30 September 2009

The Housing Question


[CU for Thursday, 1 October 2009]

Frederick Engels, thanks to his book “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, (researched in 1843 before his subsequently lifelong political partnership with Karl Marx had begun) is, among many other things, the father of modern town planning.

So, one is apt to approach his book “The Housing Question” expecting answers to that housing question. One might hope for instructions about what to build. One might expect sermons about “delivery”, or even model house-plans. Instead, one finds severe polemic about very fundamental issues of class struggle.

This is a good opportunity to examine what polemic is, for a moment, before we return to the main topic. Engels’ opponent Mulberger had complained that Engels had been blunt to the point of rudeness. Engels concedes little more than sarcasm:

“I am not going to quarrel with friend Mulberger about the ‘tone’ of my criticism. When one has been so long in the movement as I have, one develops a fairly thick skin against attacks, and therefore one easily presumes also the existence of the same in others. In order to compensate Mulberger I shall try this time to bring my ‘tone’ into the right relation to the sensitiveness of his epidermis.”

But later, admitting that he had misrepresented Mulberger on a particular (quite small) point, Engels lambastes himself as “irresponsible”.

“This time Mulberger is really right. I overlooked the passage in question. It was irresponsible of me to overlook it…”

The rules of polemic are roughly this: It is in writing. It is always against a named individual. It is direct and frank and cares very little for bourgeois squeamishness; on the other hand, it pays the utmost respect to the meaning of the opponent’s words. Opponents in polemic never misrepresent each other. Everything else is permissible.

Development is class struggle

After the above preliminaries, Engels goes straight into a long paragraph that contains a summary of theory and practice, vanguard and mass, from the 1840s up until his point of writing, which is just after the fall of the Paris Commune. The paragraph includes “the necessity of the political action of the proletariat and of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the transitional stage to the abolition of classes and with them of the state.”

This is the “whole tutti”. So why does Engels “go to town” to this extent? Is this not “housing” we are talking about? Something that everybody needs? Classless, surely? A win-win situation? Motherhood and apple-pie?

Engels says: NO!

What we can read in Mulberger, through Engels’ eyes, is the petty-bourgeois (and full bourgeois) greed for this Housing Question as a means of reproducing petty-bourgeois consciousness, and this is just exactly how the post-1994 South African Government ended up dealing with the housing question. Yes, there should be lots of houses, it said in effect, but they must be petty-bourgeois-style houses, both in type, and in ownership.

The argument about housing is an argument about the reproduction of capitalism. It is an argument about the continuation of the ascendancy of bourgeois values over those of the working-class. For the bourgeoisie, the creation of a dwelling is an opportunity to invest that house with peasant-like values of individuality, and with petty-bourgeois ideas of “entrepreneurship”, and to regulate and control the people.

Everything that happened in “housing” in South Africa post-1994 is pre-figured in Mulberger’s banal prescriptions. Any critique of housing in South Africa now will therefore have to follow the example of Engels if it is to be of any use at all. Please, comrades, read the first pages and the last paragraphs of this document, if not all of it.

The history of all hitherto-existing societies has been a history of class struggle. The coming “development” period of South African history will also be a period of class struggle. We may not necessarily win every specific struggle. What this text of Engels says is: let us never fool ourselves. Win or lose, we are in a class struggle and there is no neutral ground, least of all on the question of housing and land development. There is much more to be studied here, but the key is political. In the next part, we will look at this matter through the eyes of some contemporary writers.

[Pictures: Shack, Abahlali BaseMjondolo; RDP House, David Goldblatt (Miriam Mazibuko watering the garden of her new RDP house, Extension 8, Far East Alexandra Township. It has one room. For lack of space, her four children live with her parents-in-law. Johannesburg. 12 September 2006)]

Click on this link:

The Housing Question, 1872, Part Three, Frederick Engels (9957 words)

29 September 2009

Urban, Rural, Local, Provincial


[CU for Wednesday, 30 September 2009]

The titles of the discussion documents related to the SACP Special National Congress scheduled to take place in Polokwane in December 2009, of which the first has already been published, have been announced as follows:

  • Building working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle
  • The State and the Future of Local and Provincial Government
  • Industrial Strategy and Rural Development

The Communist University has already created a set of studies on the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) culminating with the SACP discussion document “Building working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle”.

