6 January 2010

Blade Nzimande, Commemorating Joe Slovo

Umsebenzi Online, Volume 9, No. 1, 6 January 2010

In this Issue:
·         Ours was never a struggle about replacing the white with a black elite!

Red Alert:

Ours was never a struggle about replacing the white with a black elite!

SACP message on the 15th anniversary commemoration of the passing away of Cde Joe Slovo

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

Cde Joe Slovo passed away on this day 6 January, exactly 15 years ago in 1995. This is the first mass activity of the SACP for 2010. There could have been no better way to start this important year for our country, than through the commemoration and celebration of the life, struggles and sacrifices of one of the greatest heroes of our South African revolution, our former General Secretary and National Chairperson, a former member of the ANC NEC and NWC, Cde Joe Slovo. Cde Slovo embodied some of the best qualities that came to characterise our revolution - selflessness, solidarity and complete dedication to the liberation of the overwhelming majority of our people.

In recognition of his contribution to the national liberation struggle and his role as a member and later leader of the ANC, he was given the highest award by the ANC, Isithwalandwe, at the ANC's national conference in 1994 in Mangaung, just under a month before he passed away. This was, amongst others, also recognition of the role and contribution of communists as members and leaders of the ANC in their own right.

Slovo - a communist cadre and a leader of the liberation movement as a whole

Slovo joined the communist movement as part of the Young Communist League in the 1940s and played a critical role in the reconstitution of the SACP underground in 1953 after the banning of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) by the apartheid regime in 1950. He lived his entire adult life as a communist and died a communist. He understood that being a communist was a life-long commitment and not some fashion to be worn and opportunistically thrown off according to personal and other opportunistic reasons.

Cde Slovo played a critical, and often leading, role in the reconstitution of SACP structures in exile, as well as rebuilding these inside the country, especially after the banning of the ANC in 1960. At the unbanning of the liberation movement in 1990, Slovo returned to the country as General Secretary of the SACP; a recognition of his commitment to the cause of socialism and his role in the SACP over more than four decades at the time.

Cde Slovo will forever stand out as a symbol of the immense contribution that some of our white compatriots have made to the liberation of our country. These white compatriots like Bill Andrews, Ruth First, Sonia and Brian Bunting, Michael Harmel, Ray Alexander, Bram Fischer, Esther Barsel, and many others were trailblazers in the struggle to forge a non-racial movement and a non-racial South Africa. This should continue to serve as an example to especially our younger white compatriots, and also dispel the myth once and for all that white cadres like Joe Slovo are not part of the broader family of our movement.

As the SACP we were the pioneers of the non-racial political movement in our country. In memory of Cde Slovo we must continue to vigorously defend the struggle for a non-racial South Africa, and isolate and expose both white racism and narrow African chauvinism (whose aim is to hide private and personal accumulation interests).

There is also no contradiction between the struggle for, on the one hand, the liberation of Africans in particular and blacks in general and, on the other hand, the struggle for non-racialism! In fact the former is the condition for the realization of the latter. But at the same time we need to be vigilant that the struggle for the liberation of blacks in general, and Africans in particular, is not corrupted towards a narrow (often elite-driven) anti-white African chauvinism, thus defeating the objectives of building a non-racial society.

Cde Slovo led by example when it came to undertaking difficult tasks, and was amongst the first to join the ranks of Umkhonto WeSizwe when our movement embarked on the armed struggle in 1961. Through his dedication he rose through the ranks of Umkhonto to become a commander.

Cde Slovo also stands out as a symbol of the unity of our alliance. We should seek to emulate his example as part of strengthening and deepening the unity of our alliance in the current period going forward.

Cde Slovo is also the personification of the role played by many other communists in our liberation movement. He was a member and leader of both the SACP and the ANC. He personifies the fact that there is no contradiction in being a communist and a member of the ANC, and that, in fact, good communists must be in the ANC. This also reflects the very strength of the ANC as a movement, in that draws its cadres from the widest possible circles of progressives in the youth, student, women's, trade union and communist movements.

