10 September 2014

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

The Classics, Beginnings, Part 2a

The Communist Manifesto is constantly re-published

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

The Communist Manifesto is a classic by any standards. It is never out of print and is stocked in ordinary bookshops all over the world, selling steadily year after year.

The work was started in mid-1847 in England by Frederick Engels and Karl Marx when Marx was 29 and Engels was 27. The work was published in January or February of 1848, just in time for the outbreak of revolutions all over Europe.

All of the Communist Manifesto is memorable, but especially the first two parts (“Bourgeois and Proletarians”, and “Proletarians and Communists”), attached. The third part is called “Socialist and Communist Literature” and the fourth part, of one page, is called “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties”. A fifth part that was drafted, but not included, is the catechism- or FAQ-style document called “The Principles of Communism” drafted by Frederick Engels.

Bourgeois and Proletarians

The new masters, the formerly slave-owning but now capitalist bourgeoisie, also known as burghers or burgesses, were a class that had grown up in the towns under the rule of rural-based feudalism. Marx and Engels were convinced that the bourgeoisie were themselves sooner or later going to be overthrown by the working proletariat. This was the class of free citizens (i.e. not slaves) owning nothing but their Labour-Power, that the bourgeoisie had brought into existence by employing them. The bourgeoisie were taking over from the feudal lords by revolution. They would themselves be toppled by revolution – proletarian revolution – said Marx and Engels.

Commissioned to write the Manifesto by the Communist League, Marx and Engels struggled to meet the agreed deadline, but came through with a magnificent text published just prior to the February, 1848 events in Paris. These events brought the proletariat as actors on to the stage of history to an extent that had never been seen before, thoroughly vindicating Engels and Marx.

Short as it is, the Manifesto is so rich and so compressed as to be saturated with meaning. It is practically impossible to summarise. Here are some of the most extraordinary sentences of the first section of the Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

Proletarians and Communists

The second part of the Communist Manifesto contains statements about the Communist Party, about the family, about religion, and frank statements about the bourgeoisie.

The second part shows, among other things, the centrality of the relations of production that create and sustain the effect known as capital, which then in turn defines everything else in bourgeois society.

“Proletarians and Communists” also looks forward to the way that society can be changed, and thus serves to remind us that Marx’s work is always intentional, and is never merely empirical, descriptive or disinterested.

“The average price of wage labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer,” wrote Marx and Engels.  

“But does wage labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation.”

They finish the section with this unforgettable, classic vision:

“…a vast association of the whole nation… in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
·        The above is to introduce the original reading-texts: Bourgeois and Proletarians, and Proletarians and Communists, Communist Manifesto, Marx/Engels, 1848.

9 September 2014

The Poverty of Philosophy

The Classics, Part 2

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his daughters, by Gustave Courbet, 1865

The Poverty of Philosophy

In Chapter 2 of his 1917 between-two-revolutions work “The State and Revolution”, V I Lenin notes that:

The first works of mature Marxism — The Poverty of Philosophy and the Communist Manifesto — appeared just on the eve of the revolution of 1848.”

Among other things, “The State and Revolution” was Lenin’s course on The Classics, moving through the works of Marx and Engels and revealing the spine or theme of an entire body of work - the Marxist “canon”.

We have already looked at this question. The German Ideology and the Theses on Feuerbach, written between 1845 and 1847, were not published in full until 1932, long after Lenin’s death in 1924. These works should also be recognised as the “first works of mature Marxism”.

So we can see a reasonably clear-cut beginning to the “canon” of Marxism, in terms of time and of specific works: the “Theses on Feuerbach”, written in Brussels in early 1845, followed by “The German Ideology”, and then by “The Poverty of Philosophy”, and then by the “Communist Manifesto” in the beginning of 1848. But what is the nature of this beginning, as revealed in these works?

One part of the answer to this question is polemic. This is a kind of argument that proceeds from criticism of an opponent’s ideas expressed in text, which is then carefully examined and dissected.

