have tended to be muted, or so ‘nuanced’ as to be ineffective or simply sending out confusing messages.
Issue 3: The National Development Plan
Following the launch of the NDP in August 2012 there was silence from the Party about the ideological and class problems within it. Despite the fact that the NDP had been endorsed by Cabinet, in which the top leaders of the Party are members - which then suggests that comrades in government must have engaged with the content - there appeared to be complete denial, or at best ignorance, of its massive problems. The impression given by the SACP’s statements was that it either didn’t have a major problem with the document, or was reluctant to raise its concerns’.
Cde Jeremy Cronin wrote in Umsebenzi in 13 Dec 2012: “In principle, we should all be happy if leading sectors of business throw in their weight behind the NDP and contribute to building a broad national consensus on a more equitable, inclusive society.… Cabinet collectively has endorsed … the NDP, the NGP and IPAP. There are strong and welcome convergences between all three...
“However, they are of course also different documents in their scope, objectives, time-frames and status... The NDP is intended to be a broad, society-wide vision. It is not that it is necessarily less state interventionist than the NGP or IPAP, but it seeks to envision what ALL South Africans should contribute to a better SA by 2030.
“On the other hand, the NGP and IPAP are essentially government policy documents and their emphasis is likely therefore to be more (but not exclusively) on what government has to do. Also for the record, the ANC in Parliament has endorsed the NDP, while the SACP has welcomed its broad vision, without necessarily agreeing with every detail.”
The SACP 2012 End of Year Message stated: “Whilst we welcome government’s New Growth Path and the National Development Plan, the SACP will continue to fight for our macro-economic policies to be better aligned to these important micro economic interventions.”
But this strange statement ignores two things: firstly that the NDP (nor for that matter the NGP) is not a micro-economic intervention, and more seriously that the NDP proposes both macro- and micro-economic policies which are at odds with progressive elements of the NGP and IPAP.
It was only once COSATU began to raise its concerns at Mangaung, and after it drafted a detailed discussion paper critiquing the NDP in February 2013, that the Party began to articulate a critical position. In May 2013, the SACP issued a paper endorsing COSATU’s strong critique of the NDP, which specifically rejected the NDP’s economic strategy and approach to employment.
While this was welcome, it was again worrying, as with GEAR, that the Party’s approach to a fundamentally anti-working class agenda was to be seemingly blinded by not just its close relationship with government but the presence of its top leaders in government, and only able to grasp the real issues once the Federation began to expose them. If the Party was the vanguard, why was it constantly taking up a position at the rear? It is extremely worrying that the Party seems to have failed to learn anything from the GEAR experience.
Further, even after having endorsed COSATU’s critique, the Party appeared to lack the political will, or courage, to take the battle on the NDP to its conclusion. It was only because of COSATU’s persistence at the 2013 Alliance Summit, that an agreement was reached to realign the economic proposals of the NDP with Alliance policy positions. But the SACP has shown no real determination to take this forward.
In fact the Party’s latest Discussion Document “Going to the Root” (October 2014 – see Annexure below), which focuses on the need for a radical phase of economic transformation, entirely fails to address this central challenge of reversing the neoliberal economic prescripts of the NDP, and acts as if the NDP is not an issue, effectively ignoring it in the document, despite the fact that government has announced that all policies and programmes will be aligned to the NDP over the next term.
Instead the document claims that “the policy fundamentals for these programmatic priorities to place our society onto a new growth and development path are already basically in place”, citing the NGP, IPAP etc, and ignoring the fact that the NDP, which is the flagship programme of government, completely contradicts the approach taken by those policy documents.
The price paid by the working class in this process is immeasurable. A pro-business economic strategy will now run till 2030 unless a major pro-left political rupture takes place within the ANC and the Alliance.
Frankly I see no possibility of this happening inside the government or even the ANC in the near future. COSATU has found itself completely isolated, as many government leaders, in particular the President, have repeatedly told the world that there is sufficient consensus to implement the NDP. But this "national consensus" excludes the working class.
This is thanks to SACP`s statement that "we should be happy that business has thrown in its weight behind the NDP and contributed in building a broad national consensus".
Hell yes! How would business not throw its weight in behind the NDP when it represents such a major policy coup - snatching victory from the jaws of defeat! After the 2013 Alliance Summit we were told implementation of the NDP will continue minus areas where debates are still necessary; but our reality is that there is no such debate and the NDP is being implemented as a whole. Insofar as some of its most reactionary and anti-worker labour market policies are not being taken forward it is only thanks to fear of the reaction this will cause.
Issue 4: Macro-economic policy
The Party has appeared to have a blind spot on macro-economic policy in several ways:
Approaching macro-economic policy as if it is a marginal issue:
In the face of COSATU’s consistent battle to shift macro-economic policy after GEAR, the line of the SACP has been that macro-economic policy is not the major issue, but that we must rather focus on micro-economic policy, industrial policy, etc. In this respect the Party has shared common ground with many conservatives inside and outside the state, who have also advanced a similar line. The two key problems with this is that, firstly, macro-economic policy is the state’s major economic lever to drive development and, secondly, progressive industrial policy cannot succeed in the context of inappropriate macro-economic policies. The last few years have confirmed this: our progressive IPAP policy has failed to stem deindustrialisation, despite the best efforts of Cde Rob Davies, because the incorrect macro-economic policies are in place.
To change this macro-economic policy requires a massive struggle, because it expresses the entrenched interests of capital, particularly finance capital, in the state. So the Party’s occasional reference to the need for appropriate policies, such as in ‘Going to the Root’ is entirely inadequate, as it is dealt with as an add-on, and not a fundamental issue of contestation. The Party has shown no seriousness on this matter.
Failure to fight for implementation of Alliance agreements on economy:
Alliance Summits have repeatedly agreed to broad statements of intent and processes aimed at forging a new direction on macro-economic policy and Alliance task teams have been set up to take this forward, but invariably they have not been convened. These processes have been used as a mechanism to avoid engagement on the issues, particularly on macro-economic policy, which has been regarded by the ANC as a holy cow.
The 2013 Alliance Summit made some progress in agreeing to a more detailed resolution on the economy, but again it was put into a task team, which has not been given the necessary political support. COSATU has effectively stood alone in trying to push for these processes to happen, and while the SACP has not opposed us, it hasn’t shown any real determination or political will to drive these processes. The inescapable conclusion has been that the Party regards it as tactically inappropriate to push on this matter.
Directly linked to the above, the SACP has repeatedly sought to give a positive spin to the Minister of Finance’s budget statements and to Treasury’s fiscal policies, in the face of COSATU’s sustained campaigns against the fiscal policy direction of government. While the struggles of workers and communities managed to force a mildly expansionary shift in government’s fiscal policy in the early to mid 2000s, this fell far short of what we were demanding.
But the SACP’s posture has remained consistently positive, even when, as in the last two years, the Minister has presented an austerity budget, involving real cutbacks in spending, despite the massive economic and social crisis. The Party has given credence to the notion that government is pursuing a ‘counter-cyclical’ macro-economic stance (which should mean using aggressive macro-economic stimulus when the economy slows down, and reining in the stimulus when the economy ‘overheats’).
But the reality is very different; if anything the budgets are ‘pro-cyclical’, reinforcing the cycle of economic stagnation. Analysis of recent budgets and the 3-year MTBPSs shows that contractionary macro-economic policy continues to have a stranglehold on our economy. Compare the SACP and COSATU’s reactions to the austerity budget of 2013. The SACP’s response stated:
“...We welcome the fact that, despite reduced revenue, many of the major pillars of expenditure including infrastructure, education and health-care are maintained. Although the Minister did not explicitly say so, the budget`s stance has rejected a path of austerity disastrously followed by many countries in Europe. However, the SACP is concerned that there was an overemphasis in the Minister`s remarks that maintaining such a stance is dependent upon achieving growth rates of 5%. We believe that maintaining a contra-cyclical stance is precisely the means for achieving sustained, inclusive growth.”
COSATU’s response to the 2013 and 2014 budgets, and MTBPSs reveal a more brutal reality for the working class, and reaches the opposite conclusion to the SACP statement: “Far from ‘rejecting the path of austerity’, Treasury is pursuing it in a major way. COSATU’s response to the 2014 MTBPS (which provides for massive real spending cuts, after taking population growth into account) lays this reality bare. The massive reduction in the budget deficit from 4.1% in 2014 to 2.5% by 2017 is achieved through real spending cuts, which can only cause the economy to further stagnate.
“The decline in ‘real growth’ of spending to 1.3% in 2015 (from 10.8% in 2009), is lower than the level of population growth, and therefore a real cut in spending, at a time when we have a desperate need to stimulate our economy, deliver services in underserviced areas, and invest in employment creation. This is a disaster! We are following European/IMF austerity policies, which have only plunged Europe deeper into crisis, where we should be following the US stimulus approach which is leading to recovery of their economy.”