The first of our several planned CU public pre-Congress discussions will take place at 10h00 on 4 October 2009 at the UJ Campus, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Lecture Hall G07 or G05.

Politically, the NDR is a class alliance (i.e. a unity-in-action) for the extension of democracy to the outer limits of the nation, and to all conceivable mass constituencies, as a pre-requisite for any further political progress thereafter.

“Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you”

The above words of Kwame Nkrumah’s may well be true. Nevertheless, the substance of people’s political concerns is of a material kind, and the consideration of Industrial Strategy, and Rural Development, as well as Local and Provincial Government, are also part of the political kingdom.

The CU’s immediate difficulties in dealing with these matters are that:

  • Two of the promised discussion documents are not yet published
  • Urban (industrial) and rural development theory are not separable
  • Local and Provincial Government are not separable from “development”
  • Much of the recent literature on these matters has been of a utilitarian or even of a Malthusian nature, and not of a revolutionary nature.

Therefore, and taking advantage of the blog format as a “sandbox” or a “laboratory”, which can be revised before the series is published on web sites as a “Generic Course”, we will proceed is as follows:

We will begin with two parts based on writings of Frederick Engels (see the link below for the first one, from Engels “Condition of the Working Class in England”). We will then take some modern writings on urban/rural problems, after which we will return to some of Lenin’s writings, including some from the period of the NEP (New Economic Policy). Then we will return to the question of Industrial Development and large-scale planning. Finally, we will consider (in the combined context of the NDR and of urban and rural development as we will by then have conceived it) what is the appropriate and functional form of Local, Provincial and National democracy, taxation, and what is the intention and the locus of executive government action.

Concerning Engels’ work on the condition of the English working class, it would be difficult to exaggerate its historical importance. It is the founding work of town-planning, yet it was written by an office clerk in his 20s, who had no university education. Not only did the work objectify the industrial towns in literature systematically for the first time. It also laid an empirical and intuitive basis, before Engels had fully teamed up with Karl Marx (which happened after September 1844), of the conception of the working class as the gravedigger of capitalism and as the leading class in all of humanity and in all of human history. This was at a time when the proletariat was in the most miserable circumstances, as Engels describes. Yet he somehow saw their potential.

Therefore, please page through this linked chapter, comrades, and read as much of it as is comfortable for you. Also bear in mind that Johannesburg was established in Engels’ lifetime, and not so many years after he wrote this description of the then-new “Great Towns” of Britain. There are people still alive in Johannesburg today whose grandparents were among the founding inhabitants of this city.

It would not be outrageous to claim, in relation to this work of Engels, that this is where modernity begins. In this literature modern urbanism takes shape as an idea in the world. [Picture: McConnel & Company Mills, Manchester, about 1820]

Also linked is the new Green Paper on National Strategic Planning, just out.

Click on this link:

Condition of the Working Class in England, Chapter 2, Great Towns, 1845, Engels (20411 words)

Green Paper on National Strategic Planning, 2009 (580 KB PDF download)

27 September 2009

CU Generic Course on the NDR


[CU for Tuesday, 29 September 2009]

The CU Generic Course on the National Democratic Revolution has been completed and re-published on the YCLSA Discussion Forum web site and on the Johannesburg Central Branch web site.

