21 September 2009

The Working Class and the NDR

[CU for Friday, 25 September 2009]

Joe Slovo published the SA Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution (see the link below) 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 illegality was to come two years later. Like many political documents, it takes shape around a polemical response to contemporary opponents who may no longer be well remembered (in this case 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, and succeeded brilliantly 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.

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 organisation that is the bricks-and-mortar of nation-building.

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

The supporting texts begin with “We Need Transformation, Not a Balancing Act”, published nine years after Slovo’s pamphlet, in 1997, the year following what has since become known as the “1996 Class Project”, of which it is an initial critique. In the mean time, the SACP and the ANC had been legalised in 1990, 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.

The third linked document, David Moore’s 2004 article, “The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development”, can stand here for the growing realisation in broader South African circles that the class struggle is still the engine of history, including historiucal “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 somewhat, or perhaps wholly, illusory.

The fourth document is the current version of the ANC Strategy and Tactics, as amended several times since the original was passed in Morogoro in 1969, and as passed by the 52nd ANC National Conference at Polokwane, which was otherwise considered a victory for the popular forces within the ANC. But from paragraph 90, this document launched a revision of the previously much clearer understanding of class and colour in South Africa.

Now, in the latest S&T, all are ranked in a single table, as “motive forces”. “Blacks in general and Africans in particular” become commensurate with “The Working Class”.

In the draft, monopoly capital, too, was going to be included as a “motive force”, thereby removing even the oppressor from the equation, but this was changed in commission at Polokwane. The S&T document remains marred by its static and non-revolutionary conception of “National Democratic Society as a “Holy Grail” and final steady-stat condition of what Thabo Mbeki used to call a “normal” society.

This is the 11th and the second last in the CU series on the NDR. It has touched all aspects to some extent, though not exhaustively in terms of detail. Facts and arguments about the United Democratic Front, for example, and the formation of FOSATU and then COSATU, have been left to one side in the interests of brevity, although the period is a classic example of class alliance extending the reach of collective agency. Joe Slovo’s good summing up helps considerably in allowing us to make that jump.

Now we need to move forward to consider the state of the NDR in the present moment, and this will be done in the next part, by reference to the main discussion document of the forthcoming Turfloop Special National Congress of the South African Communist Party. That document is called “Building working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle”. It is right to the point of this entire series on the NDR, which makes the CU series potentially very valuable to the Congress process.

[Images: Slovo, Nzimande, Cronin, Zuma]

Click on these links:

The South African Working Class and the NDR, 1988, Slovo (14985 words)

Transformation not a balancing act, 1997, Nzimande & Cronin (3264 words)

The Brutal Side of Capitalist Development, 2004, Moore (1137 words)

Strategy & Tactics, Polokwane, 2007, ANC (17523 words)


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