The evidence is clear that the SACP is still making the fundamental errors we saw in the 1990s, that of muffling any criticism of government’s right-wing macro-economic policies, as we see again the next section.
Issue 5: Taking a minimalist approach to transformation
In line with the argument that ‘the NDR is on track’, many SACP interventions, particularly post-2009, suggest that we have the correct policies, but all we need is more effective implementation and co-ordination.
This minimalist approach to transformation creates a major contradiction for the Party: on the one hand the campaign, driven in significant part by COSATU, for a radical shift in economic policy, or a ‘Lula Moment’, has now been embraced on paper by the ANC’s notion of a ‘second radical phase of the transition’, which is supported by the Party; but on the other hand, this suggests a radical break with current policies; how do we achieve fundamentally different results with the same strategy?
If the government programmes the SACP cites (such as IPAP, NGP, the NIP) have been in place for the last 5 years, why has this radical shift not yet taken place? Yet the SACP’s ‘Going to the Root’ on P22 lists a series of precisely these existing government policies (omitting mention of the NDP) which it argues constitute the basis for this radical economic shift.
Having stated that “the policy fundamentals for these programmatic priorities to place our society onto a new growth and development path are already basically in place”, and lists these interventions, the document then concludes: “the second radical phase of the NDR is not something we are just talking about. Many of its key elements are already under implementation. What is required is a more decisive and more coherent effort.”
Now it may be that there are progressive elements of government policy, which COSATU has consistently supported, such as the IPAP, and aspects of the NGP. But this is very different from saying that in themselves these create the ‘policy fundamentals’ for a radical economic shift. A radical shift would require radical reforms of existing policy, which have failed to fundamentally shift the existing economic trajectory.
Secondly the perspective articulated by the SACP in ‘Going to the Root’ creates the impression that it is so embedded in government, that it is unable to have an independent critical perspective either on what additional interventions and policy shifts are required, or to be able to reflect critically on the fact that some of the existing policies have serious weaknesses and contradictions.
For example, COSATU has raised some serious concerns with the NGP, but the Party appears to embrace it uncritically. While we support the IPAP, the Party doesn’t seem to be asking hard questions as to why it is failing to stop deindustrialisation, and what policy interventions are required, outside a broad analytical take on financialisation of the economy.
Thirdly, the SACP embraces the Infrastructure Plan more or less uncritically, but doesn’t consider, or respond to, some of the critiques which suggest it is reinforcing aspects of the minerals/energy complex, and what is needed to radicalise it.
The SACP also doesn’t acknowledge that many of the ‘government policies’ they cite in ‘Going to the Root’ are subject to massive contradictions, and contestation. Rhetoric is confused with policy. For example there is no coherent beneficiation or minerals policy, as is claimed, and the government itself has failed to take forward the proposals of the ANC SIMs document, cited by the SACP.
Contrary to their claims, there is no coherent policy to transform the financial sector, or agreed measures to compel productive investment. Prescribed assets are not government policy and there is no coherent development agenda for DFIs in place (see for example the commercialisation of the DBSA).
The claims about a sustainable energy policy disregard the fact that this is the site of massive contestation in government and the ANC, and the energy policy debates have not been settled. The same applies to the claim that there is a coherent policy to transform BBEEE, to ensure that it is developmental and promotes the productive sector. Rhetoric yes, coherent policy, no.
So not only are many of the ‘key elements of the 2nd radical phase of the NDR’ not ‘under implementation’, as the SACP claims, but there is no clarity yet as to what they are, because they are the subject of massive class contestation, outside and inside the state. Where COSATU has been providing clarity, the party spreads confusion and contradiction.
Issue 6: Failure to effectively take on monopoly capital in the state
One of the themes taken up by the Party is that of “taking responsibility for the revolution”, and being present and active in all sites of struggle. This has in part been a response to the criticism of SACP leaders being swallowed up in government, something I return to below. The argument by the SACP is that they won’t criticise from the sidelines, but will take the battles up inside, and outside, the state.
To the extent that this is being done, this is obviously correct, and all revolutionaries would support that. It also recognises that class contestation takes place throughout society, and that the state itself is a critical site of class struggle.
COSATU, while not formally participating in state institutions (except where there is tripartite representation) has consistently taken the view that it will engage in strategic contestation in and around the state and has attempted to use all possible levers to this end. But we have also argued that it is about balancing the sites and terrains of struggle, and sought to ensure that we constantly try to combine engagement from above with mobilisation from below.
Leaving aside for now the question of whether the Party has got this balance right, the question we pose is whether the SACP has effectively waged this class struggle in the state (bearing in mind that it is not possible to do this effectively without mobilising the working class as a social and political force).
Given that politically the three most assertive fractions of capital in the state have been monopoly capital (dominated by the white minority), the BEE elite (parasitic), and the tenderpreneurs (corrupt), the question is what the SACP has done to contest the influence and power of each of these elements of capital in the state (and we may add, in the Alliance).
It is important to note that the Party has played an important role in campaigning against the rise of tenderpreneurs in the state, a campaign COSATU has actively supported, and will continue to support. But while not minimising the tenderpreneurs’ political (and indeed corrupting) influence, I only focus here on the role of monopoly capital, as this is the core driver of capital’s interests in the state.
There has indeed been a very effective class struggle waged in the South African state by monopoly capital and its allies over the last 20 years (to paraphrase billionaire Warren Buffet: ‘there is a class war, and my class is winning!’).
Of course this has taken place with all the contradictions and complexities which characterise such contestation, so it is not always a crude and obvious line-up of forces. But the broad direction of these forces is clear: to embed the interests of capital, particularly in key ministries and economic institutions of the state, to project these interests as the interests of the nation as a whole and to contest, and confine, those areas of the state in which popular forces gain a toehold, to limit their broader impact on the states programmes.
In this war of position by capital, certain economic ministries and state institutions (including the Reserve Bank, strategic SOEs etc.) are key, with the Presidency as the coordinating centre. But the institutional engine for monopoly capital in the state is the National Treasury, which uses its control of the purse strings, frequently under the guise of technocratic procedures and requirements, to attempt to shape, drive, and often frustrate the policy agenda in the state.
It also uses its access to the Presidency to extend this reach to all levels and institutions of state. While the extent of this control by Treasury is often hidden from the public, those inside the state, both political leaders and technocrats, are acutely aware of it, and it is widely talked about, and often resented. So SACP leaders in the state would be acutely aware of the extent of this phenomenon.
This undemocratic control of policy by Treasury (as well as institutions such as the Reserve Bank) is something that COSATU has agitated and campaigned around for many years.
So while we are not suggesting that other institutions of state don’t also advance capital’s agenda, it is important to focus on Treasury’s role as the central driver of their agenda in the state, which goes way beyond the promotion of problematic macro-economic policies; it effectively acts as a state within a state.
COSATU has documented the extent of Treasury’s role in driving economic policy, and intervening in a host of policy areas in the state, outside its formal mandate, and it paints a frightening picture of subversion of the democratic mandate (see below).
Equally worrying is the extent to which the ANC, and more surprisingly, the SACP leadership in government, have allowed this to take place and have failed to mobilise the popular forces against this systematic subversion by capital of the policies of the movement.
Our battles with Treasury, and with their allies in the state, have included:
• Fighting for a more appropriate macro-economic policy and against fiscal austerity, overly restrictive monetary policy and obsession with inflation targeting.
• Supporting measures to counter capital flight, including capital controls,
• Opposing loosening exchange controls, including the recent exchange control amnesty;
• Backing measures to counter tax havens and to compel banks to lend to the productive sector;
• Demanding action against the investment strike and to penalise speculation;
• Opposing Treasury’s management of the PIC and the GEPF;
• Arguing for leveraging the massive financial power of public and private sector funds for transformation and for prescribed assets.
On all these issues, Treasury has opposed workers’ demands.
Outside of Treasury’s ‘core competency’ of macro-economic policy, it has meddled in a host of areas, particularly where progressive forces in the state and society are advancing an alternative to neo-liberalism. ‘Non-macroeconomic’ areas where it has actively undermined progressive elements of government or ANC policy include:
• Blocking Comprehensive Social Protection as advanced by the Department of Social Development, which would extend protection to uncovered workers, and attempting to unilaterally implement restructuring of retirement funds, which would increase the vulnerability of retrenched workers;
• Opposing the National Health Insurance (NHI), and when they were unable to completely block it, sabotage of the Health Department’s White Paper on NHI, and refusal to make provision for financing of the NHI’s rollout;
• Opposing aspects of Industrial Policy by initially opposing, and then undermining, local procurement policies, resisting implementation of measures to advance beneficiation and refusing to adequately fund the IPAP industrial strategy;
• Undermining labour market policy through consistent promotion of labour market deregulation, and the introduction of anti-labour policies. While organised labour has successfully resisted much of this, there are worrying signs of Treasury making advances in its anti-worker agenda, including Treasury-drafted proposals in the NDP to dilute aspects of labour market regulation, proposals to lower wages, particularly for first-time workers and introduction of the youth wage subsidy;
• Driving the ‘User Pays’ approach, and continued commercialisation of SOEs, which has fundamentally undermined their public development mandate. Concerns have also arisen about the commercialisation agenda driven by Treasury in DFIs, including the recent restructuring of the DBSA.
