6 December 2009

SACP Rural Development Document, commentary

The SACP Rural Development Discussion Document (click here for a PDF download from the SACP web site), released in advance of the SACP Special National Congress of December 2009, succeeds quite well, in the first four of its five parts, to make a sympathetic and factual narrative that depicts the plight of the South African rural areas.

As such, it can be contrasted and compared with the remainder of the Communist University Generic Course on “Development, Rural and Urban”, of which it now becomes, for the time being, the final part.

It is in the fifth and final three pages (1198 words), called “Our response to rural development”, that this discussion document falls apart in spectacular fashion.

What a communist document should do above all is to concretise, meaning that it should bring all of the empirical, abstract facts and circumstances into the ordered, organic form of a unity-and-struggle-of-opposites, that shows clearly the internal dynamic of the system under examination.

Only then can communists, as such, speak of communist intervention in a system.

Instead, this document ponders whether there may be “gaps” that need to be filled, and then it proceeds to offer a long, eclectic, bullet-pointed shopping list of things that might be done.

Communists should not be trying to work this way (i.e. filling gaps).

The concluding paragraph of the document includes a disclaimer: “Due to the enormity of the task not all areas regarding all the issues raised in this paper could be exhaustively dealt with.”

This is an admission by the author that his or her conception of Rural Development is disorderly and not synthetic or concrete. This is not good enough as preparation for a policy-forming debate.

The following paragraph, full of conceptual errors, is a good indication of where the comrade is going wrong:

“As a starting point and a short-term strategy towards linking industrial strategy, the economic policy and agrarian and land reform programme referred to above, there are some things that can be done to improve land and agrarian reform approaches and strategies.”

A strategy is not a starting point; a strategy works towards a goal, or end-point.

Strategy is not short-term, but long-term; tactics are short-term means to the strategic, longer-term end.

“Strategies”, in any particular case, are not plural, but singular; there might be many possible tactical roads to take, but the strategic goal should be one.

These are unfortunately quite common errors within our South African discourse.

As for Rural Development in particular, South Africa seems to lack scholars who are prepared to study experience elsewhere. The logo above represents one of thousands of Rural Development agencies and institutions around the world that are apparent on the Internet. It is from the Government of Karnataka, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department. Karnataka is a state in India.

As overseas, so also within the country, there is a large amount of experience, which is not apparent in the discussion document.

The document, without supporting argument, is finally concluded with an admirable slogan: Build People’s Land Committees, Build People’s Power!

Yet, after nearly 16 years since the democratic breakthrough of 1994, and after 20 years of restored communist legality in South Africa, our sole discussion document on Rural Development has no mention of any actual People’s Land Committees, or of any organic intellectuals leading such committees.

Although a moment’s thought recalls that the Food and Agriculture Workers’ Union (FAWU), which contains many Party members, is involved at the rural grass roots, and that the SACP itself with its 96,000 members includes many in rural areas, yet there is no account of our practical political experience in this document.

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