These works are polemical. “The German Ideology” was a polemic against Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner, the latter being an anarchist who had previously published a book called “The Ego and Its Own”. Another anarchist opponent of Marx and Engels in the early 1840s was Wilhelm Weitling, who wrote a book called “Gospel of Poor Sinners”, published in 1847.

The Poverty of Philosophy, started in January 1847 and published the same year, was a polemic against a third anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had written a book called “The Philosophy of Poverty”.

In case we should get too particular about the term “anarchism”, it can help to recall what Lenin wrote in Chapter 3 of The State and Revolution, namely that “anarcho-syndicalism… is merely the twin brother of opportunism.” The imprecision of anarchism is one of its faults. Its distinction from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois liberalism is not clear. Marx’s polemic is directed against these faults, and others.

We may as well use this opportunity to remind ourselves that there was no innocent Garden of Eden for Marxism before it was assailed by anarchists, “ultra-lefts”, revisionists, reformists and all sorts of deviationists, escamoteurs and demagogues. In fact, there was not even as much as one minute of peace for Marxism before it had to contend with all of these kinds of opponents. On the contrary, Marxism was actually conceived within this very same argument. The argument with the anarchists was itself the creative act. There was no Marxism prior to its polemical fights with anarchism, and Marxism is fated to contend with these same foes in their many variations until the day that class struggle finally ends, and the communist parties disband themselves.

The selected text from The Poverty of Philosophy, downloadable via the link given below, is a compilation of Part 3 of Chapter 2, together with the last pages of the book.

It is not necessary for our present purposes to follow every twist and turn of Marx’s argument in Part 3 of The Poverty of Philosophy. Most of it is in any case lucid and clear, although it is sometimes not easy to tell which is Marx’s own voice, and which is Marx speaking satirically, in Proudhon’s voice.

Highlights include the following passage, where Marx anticipates both “Capital”, Volume 3, and also the current banking crisis and the US home-loan bubble:

“Competition is not industrial emulation, it is commercial emulation. In our time industrial emulation exists only in view of commerce. There are even phases in the economic life of modern nations when everybody is seized with a sort of craze for making profit without producing. This speculation craze, which recurs periodically, lays bare the true character of competition, which seeks to escape the need for industrial emulation.”

In the final part, Marx begins by advocating “combination”, which is the creation of mass democratic organisations, especially trade unions. He finds the “twin brothers” - the reformist bourgeois economists, and the utopian socialists - both arguing against combination; yet he notes that the more advanced the countries become, the greater is the degree of combination. Association then takes on a political character, says Marx.

In the final page Marx writes:

“An oppressed class is the vital condition for every society founded on the antagonism of classes. The emancipation of the oppressed class thus implies necessarily the creation of a new society… The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class…there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society... …the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle which carried to its highest expression is a total revolution.”

This is classic Marxism.

·        The image is a reproduction of a painting of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon made in 1865 by the Realist painter and revolutionary Gustave Courbet . In 1871 Courbet was placed in charge of all art museums by the Paris Commune. After the fall of the Commune, Courbet was punished and exiled to Switzerland, where he died.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx, 1847, excerpts.

5 September 2014

Engels and the Labour Movements

The Classics, Beginnings, Part 1b

Frederick Engels, 1841

Engels and the Labour Movements

The Marxists Internet Library’s Encyclopedia’s entry on Rheinische Zeitung starts thus:

“The Rheinische Zeitung für Politik, Handel und Gewerbe was founded on January 1 1842. It was, generally, a pro-democracy reformist publication of the Rhine's bourgeois opposition to Prussian absolutism. [Dr] Karl Marx wrote his first news article for it on May 5 1842 [his 24th birthday]. By October 1842, he was named editor.

“On November 16 1842, en route to England, Engels paid a visit to the Rheinische Zeitung offices – where he first met the new editor. Engels' time in England would result in a series of articles for the RZ – and those would, in turn, lead to his famous book, The Condition of the Working Class in England.”