COSATU has, from outside of the state, identified these and other Treasury manoeuvres, and over the years attempted to expose and campaign against them. The 11th Congress Declaration stated that “institutionally, the Treasury, which constitutes the biggest obstacle to the government`s economic programme, needs to be urgently realigned”.
We have taken up battles against Treasury on retirement funds and social protection, NHI, labour market policy, industrial policy, fiscal and monetary policy, capital and exchange controls, etc. Our proposals in key social dialogue institutions, such as the 1998 Jobs Summit, the 2003 Growth and Development Summit, etc., have been systematically opposed by Treasury, and we have had to seek broader social support, as well as support inside the state, to defeat Treasury on a number of issues. Where we have succeeded in doing so it has only been through major mobilisation and perseverance.
The Party occasionally refers to the problems being caused by Treasury and related institutions. But they have waged no sustained or focused campaign on the issues raised above, either at a public level or within the Alliance. This is the case even where the Party’s own campaigns can’t move forward because of the role of Treasury, such as NHI implementation and transformation of the financial sector. The Party seems to continue to have a blind spot, or a reluctance to take Treasury on, as we have seen with its ‘friendly’ statements in response to austerity budgets.
A powerful example of this apparent blindness to the centrality of Treasury’s role is contained in Umsebenzi of 9 October 2014, focusing on the campaign to transform the financial sector. In the main article on the campaign, eleven very good demands are made which broaden the focus on the banks, to look at broader strategic financial and economic issues.
But on virtually every one of the eleven issues, National Treasury remains a major obstacle to what the Party is proposing. Yet nothing is said in the Umsebenzi lead article or in numerous other statements by the Party, about the severity of this problem, or what will be done to address it.
Yet in the same issue a letter from a reader states, in relation to a recent court judgment on exchange controls, that “This court ruling occurred in the backdrop of the gross mismanagement of financial transactions involving capital outflows, especially capital controls, by the National Treasury. The mismanagement was not naďve - the National Treasury is not marching in step with our revolution - it is obsessed with neoliberalism, and represents one of the key centres of power that we have to take seriously. It is clear without a major reshuffle in that department that efforts to transform the financial sector to serve the people and to move on with the second, more radical phase of SA`s transition, will be sabotaged and resisted from within the state.”
Precisely! Which makes the Party’s silence on this matter even more puzzling.
The offensive by capital within the state expresses a reality around how the ruling class uses the state to entrench class domination, subject to the battles, which the working class wages in society and the state.
Lenin gave a stark warning about this reality as follows, which effectively suggests that not only does capital use the state to exercise domination, but that once capital has entrenched its domination in the state, the capitalist state tends to transform whoever comes into, rather than the reverse: “A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”(Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917)
COSATU has not received the active support of ANC or SACP leaders in government, in many of these battles with the Treasury. If anything the Treasury’s view is usually given more weight than that of other departments. This is true even at the level of Alliance and Manifesto processes, where transformative proposals on macroeconomic policy are usually blocked or watered down, to advance, or at least insulate, Treasury’s perspective.
The failure to contest capital in the state can either take place through remaining outside, and refusing to engage in the struggle in the state, or by going into the state, and failing to effectively contest capital. Both routes are equally problematic. A pertinent question arises: Who captured who? Have SACP captured the state or the state captured the SACP?
Issue 7: Apparent abandonment of the fight for income redistribution
When compared to the GEAR years, as a result of mass pressure, and the growing social reality of rising poverty and unemployment, the mid-2000s saw greater fiscal expansion and greater labour absorption. This shift was consolidated at Polokwane. But, while it was a shift relative to GEAR, it didn’t begin to drive the structural economic changes, including the challenge of income redistribution, which were required.
The current trajectory remains negative. All indicators on wage share, unemployment, inequality and poverty demonstrate the non-redistributive nature of the shifts. Such indicators include:
On working poverty
• The latest median wage figure was R3033 (for 2013) i.e. 50% of all formal workers earned below this. (StatsSA Labour Market Dynamics 2014) The median wage has consistently increased below the level of inflation, and actually decreased in absolute terms in 2012-2013, compared to increases in the average wage that have consistently been above inflation. This is because the wages of high income earners massively distorts the average figure. The median wage would have to increase by at least 12% to reduce inequality (M&G 20.6.14)
• Stats SA has produced what they refer to as an ‘upper bound poverty line’ which combines basic food and non-food items. These are not figures which COSATU believes are sufficiently verified, either scientifically or subjectively by those who live in poverty, to count as an official Minimum Living Level, but in the absence of other researched figures we can use this as an indicative benchmark. For a family of four the figure is R2948 in 2014 prices. Compared to the median wage of R3033 we can see that almost half the formal South African workforce lives below this very conservative estimate of poverty.
• In 2013 45% of all workers earned below 2/3 of the median i.e. less than R2020 per month (StatsSA Labour Market Dynamics 2014)
• There has been a real decline of 11% in the wages of semi skilled workers from 1994 to 2012.
On the wage share
The wage share of GDP has declined considerably since 1995. Between 1995 and 2010 the wage share declined from 54% to 47% (The Peoples Budget 2010).
The most marked decline has been experienced since 2000. The fall in the wage share has been most starkly felt in the construction industry where it fell from 60.6% in 2000 to 36.6% in 2011 – a fall of a staggering 24% (StatsSA, GDP Reports). This was in a period where the construction industry was engaged in massive rollout of infrastructure including the World Cup stadiums.
The decrease in the wage share by definition means that real wages have been increasing less than the gains in labour productivity. This is reflective of a growing increase in power inequality in determining workers’ income.
Our expanded rate of unemployment (which includes those who no longer register to seek work) continues to grow. In the third quarter of 2014 officially it stood at a shocking 35.8% - the highest rate ever. In 1994 the expanded rate was 31.5%.
Of South Africa’s 53 million people, around 13 million face hunger on a regular basis. This is one in four people. And more than half the population lives in such precarious circumstances with such unreliable and low sources of income, that they are constantly at risk of going hungry. They find themselves squeezed between low, intermittent and unreliable income and an unfair, expensive and wasteful system of food production dominated by a few large companies.
All of the above is despite South Africa being considered a food secure nation, producing enough to feed all of its population. And it is despite the expanded reach of social grants. Imagine what the picture would be like without these grants!
Poor households spend 34% of their total household expenditure on food in contrast to non-poor households, which spend only 10% of their household expenditure on food. (StatsSA Poverty Trends Report April 2014.) This tells us that not only are the non-poor consuming the lion’s share of our food, but their food spending is a negligible portion of their overall spend. Increases in food prices are therefore not felt in the same way.
What has been absent for some years has been any enthusiastic engagement by the SACP on these issues of working poverty, the wage share, unemployment or hunger. While it might not contest or deny the indicators of poverty (including working poverty) and inequality, these do not feature high on the visible agenda or campaigns of the SACP.
The question begging an answer is why does a vanguard not articulate and mobilise society around what effectively has meant distribution from the poor to the rich? Why is the Party for socialism so mute about the catastrophic levels of unemployment, which have deepened in the past twenty years?
The emphasis by and large has been on the redistributive success stories in the expansion of service delivery. The SACP statement on the 20th Anniversary of democracy 27 April 2014 re-stated the post-1994 achievements, including 3.3 million RDP houses built, 7 million more houses electrified, potable water to 92% of population (compared to 60% in 1994), NSF Aid to 1.4 million students, the post Polokwane HIV treatment rollout, and an increase of people receiving social grants from 3 to 16 million.
I have no quarrel with acknowledging these successes. But these gains must be properly located, first in the context of an acknowledgement that the successes in some areas (in particular water and electricity) have been massively compromised by commodification and the growth of unemployment and poverty, resulting in the inability to pay for services. Second, they must be located in the context of the bigger picture of the underlying causes of poverty and inequality.