These are the twelve parts, side by side with the main discussion texts:


Main discussion text (MS-Word download)


National Democratic Revolution

Development of Utopian Socialism, Engels


Origin of the National Republic

18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, C1 & 7, Marx


Genesis of the NDR

Report on National & Colonial Question, 2CCI, Lenin


National-Scale Democracy

Black Proletariat, ICU, Black Republic, Cradock Letter


The National Question

Moses Kotane, C2, The National Question, Bunting


People’s Republic

Chinese Revolution & Chinese Communist Party, Mao


Congress, Pact and Defiance

The African Miners Strike of 1946, Naicker, 1976


Congress Call

Call to the Congress of the People, Freedom Charter


Peasants’ Revolt

Peasants’ Revolt, Govan Mbeki


Strategy and Tactics

Strategy and Tactics, Morogoro, 1969, ANC


SA Working Class & the NDR

SA Working Class and the NDR


Hegemony in the NDR

Building hegemony on NDR terrain, 2009, SACP

All of the above material has recently been published on the CU blog (starting here) and by e-mail.

Here is a summary of recent CU publishing:

Communist University Generic Courses, New Edition

Recently re-edited:

Other material:

The CU is scheduled to meet to discuss the forthcoming SACP Special National Congress this coming Sunday as follows:
  • Date: 4 October 2009 (Sunday)
  • Time: 10h00
  • Venue: University of Johannesburg, Doornfontein Campus
You will be notified separately, and with more detail.

21 September 2009

Hegemony within the NDR


[CU for Monday, 28 September 2009]

On 14 September 2009 the South African Communist Party released a main discussion document (click on the link below) in preparation for the SACP Special National Congress that is to take place in December 2009 at the Turfloop campus in Polokwane, Limpopo Province.

Further discussion documents are to follow on the following topics:

  • The State and the Future of Local and Provincial Government
  • Industrial Strategy and Rural Development

The main discussion document (linked below) is titled “Building working class hegemony on the terrain of a national democratic struggle”. It is therefore directly in line with the previous eleven parts of this series on the National Democratic Revolution, and presents us with an ideal way to conclude the series in an open-ended way that is situated in the present conjuncture.

The most relevant parts of this document to our discussion so far are Part 2.4 (“The politics of working class hegemony...versus the politics of a multi-class balancing act”) and the whole of Part 3 (“Towards a politics of mass-driven, state-led radical transformation on the terrain of a National Democratic Revolution”).

In an echo of Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, the SACP document notes that the “sectarian left” (equivalent to Lenin’s “anarchists”) and the “centrist reformists” (Lenin’s “opportunists”) are alike in their subjective denigration of the NDR. Lenin said that the anarchists and the opportunists are twins.

This document is work in progress. The challenge, prior to the Special National Congress, is to see how the document can be improved.


Click on this link:

Building hegemony on national democratic terrain, 2009, SACP (13222 words)

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)

Strategy and Tactics

[CU for Thursday, 24 September 2009]

“The art of revolutionary leadership consists in providing leadership to the masses and not just to its most advanced elements…”

The above line from the ANC’s Morogoro Strategy and Tactics of 1969 (linked below) can be taken as the idea of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) in a nutshell. Politics is in the subjective realm – it is about the ultimate subjectivity - freedom – but politics can only have an existence within the limits of objective realities.

The NDR has a steadily built organisational history of personalities, of events and of documents, working within, and at the same time changing by its action, the balance of class forces in South Africa.

Next to the Freedom Charter, the ANC Strategy and Tactics document of 1969 is the most prominent of all the NDR documents. In discussing the military activities of Umkhonto we Siswe (MK), it outlines alliance politics in terms that are sometimes crystal-clear, and sometimes not so clear. For an example of the latter, the enemy is not well described. Still, the Morogoro S&T is the best one to use as the basis for a discussion of the subjective political action of this period, and for some remarks on the underlying class realities, as well.

The Treason Trial had come to an end in 1959 with acquittal of all the defendants. New campaigns were then launched, but came to an abrupt end following the Sharpeville massacre and the banning of the

ANC and the PAC. Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched in 1961. Technically it was neither a “wing” of the ANC, nor of the Party, and a new structure had to be put into place to make MK accountable to the political leadership. Dr Yusuf Dadoo played a leading role in that structure.