The Rheinische Zeitung was Karl Marx’s first, and probably his only ever regular employer, but the record shows that Frederick Engels had an article published in the Rheinische Zeitung even before Marx arrived there. Therefore they must have known each others’ writing even before they met in 1842.

The two teamed up for good in Paris, in August 1844, by which time Marx was already in exile from his native Germany. The question in this first part of our “Classics” course remains: When did these two become “Marxists”? And the answer is that the crucial transition took place through their joint writing of “The German Ideology”, from 1845 onwards.

A related question could be: What did each of them separately bring to “Marxism”? The text today can serve to show that Frederick Engels brought with him a strong sense of the historical destiny of the working class. It is the chapter on “Labour Movements” from Engels’ “The Condition of the Working Class in England” (download linked below).

It seems that by 1844 when they re-met in Paris, these two young men, Engels at 24 and Marx at 26 years old, had both already formed the unusual opinion that the working class was destined to be the gravedigger of the capitalist bourgeoisie.

For all of the historical materialism, and the later discovery of the Marx’s theory of surplus value, yet without a candidate for the role of free-willing revolutionary agent and Subject of History there was never going to be a communist movement. Marx and Engels agreed that the communist revolutionary Subject was bound to be the working proletariat, and they never subsequently wavered from that view.

Engels’ research into the working class in (at the time) its most advanced condition in the world was quite crucial for both of their ability to take the partisan view in favour of the working class that they did take. It gave them the empirical, abstract factual knowledge that allowed them to concretise their revolutionary project with confidence. Hence this book of Engels’, his first, is certainly a classic. As he put it in our downloadable chapter:

“These strikes… are the strongest proof that the decisive battle between bourgeoisie and proletariat is approaching. They are the military school of the working-men in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle which cannot be avoided…”

It is a classic in at least two other ways. It is a classic example of the well-organised marshalling and synthesis of library research, interview research and personal observation. It is also a classic of urban social theory or urbanism, of which it is the pioneering text.

Image: Frederick Engels in his military year, 1841.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Condition of the Working Class in England, Labour Movements, 1845, Engels.

4 September 2014

The German Ideology

The Classics, Beginnings, Part 1a

Statue of Marx and Engels in Marx-Engels-Forum, Berlin, Germany

The German Ideology

From August 1844, when they re-met in Paris, France, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels began a lifelong collaboration. They at once began to write together the book that was published the following year as “The Holy Family” - a polemic against the “Young Hegelians”, otherwise called “The Free”, a group of German political intellectuals (“Saint Bruno” Bauer, “Saint Max” Stirner, and others).

But it was in their second major joint work that the two managed to firmly lay down the basics of what we know as Marxism, in the book called “The German Ideology”, again critiquing the Young Hegelians, and now also Ludwig Feuerbach. This manuscript was written between 1845 and 1847 but it was never published, or even prepared for publication, during the lifetimes of the two authors, Marx and Engels.

The “Theses on Feuerbach” that we studied as our previous item are said to be notes of Marx’s in preparation for “The German Ideology”, according to the Preface to this work in Progress Publishers’ Collected Works of Marx, which also says of “The German Ideology” and its associated writings:

“They were all written between the spring of 1845 and the spring of 1847, during Marx’s stay in Brussels, where he moved in February 1845 following his deportation from France by the Guizot government. Engels came to Brussels from Barmen in April 1845 and remained till August 1846. This was the period when Marxism was finally evolved as the scientific world outlook of the revolutionary proletariat. Marx and Engels had arrived at the decisive stage in working out the philosophical principles of scientific communism.”

For those who seek the precise origin of “Marxism” this is the Holy Grail. Progress Publishers go on:

“It was in The German Ideology that the materialist conception of history, historical materialism, was first formulated as an integral theory. Engels said later that this theory, which uncovered the genuine laws of social development and revolutionised the science of society, embodied the first of Marx’s great discoveries (the second being the theory of surplus value) which played the main role in transforming socialism from a utopia into a science.”