It is my view that there has been an over-focus on issues of reproduction. The connection is not made between redistribution of services and redistribution of wealth and income. This leads the SACP into a cul de sac of supporting the World Bank conclusion that South Africa has been more effective at redistribution than left states in Latin America, despite the fact that they have been massively more successful than us in reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Comrade Jeremy Cronin went some way to qualify the argument when he spoke at a Conference on Social Equality at UCT in September this year, when he conceded that “the redistribution is going into a spatial reality and other realities that reproduce all of these problems”. But this is a rare concession, and it has not been translated into SACP programmes and statements.
Of all the almost daily press statements released by the SACP and posted on its website in the course of 2014, not a single one has:
• Supported the wage struggles of any workers (including the long metal and engineering workers’ strike or the postal strike);
• Engaged with all the evidence that COSATU has been producing on poverty wages, the falling wage share of GDP etc.;
• Supported COSATU’s efforts at organising the most vulnerable workers including own-account workers such as street traders;
• Commented on the release of hunger statistics; or
• Commented on continuing outrageous levels of unemployment.
Indeed in the SACP Statement on the 20th Anniversary of democracy, 27 April 2014, the only reference to unemployment was the claim that “employment is now higher than ever with 14 million people working”. This claim dies not:
a) Explain that the 14 million includes the 4.5 m work opportunities (not jobs) created through EPWP which programme currently pays its ‘volunteers’ a measly R67 a day,
b) Make reference to the rate of unemployment, and thus tries to spin a good story in the face of devastating evidence.
This assertion of growing employment was made repeatedly by both the ANC and the SACP in the period running up to the 2014 national elections, in contradiction to the dictum of the great Amilcar Cabral: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies wherever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories”. The pretence of 14 million jobs constitutes an attempt to hide the biggest crisis facing the working class.
We are certain that in answering this criticism, the SACP leadership will be able to quote from a speech or article or two that mentions one or more of these issues in passing. It is however inescapable that these issues are not a primary focus.
How can it be that these issues, which are so palpable for the working class, are not a key focus of the SACP? It is difficult not to conclude that the over-focus on redistribution of services (on reproduction) is deliberate in that reproduction is a safe area, both in relation to capital and the state. It does not fundamentally challenge the structures of economic ownership and control, in the same way that a focus on redistribution of income and ownership does.
This area has a greater impact on the current divisions in the broader movement. The SACP has joined the song that there is a good story when evidence mounts that the capitalist class is not only disproportionately benefiting from working class delivered democracy but turned the screws of super exploitation and super profiteering.
Issue 8: e-tolls
The SACP has adopted a strange stance on e-tolls. Despite all the evidence that e-tolls are hugely unpopular across all classes, the SACP has repeatedly declined to support the call for scrapping them, and in particular has opposed the call for e-tolls not to be paid.
The SACP has adopted a position which basically argues:
a) The GPFIP programme of freeway improvement in Gauteng should not have been pursued in the first place,
b) The same money should have been put into public transport and other services,
c) But the GFIP was pursued and is a reality, and R20bn of debt has been incurred by SANRAL,
d) The debt must be paid back not through a fuel levy or any other means but through maintaining the e-tolls.
In an article in Umsebenzi Online 15 March 2012, the Deputy General Secretary Jeremy Cronin argued explicitly that the “don’t pay” call was inappropriate. A Central Committee statement of February 2012 argued that tolls are not the problem; the road project is. Successive statements of the SACP Gauteng PEC have called for “a deeper investigation on the history and genesis of this crisis” (Dec 2012), “investigating SANRAL’s poor management of the eToll system” (Feb 2014), and similar. The SACP has always fallen short of calling for a scrapping of e-tolls.
We do not disagree with the critique of a mega million road project. Neither do we disagree with the argument in favour of a greater spend on public transport. Indeed this has been one of our core campaigns for many years. Nor do we disagree with the argument for a rational instrument to move freight to rail.
What we find questionable is the SACP’s distancing itself from COSATU’s call for the e-tolls to be scrapped and its further call for defiance of eBills. Surely this was an opportunity to consolidate a cross-class strategy against e-tolls and in favour of public transport?
What we find distasteful is the repeated suggestion that in calling for the scrapping of e-tolls COSATU has allied itself with neoliberal elements including the DA. We have certainly established a tactical alliance with OUTA (and not the DA), but this organisation is issue-specific and does not constitute a political force of any hue. Isn’t the formation of tactical alliances central to any transformative project and broadening of the people’s camp?
It is difficult not to conclude that in opposing the call for the scrapping of e-tolls and by opposing the payment boycott tactic, the SACP chose to go soft on the state’s policy of commodification and privatization of public spaces. A question again arises, is the SACP zigzags and confusing mixed signals on this not influenced by the reality that this project was driven by SACP leaders in government?
The SACP must appreciate that it has some influence on some in the layer of COSATU leaders. Every time it adopts obfuscation, zigzags, or even supports outright anti-working class policies, those who believe in the SACP take these confusing statements into the unions, leading to tensions that we have witnessed recently. I have already seen a statement by one union calling this campaign ‘anarchist’.
Issue 9: Corruption
The SACP’s statement on the 20th Anniversary of Democracy 27th April 2014 stated that “It is the SACP that took up the campaign against corruption as a struggle to be fought through societal mobilisation”. While it is true that the SACP launched this campaign, notably and significantly before 2009 or before almost all its current leaders joined the government, since the message that has consistently been sent out is ambivalent, and mixed with criticisms of other parties – from the Public Protector to the DA.
The May 2014 SACP statement delivered by the SACP General Secretary sums up the approach : “Yes, we must root out corruption in the state - but have you noticed how silent the opposition is about the multi-billion rand theft of public resources by the big private construction companies? Have you noticed how quickly they have forgotten the role of the bread cartel in literally stealing bread out of the mouths of the poor? Have you heard them campaigning against tax evasion and the illegal export of capital out of our country?”
There is always a BUT, which sends out a very mixed message to the public at large, and the working class in particular.
What we need from a party that represents the working class is a completely unequivocal position against corruption, wherever it is found, and whoever else is opposed to corruption.
At times the party has adopted an inconsistent line such as being very vocal in support of the Public Protector’s report and recommendations when its political opponents such as former leaders of the ANCYL were on the receiving end of the PP reports but silent on others on those it considers its political friends.
Linked to the SACP’s apparent ambivalence and inconsistency on the question of corruption, is its clear opposition to any suggestion that those who benefit from corruption – even unknowingly – should be accountable in some way for what they have benefitted.
The particular case in point is of course that of President Zuma, who was found to have unduly benefitted from the non-security related aspects of the upgrading of his home and was called upon to make some contribution to paying back what he had benefitted.
Why has it been so impossible for the SACP to call for the President to concede the Public Protector’s ruling that he should pay “a portion” (not even the full amount) of the costs of the non-security aspects of the Inkandla upgrade? I can only conclude that this is in part due to the fact that the deputy chairperson of the SACP happens to be the Minister of Public Works and that the deputy general secretary happens to be his Deputy Minister.
Why has the Public Protector repeatedly been vilified as part of a “band of anti-majoritarian liberals” (SACP Statement 26 October 2014), implying that all those including COSATU who have called for her report to be implemented in full are political pariahs in the eyes of the Party?
What we need from a party that represents the working class is an unequivocal position on accountability of those who have benefitted from corruption – even unknowingly. Again divisions at COSATU emanate from such issues. Despite COSATU having adopted such a strong line, increasingly some leaders of our unions have been tailing the Party’s ambivalent and inconsistent line or hostility to the Public Protector instead of hostility to looting of the state resources which is essentially an anti-working class project.
Part II: Understanding the political roots of the differences, and reaching agreement on how to manage these differences
1. Historical role of the SACP in building worker unity
Many workers will be astonished, and also perplexed, at how a party calling itself Communist and with a long history of revolutionary struggle, could have ended up supporting right-wing, pro-capitalist economic policies and becoming the main defenders of a democratic yet basically capitalist government, while waging a campaign to emasculate, weaken and ultimately destroy the independent mass workers’ union movement, COSATU.
The best answer to this question is to be found in a famous pamphlet by one of the Party’s own icons, Comrade Joe Slovo: “Has socialism failed?” written in 1989. It looked at problems facing the SACP at that time, put them in their historical context and warned then, 25 years ago, of potential dangers which could destroy the Party.
Like most Communist Parties, the CPSA, as it was known then, had its origins in the victorious 1917 October revolution, led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), whose leaders learned from earlier failed workers’ uprisings, that a workers’ revolution would not succeed spontaneously, but needs the organised force of a revolutionary vanguard workers’ party to guide the movement forward with programmes, strategies and tactics which, on the basis of its accumulated experience and ideological clarity and understanding, would maximise victories and minimise defeats.
The Russian revolution led to the overthrow of both feudalism and capitalism and led to the transformation within one generation of a backward feudal monarchy into an industrialised world super-power. Similar economic gains were achieved in other countries where Communist Parties came to power after 1945. The CPSU thus soon became the inspiration and model for communist parties all over the world, like the SACP.