Cde Slovo's life and example is an answer to those who have always been threatened by the presence of communists in our broader movement, and that in fact there can be no liberation movement in our country without the equal participation of all its constituent parts and components.

Cde Slovo led by example in many ways. He was amongst the first communists that served in Cabinet in our very first democratic government in 1994 and was the first national office-bearer of the SACP to play such a role at national government level. As Minister of Housing, albeit for a very short period, he served government with distinction and placed the interests of the people above those of his own. He indeed laid the foundation for the many later advances made by the government in its housing programme over the past 16 years. The lesson from Slovo in this regard is that good communists in government, at whatever level, must serve with dedication with the sole purpose of uplifting and transforming the conditions of the overwhelming majority of our people, especially the workers and the poor. And Cde Slovo's many roles (and hats) serve as reminder that communists must indeed be active everywhere - in the ANC, in community mass organizations, in the trade union movement, in the state and wherever duty calls, to advance and deepen our national democratic revolution!

Slovo the ideologue and theoretician of our movement

Slovo was one of the leading theoreticians of the SACP and indeed our movement as a whole. Many of the things he wrote over the past decades still remain as relevant as ever. Some of these are even more relevant in the current period going forward. In one of his seminal writings, 'The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution', Slovo amongst other things said the following:

"Socialist ideas take root not just through book knowledge but through struggle around day to day issues". By so saying Slovo was not denouncing book knowledge, which he was a great believer in, but merely pointing out that that knowledge without involvement in practical struggle can be meaningless. In fact we need both book knowledge and involvement in struggle - combination of theory and practice!

Indeed through our annual Red October Campaign and other campaigns the SACP has embarked on mass activity and mobilization, reaching out and being embraced by the workers and the poor of our country (and even sections of our middle classes) in together taking up struggles around their day to day issues facing our people.

Slovo would have been proud of the achievements of the SACP's Red October Campaign since its launch in 1999, and the extent to which this campaign has contributed to the enormous growth of the SACP, whose membership is now close to 100 000. In his memory we should indeed seek to double this membership by our 13th Congress in 2012, whilst ensuring that we focus on the quality of our membership as well. Conditions today dictate that if the SACP is to meaningfully play its vanguard role we should aim to grow our Party both qualitatively and quantitatively, and at least aim at a minimum of 500 000 members over the next few years by 2014.

He further argued in the same pamphlet that "We have never hidden our (the SACP) conviction, which we continue to proclaim, that true national liberation ultimately is impossible without social liberation". This is a very relevant point as it relates to the reality that our struggle was simply never only about winning political power, but fundamentally about the transformation of the conditions of the overwhelming majority of our people. In following Joe Slovo we should unashamedely re-iterate, both in theory and practice that our struggle was never about an empowerment of a small elite or about replacing a white with a black elite, but was, and still is, about the liberation and upliftment of the majority of our people.

The SACP shall allow no intimidation or blackmail, of whatever type, whether from inside or outside our movement, to derail us from defending the principal goal of our liberation movement - to change the conditions of the majority for the better and fight against all forms of chauvinism, narrow nationalism and self-enrichment by those in positions of power and authority.

The organizational tasks of the SACP and the working class

On the leading role of the working class, and in the same pamphlet, Cde Slovo had this to say:

"The working class cannot play the key role by merely leading itself and sloganising about its historic mission. It must win popular acceptance on the ground as the most effective champion of the democratic aspirations of all the racially oppressed groupings. It must work with, and provide leadership to, our youth, women, intellectuals, small traders, peasants, the rural poor and - yes - even the racially-dominated black bourgeoisie, all of whom are a necessary part of the broad front of our liberation struggle".