What is this thing called “historical materialism”? Here are two paragraphs from the attached chapter of The German Ideology that is also downloadable via the link below.

"This conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real process of production, starting out from the material production of life itself, and to comprehend the form of intercourse connected with this and created by this mode of production (i.e. civil society in its various stages), as the basis of all history; describing it in its action as the state, and to explain all the different theoretical products and forms of consciousness, religion, philosophy, ethics, etc. etc. arise from it, and trace their origins and growth from that basis. Thus the whole thing can, of course, be depicted in its totality (and therefore, too, the reciprocal action of these various sides on one another)…

"It shows that history does not end by being resolved into "self-consciousness as spirit of the spirit", but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, an historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions, which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.”

Later on the work says says “In reality and for the practical materialist, i.e. the communist, it is a question of revolutionising the existing world, of practically attacking and changing existing things.”

The point is to change the world, as the eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach says.

In the last part of the chapter, in the part called “Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas”, you will read the following well-known, classic words:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.”

The Progress Publishers Preface quotes Marx as writing, in 1859, about “The German Ideology”:

“We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly as we had achieved our main purpose — self-clarification.”

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Karl Marx, The German Ideology, 1845-1847, Part 1, B, Illusion of the Epoch.

3 September 2014

Marx: Theses on Feuerbach

The Classics, Part 1

Karl Marx being arrested in Brussels, 1840s.

Marx: Theses on Feuerbach

Any one of the eleven short Theses on Feuerbach (attached) would be adequate on its own as a topic for discussion in a study circle. The most famous of them is the last one:

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

The attached document shows Marx, in 1845, as being firmly in the camp of those humanists for whom the active, free-willing Subject is the centre and the starting point of all philosophy and all politics.

It puts Marx in the opposite camp from those “materialists” who regard the human as derivative of, and secondary to, the purely physical. Marx never shifted from this strong and logical position. Marx poses the Subject in a dialectical relation with the Objective universe, but the Subject is the one with the initiative. The Subject makes things happen. The Subject can change the world – and that’s the point.

This is different from the idealism that ignores the material world, and it is equally different from the materialism that prioritises the mechanical over the mental. Thus, Marx settles the controversy over “dialectical materialism” right here, at the very beginning of Marxism.

Ludwig Feuerbach’s intervention into the philosophical debates of the early 1840s created a sensation in the intellectual crucible that included Marx and Engels as well as the “Young Hegelians”, with whom Marx and Engels were in the process of falling out.

Reading the eleven “Theses” reveals that Marx immediately recognised Feuerbach as a materialist, but also that he at once rejected Feuerbach’s particular and limited kind of anti-subjective materialism.

Thesis number two says that truth is a practical question. This is something that is repeated later on in the “classics” of Marxism. It reinforces the assertion that the world or universe is a human world or universe. “It is men who change circumstances” says Marx in the third Thesis, and “human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”

The subsequent Theses develop this understand through to Thesis 10 which says: The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society or social humanity.”

This is a good reminder that for Marx in particular, the term “civil society” only means “bourgeois society” [bürgerlichen Gesellschaft], and that therefore for Marxists, “civil society” is something to be overcome and transcended, and certainly not something to be put on a pedestal and worshipped.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Theses on Feuerbach, 1845, Marx.

2 September 2014

What is a Classic?

The Classics, Part 0, Introduction

“Classics Illustrated” comic

What is a Classic?

There is no last word on what the Marxist “Classics” are, or might be. There will be no attempt here to lay down a definitive, prescriptive “canon”. Instead, what we will be doing is creating a framework around which individuals might wish to build up or to flesh out their own ideas of what “The Classics” consist of.

We will go from Marx and Engels in the mid-1840s to Lenin, Luxemburg and Gramsci, towards the mid-1920s. We will use some material that already appears in our other courses, together with works that have not yet been used in any of these courses, but which are “classics” nonetheless.