Tragically however, nearly all these parties ultimately failed, and were defeated in uprisings by the very masses they claimed to speak for. As Comrade Slovo rightly observed, “These were popular revolts against unpopular regimes; if socialists are unable to come to terms with this reality, the future of socialism is indeed bleak.”
The key reason was the total lack of democracy within both these parties and the states they ruled. “In the course of time,” said Comrade Slovo, “the party leadership was transformed into a command post with an overbearing centralism and very little democracy, even in relation to its own membership... Unfortunately, practices justified by the exigencies of the earlier phases became a permanent feature of the new society. As time went on the gap between socialism and democracy widened; the nature and role of the social institutions (such as the soviets, the party and mass organisations) which had previously given substance to popular power and socialist democracy, were steadily eroded.”
The trade unions were among the victims of this development. “Democracy in the mass organisations,” wrote Comrade Slovo, “was also more formal than real... At the end of the day these organisations were turned into transmission belts for decisions taken elsewhere and the individual members were little more than cogs of the vast bureaucratic machine. The trade union movement became an adjunct of the state and party. Workers had no meaningful role in determining the composition of the top leadership which was, in substance, answerable to the party apparatus.
“For all practical purposes the right to strike did not exist. The extremely thin dividing line between management and the trade union collective on the factory floor detracted from the real autonomy of trade unions. Apart from certain welfare functions, they tended, more and more, to act like Western-style production councils, but without the advantage of having to answer for their role to an independent trade union under the democratic control of its membership.”
As Comrade Slovo said, “The commandist and bureaucratic approaches which took root during Stalin`s time affected communist parties throughout the world, including our own. We cannot disclaim our share of the responsibility for the spread of the personality cult and a mechanical embrace of Soviet domestic and foreign policies, some of which discredited the cause of socialism. We kept silent for too long after the 1956 Khrushchev revelations.”
The fear of any democratic opposition from within each country spread to other parts of the world. In Spain in the mid-1930s the Communist Party uncritically supported the Republican government, which, although a left-wing coalition, was still essentially a capitalist government, and it declared war on workers who were then struggling for a socialist Spain. The anarchists, Trotskyists and independent workers, not the capitalists and fascists, became the CP’s main enemy.
They were attacked with exactly the same sort of insults and absurd conspiracy theories we hear today in South Africa, in which NUMSA and COSATU leaders, NGOs and progressive civil society groups are charged with ‘anti-majoritarianism’ and conspiring with international counter-revolutionaries to destabilise ‘our’ ANC government.
While the Spanish CP were fighting, dividing and weakening the democratic workers’ forces, the real enemy, General Franco, was able to exploit these divisions to drown the workers’ revolution in blood and impose a 40-year fascist dictatorship.
The fundamental flaw in all these communist parties, which Joe Slovo understood so well, was their failure to understand that democracy within workers’ parties and states is not a luxury or a side-issue, but their life-blood, without which they will wither and die, or be overthrown, as indeed they were.
That is why Comrade Slovo saw the need to write “Has socialism failed?” at the time he did. He saw where the SACP was coming from and was warning it that if it did not change, renounce the old methods, stop being intolerant of workers’ or civil society movements which it did not control, it would end up with the same loss of popular support as the other CPs, with the same negative impact on the workers’ struggle for socialism.
There was already evidence of this danger in their attitude to the emerging unions in the early 1970s, when fierce political debates emerged in the years preceding the formation of COSATU. Distinctly different political cultures and organisational approaches characterised some of the independent unions which emerged in the 1970s and 80s. Some saw themselves as deeply involved in political and community struggles, and often took the form of general unions, such as SAAWU, GAWU, and others.
Another strand of unionism was more industrially based, and stressed a workplace focus and the issue of worker control - the so called ‘workerist’ strand concentrated in the FOSATU unions.
These two broad strands, despite their different strategic perspectives, were fused into COSATU, and there was mutual influencing by these different traditions, which ultimately merged into a form of unionism which represented a combination of the best of both cultures. Nevertheless the Federation continued to contain different political strands in a non-antagonistic manner.
The SACP underground played a significant role in helping to navigate this difficult terrain which led up to the formation of COSATU, by stressing the importance of workers’ unity. The Party was not however neutral in relation to these ideological traditions, and promoted a particular perspective.
The SACP maintained a residual mistrust of ‘workerists’, and ‘the ultra-left’, and articulated their critique of these tendencies, sometimes quite sharply. But they never acted with outright hostility, in the way that the Party has in the current divisions.
Unfortunately the historical role of the Party - to build unity in unions - is now being reversed in many workers’ minds, who perceive the Party to be implicated in splits, and revenging unions on behalf of government.
Comrade Slovo conceded back in 1989 that there were still “some isolated reversions to the past, including attempts to engage in intrigue and of views which do not completely accord with ours.”
He pointed out they were contrary to the Party’s own draft Workers’ Charter, which said that: “Trade unions and their federation shall be completely independent and answerable only to the decisions of their members or affiliates, democratically arrived at. No political party, state organ or enterprise, whether public, private or mixed, shall directly or indirectly interfere with such independence.”
Today’s SACP leaders and members should ponder these words, which have become so relevant once again, as we see their leaders doing exactly what Comrade Joe Slovo urged them to reject - “factional activity”, “sectarian attitudes” and “sloganised dismissals” of workers’ organisations, which open up the danger of a disastrous split.
2. Disagreements over the State of the NDR
Central to the emergence of tensions in the Alliance, and ultimately conflict in COSATU, has been a disagreement between those who believe that the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is on track, and those who believe the NDR has been sidetracked.
COSATU Congress Resolutions, reports and discussion documents have consistently argued since 1996 that the NDR need to be put back on track and various interventions have been proposed to put it back on track.
The ANC has throughout this period argued that the NDR is on course, although the post-Polokwane ANC acknowledged that the NDR had veered off track prior to this period. The SACP in essence agreed with COSATU before 2009 that the NDR needed to be put back on track, although it may not have couched it in these terms. However since 2009 the SACP has been categorical that the NDR is on course.
COSATU’s analysis of the realities facing the working class, and departure from the historical positions of the movement (including some of the issues dealt with above), have been well documented in numerous reports to Congress, as well as the latest draft report to the (cancelled) 2014 Central Committee.
COSATU’s critique of the direction of the revolution has been sharp, and often uncompromising. But we have always attempted to identify where the NDR is going wrong, and proposed alternative policies and processes to put the revolution back on course, within the framework of the Alliance. The Federation’s proposals for the Alliance political centre, the establishment of an Alliance programme, or Pact, and more recently the Lula Moment, have all been aimed at achieving this objective.
This has generated an ongoing debate in the Alliance, and led to a failed attempt by the right wing in the ANC to force COSATU and the SACP out of the Alliance in 2001/2. The debate continued after this dark period, and the Party supported COSATU’s proposals by calling for the reconfiguration of the Alliance.
The SACP however changed its tune after the Polokwane Moment, and the elections of a new administration in 2009, in essence arguing that this demand was no longer feasible now that it moved altogether into the belly of a democratic but still capitalist state. In my view the Party has exaggerated the Polokwane Moment as representing an end of struggle.
After 2009 COSATU’s critique of the direction of the NDR continued, for example in the 2010 CEC Discussion Paper, ‘The Alliance at a Crossroads - the battle against a Predatory Elite and Political Paralysis’, to be openly advanced in the Alliance. This led to a massive backlash, initially by the ANC, and then by the Party, which began to make all manner of allegations around these criticisms, suggesting that COSATU has some sort of ‘hidden agenda’.
At COSATU’s 2011 Central Committee, it became clear that the Party and ANC intended to intervene in the federation’s debates; they participated in CC commissions and focused all their attention on arguing that - contrary to the federation’s perspective - the NDR was on track. No agreement was possible in the CC commission on the NDR and eventually it took the CEC to develop a nuanced COSATU position on the NDR and COSATU’s political posture.
Nevertheless COSATU continued at the 2012 Congress to make fundamental criticisms of the direction of the revolution. This led to unprecedented interventions by the SACP and the ANC, who openly tried to intervene to change the Federation’s strategic direction. This was rejected by delegates, who in their resolutions maintained the militant and independent stance of the organisation.
After the 2012 Congress, despite this position being defeated, the critique by the SACP and ANC of the Federation’s posture was then carried into COSATU, most ardently by members of the SACP Central Committee, who were also members of the COSATU CEC. Central to their argument was that there had been a ‘strategic rupture’ in the Federation, and that COSATU had become oppositionist to the democratic government, and aligned with forces hostile to the revolution.