This message, though in a different context now, still remains an important clarion call to the SACP and a guide to its work. At the centre of what Slovo was saying is that we need to build the SACP as a vanguard party of the working class. But in playing its vanguard role, the working class in particular, must seek to reach out to a range of forces that still has an interest in the transformation of our society.

For instance, the SACP in growing its membership, it must embark on a systematic recruitment campaign (through mass struggles) with a view to forge relations with a wider range of class forces and strata in society. Through concrete struggles and campaigns the SACP must intensify its recruitment amongst organized workers, which are its principal constituency and the most important revolutionary layer of the working class. In addition we need to recruit farm-workers and small-scale farmers as part of building the motive forces for the transformation of South Africa's countryside.

We must also recruit amongst small businesses, who continue to be suffocated by monopoly capital in general, the capitalist malls built in the townships that are killing their small businesses, and the 'tenderpreneurs' who continue to enrich themselves often through corrupt tenders at the expense of honest small entrepreneurs who do not have political connections in the state. We must strengthen small entrepreneurs and defeat 'tenderpreneurs'! We need to support skills development for co-operatives, small and micro enterprises. We need to deepen our struggle for the transformation of our financial sector to benefit the workers and the poor, including co-operatives and small and micro businesses.

As we have done over the past 16 years and before, we need to engage and seek to influence the terms and conditions under which a new black section of the bourgeoisie emerges and grow. We need to fight for truly broad based empowerment and seek to direct investment into the productive sectors of our economy that is creating jobs. We need to continuously expose and challenge self-enrichment of a few and fight the emergence of a highly dependent compradorial bourgeoisie! In this struggle we must also seek to expose opportunistic use of the language and demands of the working class in order to hide the accumulation agenda of a compradorial bourgeoisie. This is the meaning of Slovo's life, struggles and observations today!

Our YCL must intensify its recruitment of young people into the fold of the communist movement in our country. It must seek to recruit students, unemployed youth and young workers, so that these strata of our society become allies of the working class, and become part of our broader movement. Our YCL must seek to educate our young people in Marxism-Leninism and relate this to our own concrete conditions in South Africa. Our YCL must continue to strengthen the Progressive Youth Alliance, by ensuring that our youth is engaged on concrete programmes and struggles, especially on education, both formal and informal!

Our YCL must also be guided by what Cde Slovo also said that "To eventually win the majority of our people for a socialist South Africa, we must spread socialist awareness and socialist consciousness now, mainly among the workers but also among the rural poor and the middle strata". Spreading socialist consciousness, especially amongst the youth, is central in the struggle for socialism in South Africa.

Much more importantly, communists, while recognizing the centrality (and continued reproduction) of the legacy of national oppression, they must at the same time consistently raise class issues, unashamedly and unapologetically, in the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people. The SACP shall not be intimidated by attempts that try to divert us away from the very centrality of class issues in present day South Africa, otherwise we will be succumbing to an agenda that seeks to deny Slovo's very apt observation that there can be no true national liberation without social liberation.

Intensify the struggle against corruption

All members of the alliance have committed themselves to fight against corruption, both in the public and private sectors. The SACP has adopted this as one of its own programmes as well. If we are to realize what Slovo lived and died for, corruption must be defeated as it constitutes theft from the workers and the poor.

The SACP needs to concretise the campaign against corruption, and push for the public sector to lead by example, whilst fighting all forms of corruption in the private sector as well.

For instance we need to consider whether, given the amount of corruption surrounding some of the tender awards in the public sector, we should not call for an open and transparent process in the awarding of government tenders. Is it not for instance possible to ensure that all those who have tendered must be publicly known, and for government to publicise those shortlisted, including an opportunity, especially for communities to also comment, and reasons for final awards to be made public as well? We need to think out of our boxes, like Joe Slovo often did, if we are to root out corruption. Let all our party structures, engaging with our communities and other strata in society; discuss concrete methods to root out corruption, for the sake of Joe Slovo's sacrifices and his contribution in making our country free!

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