The one “classic” we will not include is Karl Marx’s “Capital”. The CU has a separate ten-week course on Capital, Volume 1, and another ten-week course covering Volumes 2 and 3. But we will include part of Marx’s “Wages, Price and Profit”, and part of his “Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy”, both of which are classics in their own right, and which also give more than a taste of the ideas laid out in the great “Capital”.

Lenin in his “The State and Revolution” (a classic, and itself a review of the classics) wrote that in his opinion “The Poverty of Philosophy”, written and published in 1847, is “the first mature work of Marxism”.

But we will begin in Brussels, Belgium, in early 1845, shortly after Marx and Engels had (in Paris, in August 1844) teamed up. As we know, they stuck together until death parted them. We will begin with the short piece of work by Karl Marx that is known as the “Theses on Feuerbach”, named as such by Frederick Engels, and published by Engels in 1888, five years after the death of Karl Marx.

27 August 2014

ANC Strategy and Tactics, 2012 Preface

National Democratic Revolution, Part 10a

ANC Strategy and Tactics, 2012 Preface

This is the last item of the CU series on the National Democratic Revolution. It is the second in this final part, where the main document is SARS Chapters 4 and 5. The attached booklet-printable document, also linked below, is the Preface to the ANC Strategy and Tactics document. The new Preface was passed by the 53rd ANC National Conference at Mangaung, while the main document remains as it was passed at the previous, 2012 Polokwane Conference.

Static or revolutionary?

The ANC Strategy and Tactics has been amended several times since the original was adopted in Morogoro in 1969.

The ANC 52nd National Conference at Polokwane in 2007 was considered a victory for the popular forces within the ANC. But the “S&T” document launched at that Conference was arguably a revision of the previously much clearer understanding of class and colour in South Africa. It is somewhat ambiguous, or indeterminate, about the role of the various “motive forces”, which are what the communists would normally refer to as classes.

The current, Polokwane version of the S&T is characterised by a static and non-revolutionary conception of “National Democratic Society”. The theoreticians of the ANC felt compelled to propose an end-point to the process that is the NDR. The “National Democratic Society” or NDS is described as an ideal society, but it is not called socialist.

The new Preface elevates the NDS to headline status (“Decisive and sustained action to build a National Development Society”). The Preface also deals, among others, with Organisational Renewal and with the Second Phase of the Transition, as conceived of by the ANC.

The SACP continues to describe the NDR as the shortest road to socialism, but the ANC does not.

Yet the ANC remains exactly what it was intended to be, which is a liberation movement, and as such, a vehicle for class alliance within the National Democratic Revolution. It conforms perfectly to the vision that Lenin articulated in 1920, as seen in Part 2 of this course.

The ANC is a historic movement of intelligent, energetic people. It has its own view of what it is and what its goals are, which may be at variance with reality as seen by, for example, the communists. It could hardly be otherwise. Everyone should respect the sincere critique that is the S&T, and hope to learn from it.

Nevertheless, the NDR has to be more than a set of tick-boxes (united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous). It has to be alive, and be capable of more than the achievement of pre-conceived outcomes. That is what development means. We have not yet arrived at a closure of the NDR. The struggle continues.Hi

N.B., in the glossary at the bottom of the Strategy and Tactics document, a definition is given that recognises people’s power as the aim of the NDR. It says:

National Democratic Revolution: A process of struggle that seeks to transfer power to the people and transform society into a non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic one, and changes the manner in which wealth is shared, in order to benefit all the people. 

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Preface to Strategy and Tactics, ANC, 2012.

26 August 2014

SARS on the NDR


National Democratic Revolution, Part 10

SARS on the NDR

In July 2012 the South African Road to Socialism document was adopted by the South African Communist Party at its 13th National Congress. Chapter 4 of the document (attached and linked below) deals with the National Democratic Revolution.