Those in the COSATU CEC who rejected this allegation argued in turn that those articulating this perspective wanted to turn COSATU into a tame lap-dog federation, or a labour desk of the ANC. These positions have now cemented into two clear camps or factions within the CEC. Unfortunately the Party, despite all denials, has played an open role in these divisions, and has advocated the view of one camp. Today all SACP views and statements on the crisis at COSATU reflect the views of the same faction.
I maintain the view that the Resolutions of COSATU’s 11th National Congress were correct in identifying the challenges facing the working class and the revolution at this juncture.
Allegations of ‘hidden agendas’ etc. only divert attention from the fact that if these challenges are not addressed, there is the real possibility that the NDR project may totally implode and that the potential for advancing a radical second phase, or placing the NDR on a new footing, may be destroyed. This is the challenge facing the working class.
3. What is the Party’s critique of COSATU?
It is difficult to understand what exactly is the SACP’s critique of COSATU and the strategic posture taken by its 11th National Congress. The critique often consists in inferences and innuendos about the agenda of COSATU, and particularly its General Secretary, but an article by the SACP DGS in Umsebenzi Online of 27 November 2014, in response to my speech on 21 November 2014, suggests the following elements of a critique:
- COSATU had positioned itself as a syndicalist federation - as the ‘only authentic opposition to capitalism’;
- COSATU therefore denies the role of the Party;
- COSATU has been rejectionist, oppositionist, and written off all government policy as neo-liberal;
- By implication, we want to create COSATU as a political party, similar to the traditional approach of the ultra-left.
“COSATU has positioned itself as a syndicalist federation”
Cde Cronin’s Umsebenzi article can only argue that we “run the danger of becoming syndicalist”, because we have argued that COSATU, in fighting certain battles, has stood alone in the Alliance:
“The picture portrayed in Cde Vavi`s argument in summarising the past 15 years or so is a picture of THEM vs. COSATU alone, of the NEO-LIBERALS vs. the FEDERATION… The drift of Cde Vavi`s argument here runs the danger of becoming syndicalist (in the strict meaning of that term) - i.e. the only authentic opposition to capitalism is in an ideologically pure trade union movement.”
But this takes a factual historical analysis of contestation over policies, and attempts to draw a general conclusion that COSATU has never advanced - that no other organisation outside of the trade unions can constitute an ‘authentic opposition to capitalism’. There is no basis for this conclusion, either in the federation’s practice, strategic documents or resolutions, which have consistently argued that the movement for socialism must be driven through a joint effort from the Party, COSATU and other socialist formations.
“COSATU denies the role of the Party”
Contrary to Cde Cronin and others, COSATU has at no point denied the role of the Party. On the contrary many of our resolutions are about wanting the Party to play its proper role. But where we perceive the Party to be abdicating its historic Marxist/Leninist role, it is only correct that we raise our concerns openly and frankly. This is what we have always done.
“We are rejectionist, oppositionist and write off all government policy as neo-liberal”
The practice and policy of COSATU has been to engage on all terrains of struggle, to try and influence government policy, actively support and promote progressive advances, but to strongly critique and oppose anti-worker policies. Our track record in this regard is well known. So it is totally incorrect to label us as rejectionist and oppositional in approach.
However, it is a fair point to say that sometimes we may speak too loosely of ‘neoliberal economic policies’, without sufficiently qualifying which policies we are referring to, and indicating that there are significant elements of economic policy which fall outside this definition.
Two points are important here:
Firstly, as I indicated above, macro-economic policy is absolutely fundamental, and it is impossible for other areas of economic policy to succeed, no matter how progressive, with the wrong macro-economic policies in place.
Secondly, the passion with which neoliberal economic policies are (correctly) rejected reflects the frustration and anger at the impact these policies have had on our people. This sometimes results in statements being made which are insufficiently nuanced.
I however reject the idea that ‘nuance’ means being soft on unacceptable neoliberal policies, or overstating the progressive potential of other aspects of policy. It is precisely this lack of balance, and exaggeration of the gains, which have been made, which we have critiqued in the Party’s approach. ‘Going to the Root’ is a perfect case in point.
Moreover I am not apologising for rejecting and opposing the current macroeconomic policy framework, which has undermined the effective implementation of IPAP and progressive elements of the NDP. COSATU is opposed to the NDP, in particular its pro-business economic and labour market sections and our Congress demanded that the whole document should be aligned to the concept of the second phase of radical economic transformation. We have opposed not just rhetorically but have organised practical campaigns against a host of other neoliberal policies. If this make us to deserve a rejectionist and oppositionist label then we quite happy with it.
Having said that I must argue that we have not once opposed to any progressive policies - not even mistakenly.
“We want to create COSATU as a political party, similar to the traditional ultra-left approach”
COSATU, probably more than any other formation, has put a massive amount of energy in trying to get the Alliance to work, from its 2015 Programme of swelling the ranks, to proposals for restructuring of the Alliance, attempts to advance a national Alliance agreement and efforts to renew and revitalise the ANC and the SACP as dynamic organs of the working class in the case of the Party or working-class-biased and left-leaning in the case of the ANC.
The repeated rejection of COSATU’s efforts has led to a degree of alienation and despondency, not just in the leadership but also amongst ordinary members. At some point, if all such efforts are fruitless, it is only natural that workers begin to ask some hard questions about the functionality and value of the Alliance. This is precisely what has happened over the last ten years and more. The Party itself has in the past been very critical of an Alliance that can only run one campaign - elections.
But this is very different from saying that COSATU has an alternative political agenda to transform itself into a political party. Many of such conspiracy theories are the function of paranoia and insecurity, which in the recent past has led to the circulation of bogus intelligence reports accusing the COSATU General Secretary and others of being linked to Agang, or being behind all service delivery protests, engineering xenophobic vigilantism and regime change, not only in South Africa, to the suggestion that civil society initiatives were intended to be the embryo of a new political formation.
However, it is obvious that, even without COSATU playing any role in this regard, if workers no longer feel they have a political home in the Alliance, they will look elsewhere. As we have always said in the movement, politics and nature allow no vacuum. So it should not be a surprise that NUMSA and other left formations are beginning to take initiatives to occupy this space. But this is not the same as the federation driving, or endorsing, a project of this nature.
In fact, COSATU needs to prioritise its internal organisational cohesion over political engagement, inside or outside the Alliance. Since 2013 and the development of an organisational crisis, our preoccupation is with overcoming divisions and rebuilding a united trade union movement. So Cde Cronin’s critique of the COSATU General Secretary’s speech misses the point, by saying that it is purely focused on the role of unions – because that was precisely the intention; this must be COSATU’s strategic priority at this point.
4. Understanding the notion of ‘underlying factors in COSATU divisions’
The SACP, in Cde Cronin’s Umsebenzi article, and other interventions, has recently made much of the underlying factors in the restructuring of the working class, which they claim lay the basis for the current crisis in COSATU.
Cde Cronin argues that “Monopoly capital`s relentless offensive against the working class… has seen the rolling back and hollowing out of many important formal and institutional trade union gains after 1994. Extensive labour brokering, casualisation, mass retrenchments in a context of persisting crisis levels of unemployment - all have weakened the power of unionised workers in the class balance of forces…”
This had led to a “diversity of ideological tendencies and responses to the pain being inflicted upon the trade union movement and upon the working class in general -including a variety of syndicalist, vanguardist, personality cults, and other tendencies.”!
Together with deindustrialization, we are told, this has led to the changing composition of COSATU membership, with a decline of unionism in the private sector, and the growth of public sector unionism. This of course is not a recent revelation. Labour analysts, and the labour movement itself, have long since identified this changing reality.
In line with Marx’s dictum of course that ‘Philosophers have interpreted the world. The point however is to change it!’ the question arises: what needs to be done to address these unfolding dynamics in the organised working class, and to rise to the challenges they pose for worker unity, not to act in ways which foster divisions?
Unfortunately the SACP has been sending out mixed signals. On the one hand it is correct to talk about the impact of casualisation etc. on the working class and trade unions, as well as the declining role of manufacturing and the growing role of public sector. But this begs the question as to what organisational strategies are required to respond to these changing realities. It also of course poses the question as to what the role of the democratic state and our revolutionary alliance is in countering this offensive by capital.
Cde Cronin fudges the latter issues by saying that “weaknesses in government policy” have “contributed to these problems” but “that is different from making government centrally to blame”. The point surely, again, is What is to be done? to counter these problems.
The unfortunate impression has been created that, in the face of the political crisis in the Alliance, the SACP has exploited these structural fault lines in the working class, and the trade union movement, to try to drive a counter-agenda to what they see as an overly militant, and ‘oppositional’ COSATU.
Here we are particularly referring to the Party’s apparent attempt to develop a ‘more loyal’ cadre of leaders from amongst the public sector unions. This has been a major feature of the offensive in COSATU since 2012.