Among other things it says:

“The SACP has consistently believed that it is possible and necessary to advance and develop a national democratic revolutionary strategy of this kind that unites, in action, a range of classes and social strata. We have also always believed that within our South African reality, unless the working class builds its hegemony in every site of power, and unless socialist ideas, values, organisation and activism boldly assert themselves, the NDR will lose its way and stagnate.”

In Chapter 5, also included in the attached extract from SARS, the question of the SACP standing candidates is dealt with, in the following very clear terms:

“Whether the Party does this and how it does it are entirely subject to conjunctural realities and indeed to engagement with our strategic allies. There are, however, three fundamental principles that will continue to guide us in this matter:

·        “The SACP is not, and will never become, a narrowly electoralist formation;

·        “Our approach to elections will be guided in this phase of the struggle by our overall strategic commitment to advancing, deepening and defending the national democratic revolution – the South African road to socialism; and

·        “Our strategic objective in regard to state power is to secure not party political but working class hegemony over the state.”

SARS is the strategic policy document of the SACP.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: SA Road to Socialism, 2012, Chapters 4 and 5, National Democratic Revolution.

22 August 2014

The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9b

The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development

The third document in this part of our NDR course, wherein the main text is Joe Slovo’s “SA Working Class and the NDR”, is David Moore’s 2004 article, “The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development” (attached, and linked below).

This article can stand as a representation of the growing realisation in broader South African circles that the class struggle is still the engine of history, including historical “development” in any useful sense of the word, and that class struggle has winners and losers, so that the idea of “win-win” development is an illusion.

By 2004 the promise of a beneficial New World Order following the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade-and-a-half previously had proved false. Instead, the USA and its “coalition of the willing” had mounted monstrous, plundering, Imperial wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, which are referred to briefly in the attached article. There was clearly to be no holiday from class struggle at any level.

In South Africa, the YCL had been re-launched the previous year (2003) and the SACP was undergoing a growth phase which is still continuing now, in 2014.

The ANC NGC in the following year (2005) showed that the ANC had become mature and democratic in its legal form, reborn since 1990.

COSATU’s affiliates had mostly stabilised into strong working-class negotiating machines capable of taking on any employer.

Moore’s article in the short-lived Johannesburg newspaper “ThisDay” was a groundbreaker. It reminded readers that development is class struggle. For practitioners of the National Democratic Revolution, this was a moment of return to class clarity after a period when all sorts of strange and non-viable flowers had bloomed.

This was not a total change. The 2007 Strategy and Tactics draft, for example, was arguably even more of a “balancing act” than previous documents of the ANC. This, and the 2009 discussion document for the SACP Special Nation Congress of that year, will form the last part of this 12-part series on the NDR, next week – not for “closure”, but rather as samples of the state of the national-democratic-revolutionary debate as the struggle continues.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development, 2004, Moore.

21 August 2014

Transformation, Not a Balancing Act

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9a

Transformation, Not a Balancing Act

The main text of this part is still Joe Slovo’s “The SA Working Class and the NDR”. The supporting texts begin with “We Need Transformation, Not a Balancing Act” (attached, and linked below), published nine years after Slovo’s pamphlet, in 1997, the year following the beginning of what has since become known as the “1996 Class Project”, of which this document is an initial critique.

In the mean time, the SACP and the ANC had been legalised in 1990, the UDF had been disbanded, the CODESA talks had taken place, SACP General Secretary Chris Hani had been assassinated, the ANC had been elected to government in 1994, and Joe Slovo had passed away, on 6 January 1995. All of this triumph and tragedy, and a lot more, constituted part of the National Democratic Revolution, not least the building of the ANC and the SACP as legal, open, organised structures around this large country with its population of approximately 40 million in the mid-1990s (now well over 50 million).

This SACP document looked at a number of other documents published at that time, including from the ANC Youth League, from COSATU, and from the SACP itself, but in particular from the ANC in the form of a November, 1996 document called “The State and Social Transformation” (note that the Young Communist League was not re-established until 2003).