In the SACP General Secretary’s speech to a POPCRU Political School in August 2013, he called on the public sector unions to play a more ‘nuanced’ role, implying the need for a form of unionism, which is more pliable, and less hostile to government:
“It is time to elaborate the strategy and tactics of playing this role, without sacrificing the independence of public sector unions, whilst at the same time not adopting a posture as if the democratic government is an enemy government. It is in these fora that we must nuance our approach as the workplace is not homogenous. How do we for instance exploit the fact that we have a government whose ruling party we are in alliance with? In other words, public sector unions must take responsibility for the national democratic revolution within the context the above realities.”
This is a short step from calling on unions to be more ‘patriotic’, as we have seen in other aborted revolutions in Africa, and beginning to attack unions who are representing their members as ‘counter-revolutionary’.
The Party’s recognition of the changing realities of the working class, while correct at one level, is open to contradictory organisational and political interpretations. One is potentially divisive, and one recognises the need for revolutionary forces to act to counter these emerging dynamics.
It may be true to some extent that the public sector is becoming a conservatising force in the trade union movement, and that it faces different realities from private-sector workers who are under attack. It is true that public and private sector workers are facing different realities on wages, conditions of works, casualisation etc.
This should not be a cause for any form of smugness or complacency, and certainly should not lay the basis for divisive political tactics. We need to acknowledge the efforts and strategies used by private sectors unions such as SACCAWU, NUMSA, FAWU, CEPPWAWU, etc. to try to address these challenges, and to encourage and support them.
We need organisational strategies to counter the fact that many workers are now relying on help from advice centres. We need to intensify the work of COSATU’s vulnerable workers task team, which brings affiliates together to look at ways to build the power of the most vulnerable and exploited workers.
Under these conditions, it should not be surprising that private sector workers will be the most militant in taking forward COSATU Congress resolutions. Those who are more secure in their jobs and are being paid better wages, are likely to be less militant. This creates the need for more, not less, political work and consciousness building amongst public sector workers about the challenges facing the working class in this period.
We also need to acknowledge the danger that of regarding public sector workers as a necessarily conservatising force, or to adopt the crude analysis that all public sector workers are ‘middle class’. This is certainly not the case. It is also important to remember that we are now in a period of economic austerity, which is leading all over the world to attacks on public-sector workers. So conditions are changing. And public sector workers in these conditions, if we consider the experience of fraternal unions internationally, are often extremely militant.
Our role, as COSATU and the Party, is to show that the future of all workers lies together. Differences in income and conditions, while they need to be acknowledged and factored into our organisational strategy, do not remove workers’ common interests in relation to capital and the state - particularly those elements in the state most aggressively driving capital’s agenda.
We expect the SACP not to deepen those divisions, but acknowledge the reality, and based on that reality, develop strategies to build solidarity.
There is no evidence that the SACP, either politically or in the role it is playing in the state, is taking responsibility for driving measures to counter these new realities facing the most oppressed and exploited section of the working class.
The impression being created by the SACP’s political posture is that they want this same working class to adjust to the ‘good story to tell’. This will lead to a serious credibility crisis for the Party amongst workers; above all it will deepen divisions inside the trade union movement.
5. SACP’s Role in COSATU Divisions
From around the 2011 COSATU Central Committee, the Party increasingly began to be seen to be actively involved in internal COSATU political contestation, which was to develop into open factional politics from the 2012 COSATU Congress.
This political posture of the Party partly resulted from differences in strategic perspectives on the direction of our revolution, as outlined above. But it also appeared to be a backlash against the critique articulated by the COSATU CEC of absorption of the SACP leadership into government. This led to open season on those perceived to be ‘behind this criticism’, even though this was a CEC position. The genesis of this issue is outlined in the Secretariat report to the 2012 Congress.
The most problematic expression of the SACP’s factional behaviour in this period was the ‘white-anting’ of CEC decisions, with union leaders active in the Party subsequently repudiating COSATU CEC decisions, after the Party had taken a different view on a particular matter. This was sometimes followed by the respective unions then beginning to articulate a different view from that agreed in the CEC.
Examples of this include COSATU’s decisions to campaign against e-tolls, our campaign against the Protection of State Information Bill, concerns raised about the appointment of Chief Justice Mogoeng etc.
In the post-February 2013 divisions in COSATU, there were worrying indications that the SACP was involved in caucuses with those spearheading the campaign against the 2012 Congress decisions. This was publicly reported for example in the Mail & Guardian.
At the COSATU 2012 Congress there was an unprecedented attack by the SACP (together with the ANC) on the Secretariat report to Congress. The SACP went to the extent of proposing that the Secretariat report, which was essentially a CEC report to the 11th congress, be not adopted but referred to the Alliance for further consideration.
The SACP’s articulation of these critiques within and outside of COSATU have been characterised by:
- Excessive defensiveness of government;
- Labelling of legitimate critique as oppositionalism; and, even worse,
- Development of conspiracy theories around COSATU’s campaigns on issues such as corruption and coalitions with civil society organisations.
Even labels which were supposedly aimed at conservatives in society like ‘anti- majoritarian liberalism’ were used in an attempt to discredit COSATU or some of its targeted leaders on issues like corruption.
Emerging conspiracy theories then escalated into allegations of attempted regime change, counter-revolution etc. This approach creates a climate in which the articulation of differences is regarded as a declaration of war and generates distrust and suspicion amongst former comrades.
Before 2012 COSATU internal debates, although often robust, were largely devoid of this type of rhetoric. But after 2012, this rhetoric which had been articulated externally by SACP and ANC leaders, particularly from 2010-12, suddenly began to appear in COSATU in the most virulent form during the 2013-2014 period, in which we have increasingly seen attempts to impugn the personal integrity, and motives of COSATU leaders who the Party disagree with.
Divisive claims are being made that battles in COSATU can be explained by the emergence of ‘business unionism’. The ‘battle over resources’ then becomes a convenient explanation to divert attention from political differences.
It is shameful that the important vanguard and ideological role of Party has been used to label and demonise legitimate strands of political opinion in COSATU, which have always coexisted, by writing off leaders and organisation as workerists, syndicalists, vanguardists, personality cults, etc.
The Party has failed to understand that precisely because COSATU is a trade union formation, different political streams and ideological strands have always, and will always coexist, in a dialectical unity. This is something that Comrade Joe Slovo understood and articulated well in his writings on the NDR and the Working Class.
6. The SACP and NUMSA
NUMSA has always occupied a distinct space on the left of COSATU. Its political culture and history is nothing new, whether in relation to its approach to worker organisation, ideology, politics or relations with the Alliance. It has essentially articulated the same approach for decades, and has established a constructive relationship of coexistence with other political and ideological strands in COSATU.
Equally there are some more conservative unions within COSATU, who have reserved their right to differ with the COSATU mainstream on certain issues, e.g. SASBO’s refusal to align itself with a political party.
At the same time, many leaders of NUMSA, including those articulating their current critique in the Alliance, have also been cadres and activists of the party for many years. This includes the NUMSA GS and DGS.
Equally it`s worth nothing that NUMSA played a critical role in 2009 in defence of Polokwane moment that it believed heralded a decent work agenda. NUMSA played a critical role to defend the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan in 2011 as the biggest industrial union in the area.
The question we must ask is: why, in its Special National Congress, did NUMSA move from being the defender of the ANC to its biggest critic? We refuse to accept the reasons advanced by some SACP and ANC leaders that the change of heart was occasioned by the failure of the NUMSA leaders’ to lobby for the General Secretary of COSATU to be the Deputy President of the ANC.
The intensity of NUMSA’s critique, particularly since 2013, and the NUMSA Special National Congress resolutions of December 2013, reflect the crisis in COSATU, in the Alliance and in the working class as a whole.
This is what the Party should have been responding to, not their irritation with NUMSA positions which they may regard as extreme. Rather they should be responding to the extremity of the moment, in which the working class finds itself in a deepening crisis.
Secondly we need to ask, why is the SACP so threatened by NUMSA’s critique of ‘neoliberalism’ in South Africa?
It may be that NUMSA’s critique has sometimes been overly crude in not recognising areas of progress, contradiction and contestation in the state. But equally the SACP has been in denial about the reality that neoliberalism is a significant feature of strategic aspects of government economic policy, and that this needs to be contested. If the economic proposals of the NDP are clearly neoliberal, what else should we call them?
COSATU has always acknowledged areas of progress, but has maintained a steadfast critique of areas of policy which clearly advance an anti-working class agenda. While the SACP is correct that we need to claim and contest areas of progressive advance, NUMSA is also correct that we need to acknowledge and confront the underlying economic logic of critical areas of policy.
Thirdly, why has the Party decided to adopt a scorched earth policy in relation to NUMSA?
The Party has become well known for its very cautious - many would say too cautious and hyper-diplomatic - approach in managing its differences with the ANC, even in the face of attacks from the movement. So it is very experienced in this regard.
However it has chosen to adopt the opposite standpoint in handling its differences with NUMSA. The Party seems to have decided on a course of total confrontation, engaging in running battles with NUMSA, hyping up the war talk, and pushing for the purging of NUMSA from the movement.
The decision to adopt this posture, rather than trying to calm things down, has suggested that the Party has almost wanted to provoke NUMSA into becoming more extreme, in order to advance an agenda of purifying COSATU of problematic elements.
This confrontational posture has been reflected in the extreme language continuously used by the Party, such as referring to the elected leadership of NUMSA as the ‘NUMSA leadership clique’, and ‘business unionists’. Frequent references are made to the allegation that NUMSA has declared ‘civil war’ in COSATU. This war analogy was extended by the General Secretary when he referred to NUMSA as a ‘rotting corpse’.
Demonising NUMSA and its leadership in this way will make it very difficult to pull back from the brink. A climate is being created where it is acceptable to see NUMSA as enemies. Revolutionaries have always said that the worst crime we can commit is to consciously set workers against each other, reckless of the consequences. This is absolutely alien to the traditions of the movement.
Even if NUMSA has made some tactical, and some would argue even strategic errors, this doesn’t justify treating them, and effectively 350 000 metal workers as the enemy.
Party statements thinly disguise the fact that it was celebrating the expulsion of NUMSA. This creates the clear impression amongst workers that the Party was indeed behind this, despite its denials.
The SACP can’t say that we want worker controlled unions and a democratic federation, but we also want to purge particular unions we disagree with, or change the democratically determined mandate of their federation.
Promoting the firing or expulsion of a union because we reject decisions of a Special National Congress, which is the product of the most democratic process available to unions, is neither politically mature, nor one which unifies workers. If we disagree with the approach NUMSA has taken, we need to engage with them. The Federation has incorporated these differences historically and needs to continue to do so.
The line that ‘we love metalworkers and want them in the federation’, but not their leaders or their union, is both divisive and delusional. It reinforces the view that the Party is actively supporting the formation of a new, more compliant metal workers union.
Thabo Mbeki tried the same thing at the height of the ANC’s attack on the left in the Alliance. He threatened to go directly to workers, and claimed he didn’t need the leadership of federation. This is the most divisive approach imaginable, and it is tragedy to see the Party adopt such tactics.
It is significant that the ANC has taken a completely different line on the expulsion of NUMSA, and argued that it is a disaster for the federation and must be reversed. The ANC DGS, Jessie Duarte, in opposing NUMSA’s expulsion, even goes so far as to argue that even if NUMSA pursues its strategy of the United Front, it should remain in COSATU:
“Perhaps the question we should, today, confront is whether or not NUMSA - notwithstanding COSATU’ constitutional principle of one industry one union - could remain in COSATU and pursue its outlook. We believe that it could, even if it continued to pursue its intended goal of a United Front. Like those unionists who are members of COSATU and are also members of other political parties, those in NUMSA who would choose to be in such an entity should do so freely.
“Since the inception of COSATU, individual affiliates - without falling foul of the constitutional prescripts of the federation, have throughout history expressed views or taken positions resonant to their members and constituencies. Instead of them being ousted, progressive unionists - which we believe COSATU is home to - sought to engage their views and point to a different understanding.
“Of fundamental importance in these engagements was that the unity of the working people would transcend narrow sectarian and myopic ideological rhetoric. Necessarily, a union should only walk out on or be expunged from the unity of all working people when everyone - including itself, were of the view that the total unity of the working class is antagonistically contradictory to unionism.”
This mature and unity-building approach by the DGS of what is supposed to be a nationalist formation, the - ANC is diametrically opposed to the cutthroat line being advanced by the vanguard of the working class. Why is this the case?
The SACP needs to accept that there are legitimate political differences within the trade union movement, and have trust in class conscious workers that they will be able to detect what is in their interests. The Party must have the confidence and maturity to engage in this contestation, in a non-factional and unifying way.
I appeal to those who appreciate that mistakes have been made on to the matters we have raised above, and to all Party cadres, to understand that we have probably reached a turning point for the Party, and the future of working-class politics.
An intense class battle is playing itself out. There is a realignment of class forces in society and the movement, leading to new political dynamics and class divisions. New friendships are being made, and old relationships are collapsing, leading to rising tensions.
The Party is in denial about its role in the divisions, and its failure to adequately respond to the changing political and social realities. It is increasingly perceived by workers to be adopting a conservative posture, with its primary role now becoming that of defending government. This tends to confirm suspicions, fairly or unfairly, that leaders are just acting out of personal material interests and/or career ambitions.
The left in and outside the Alliance is not seeing the Party taking up workers’ struggles. This leads to the conclusion that ‘the SACP is selling us out’. The SACP response should not be to refuse to engage with criticisms.
No one must agitate for divisions: There has been a serious miscalculation that isolating and expelling NUMSA would lead to the neutralisation of a militant and independent tendency that the Party didn’t like; or that the rest of the Federation would cohere around a ‘more acceptable’ agenda.
This underestimates the anger among workers, including members of affiliates who supported the decision to expel NUMSA, and the extent to which other unions in COSATU shared NUMSA’s concerns, even if they come from different political traditions.
The ANC, while not blameless in this whole saga, seems to have a better appreciation of the imperatives of working class unity than the SACP - as seen in the Jessie Duarte article and aspects of the ANC task team report and statements
It is not too late for the Party to change direction, and recapture its historical role, so that together we can transform our skewed internal development and place society onto a new growth and developmental path.
Moreover, and most importantly, every time the Party waver on issues of principles, fudges issues and sends mixed signals in the face of the relentless capital attack on the working class, it must know it is not just weakening the working class or failing to play a proper its vanguard role, but it also dividing the working class.
Extract from ‘Going to the Root’, SACP Discussion Paper, October 2014
Because of their systemic inter-linkages, addressing the “internal” CST (Colonialism of a Special Type) legacy is, of course, closely linked to the struggle for national sovereignty, and many of the same programmatic priorities are required.
It is important to underline that the policy fundamentals for these programmatic priorities to place our society onto a new growth and development path are already basically in place, and they include:
The New Growth Path whose core focus is to place our productive economy onto an employment creating trajectory. The NGP identifies 13 jobs and growth drivers: Infrastructure build; mining and beneficiation; manufacturing; tourism; greening the economy; rural development; the Industrial Policy Action Plan; agriculture and agro-processing; the knowledge economy; the social economy; the public sector; education and training; and African regional development.
The Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) is a key pillar the NGP. This is a re-iterative state-led action plan continuously updated and focused on Re-industrialisation. Beneficiation of our mineral resources is a key pillar of IPAP, building on the platform of what remains SA’s relative competitive advantage. Agro-processing, localisation and state procurement policies are other key points of leverage for driving local manufacturing jobs.
The National Infrastructure Plan was co-ordinated through the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) through 18 over-arching Strategic Integrated Plans (SIPs). Amongst other things the NIP seeks to support the re-industrialisation programme by:
- Facilitating beneficiation and breaking with the excessive pit-to-port, export configuration of our logistics system by ensuring better logistical connectivity to local upstream and downstream manufacturing;
- Further supporting the re-industrialisation programme by ensuring that key manufactured inputs for infrastructure are locally manufactured; and
The NIP is also focused upon using the infrastructure build programme to radically transform the core-periphery pattern of development / under-development hard-wired into the “internal” dimension of CST. This latter critically involves transformative urban development (new human settlement patterns, public transport, etc.); and the transformation of under-development in rural areas.
Other important strategic interventions to place our economy on to a new growth and development path include:
- The ANC’s State Intervention in the Mining Sector (SIMS) policy;
- interventions to break the collusive conduct and market power of private monopoly capital – through a range of regulatory and other interventions, using the Competition Commission and related institutions;
- Transforming the financial sector – DFIs, industrial investment, prescribed assets, trade union investment funds and greater working class strategic control over retirement funds.
- Development of SMMEs and co-ops around the industrialisation process
- Transforming the education and training system to align with and support our developmental and productive economy objectives
- Changing our energy mix – greater self-reliance, greater sustainability
- Linking BBBEE more effectively to our developmental and productive economy objectives – with an emphasis on fostering a productive entrepreneurship, including a new cadre of black industrialists.
As can be seen from the broad outline of key strategic interventions required to advance a decisive transition to a new growth and development path, the second radical phase of the NDR is not something we are just talking about. Many of its key elements are already under implementation.
What is required is a more decisive and more coherent effort.
There also needs to be a better aligned macro-economic policy package that supports all of the above programmatic priorities.
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Streets
Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Fax: +27 11 339-6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456