Nzimande and Cronin were saying that the ANC document stood out from the others in terms of its class-neutral “balancing act” approach. They conclude that the document should rather have been called “The State and Social Accommodation”.

Another way of putting this would be to say that the ANC document in question was selling class collaboration, and not class alliance. “The State and Social Transformation” was selling the end of class struggle instead of the prosecution of the class struggle by alliance with favourable forces, and against unfavourable forces.

There is a difficulty in Nzimande’s and Cronin’s document. On the third page, under “Dealing with capital”, two conceptions of capital are described: “factors of production” and “capital meaning capitalists”. The authors say that in the ANC document these two conceptions are elided or confused, giving the impression that factors of production can only come attached to capitalists, which is not so.

That is all well and good, but what is absent is the understanding of capital as a dynamic relationship, and the “accumulation” of capital as being the reproduction of that relationship and of all of the support to that relationship, including the grooming of the working class and the dominance of banks and markets.

Even in terms of pure money, what the capitalist essentially does with it is to throw it into circulation, not hoard it. Unlike the accumulated wealth of the miser, which is not capital, though it may be money.

The circulation of money as capital proceeds via the purchase of labour-power and the extraction of surplus-value. Therefore, we do not escape the reproduction of capital by making the state the owner of the capital.

The revolutionary escape from capital is achieved by accumulating the prerequisites of socialism, which mainly consist of the ever-increasing ability of masses of people to resolve and act together, consciously, and scientifically. This is the “Democratic” part of the National Democratic Revolution.

Nzimande’s and Cronin’s document does arrive at this point. It does, at the end, confirm that the free-willing collective Subject is both the maker and the product of revolution.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Transformation not a balancing act, 1997, Nzimande and Cronin.

20 August 2014

SA Working Class and the NDR

National Democratic Revolution, Part 9

SA Working Class and the NDR

The previous week’s part of this 10-part series on the National Democratic Revolution was based around the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics document of 1969. We took our examination of the development of South Africa’s NDR up to the beginning of 1976, when the document “The Enemy Hidden Under the Same Colour” was published following the treachery and the consequent expulsion from the ANC of the “Gang of Eight”.

Later the same year the “Soweto uprising” of youth began, and spread all over the country.

Trade Unionism re-expanded from the early 1970s with strike waves in Durban and in the Witwatersrand where the watershed Carletonville Massacre took place on 11 September 1973. This year marks the forty-first anniversary of that event.

FOSATU, a syndicalist-led federation, was formed in 1979. It gave way to the National Democratic Revolutionary Alliance-aligned COSATU in 1985.

The United Democratic Front was launched in 1983.

All of these activities, amounting to the creation of living, democratic structures on a national scale, typify the National Democratic Revolution. They showed precisely how organisation into democratic structures formed the relentless collective Subject of History that then became impossible to resist.

Joe Slovo published “The SA Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution” (see the attached document, also linked below) in 1988 at a time when he was the General Secretary of the SACP. The Party was still clandestine; the end of its 40-year period of enforced illegality was to come two years later. Like many political documents, this one takes shape around a polemical response to contemporary opponents who may no longer be well remembered. In this case it was the particular “workerists” and compromisers of the time that Slovo mentions on the first page of the document.

But as with the polemics of Marx, Engels and Lenin, in the course of the argument against otherwise long-forgotten foes, Slovo was obliged to set up a fully concrete, rounded assessment of the meaning of the NDR, which still remains today as the best single and definitive text on this matter. He succeeded brilliantly.

Slovo quickly establishes the class-alliance basis of the NDR and quotes Lenin saying that: “the advanced class ... should fight with… energy and enthusiasm for the cause of the whole people, at the head of the whole people”. 

This advanced class is the working class.

Slovo goes on to write of the continuity of the NDR and of the institutional organising work that produces the bricks-and-mortar of nation-building.

Slovo’s incomparable document has many possibilities as the basis for a discussion, and that is always our purpose: dialogue.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: The South African Working Class and the NDR, 1988, Slovo, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.