The SACP published the Road to South African Freedom in 1962. It is a long document, and it has a long section on the NDR, where the SACP endorses the Freedom Charter and the Congress Alliance, and also rejects “non-violence”.

Also in 1962 came the dissolution of the South Africa United Front (of the ANC, PAC, SWANU and SAIC) that had been put together after Sharpeville.

The linked document is a contemporary article by Dr Dadoo about this break-up and the causes of the break-up, which had to do with the behaviour of the PAC, in particular. This document is useful for its description of the political structures and for Dadoo’s enunciation in it, of the general principles of (NDR) alliance.

The last supporting document is the famous 1967 “Arusha Declaration” of Julius Nyerere and the ruling TANU party of Tanzania at the time, on Socialism and Self-Reliance. This document reflects TANU’s view of the political economy of their country and how it would be led to a better condition. It helps us to remember that contemporary with our own struggles, others have also been travelling the road of National Democratic Revolution.

[Images: NDR personalities: Tambo, Slovo, Dadoo, Nyerere]

Click on these links:

Strategy and Tactics, Morogoro, 1969, ANC (5882 words)

Road to South African Freedom, 1962, SACP (18552 words)

Disruptive Role of the PAC & United Front Failure, 1962, Dadoo (1020 words)

Arusha Declaration, 1967, Nyerere (7171 words)

Peasants’ Revolt


[CU for Wednesday, 23 September 2009]

The National Democratic Revolution is based upon a clear understanding of objective, dynamic class politics, and it proceeds from a class alliance against the oppressor class, towards the fullest possible democracy. There is an interrelationship between the underlying class realities, and the subjective organisational politics of democracy. In these posts, we have tended either to concentrate upon one side of this dialectical relationship, or the other.

The previous two parts of this series have been about the organisation and mobilisation of the NDR in the 1940s and 1950s. This part is more about objective class realities, or in other words, about Political Economy. The following one will be about organised politics again, and then the final two parts will be of a more synthetic nature, dealing with both subject and object together.

Looking forward, the last revolutionary confrontation is bound to be between the big bourgeoisie and its gravedigger, the proletariat that it must constantly bring into being. Yet it is far from the case that in the present time all other classes have died out in South Africa.

Class alliance is essential for the isolation and defeat of the oppressor, to deny the oppressor the comfort of support, and to prevent the oppressor from isolating and defeating the working class. The politics of class alliance were practiced in Karl Marx’s time; before that, in the Great French Revolution; and afterwards in the Russian and the Chinese Revolutions, to name but two out of many. The hammer-and-sickle emblem of our party signifies class alliance between workers and peasants.

In order for a class alliance to be possible, the other classes must also be somewhat class conscious, as well as the working class. They may have to be assisted by the working class, and by the intellectual partisans of the working class, ourselves, the Party. Yet there is rather little in the way of class-conscious literature about South Africa’s large petty-bourgeois class, who are for the most part poor people; and little of a directly political nature about the agricultural petty-bourgeoisie, who are the peasantry; or about the oppressors of the rural petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry, who are South Africa’s bureaucratised feudal class.

The classic exception to this intellectual famine is communist journalist and Rivonia trialist Govan Mbeki’s “Peasants’ Revolt”, published in 1964 (see the link below). Works such as “Landmarked”, by Cherryl Walker (Jacana, 2008) tell us that the huge misery of rural displacement and impoverishment has still neither been ameliorated nor turned in a sufficiently positive direction.

Dar-es-Salaam-trained intellectual Mahmood Mamdani’s 1996 book “Citizen and Subject” brings more facts and insights about peasants and workers. The chapter linked below is the book’s summing-up. Note that Mamdani's sense of the word “subject” is different and opposite from the normal, communist one. Here it means a subordinate person, and not a free person.

Lastly, and because of the pitifully small literature devoted to the petty bourgeoisie, we go to France in the 1950s for an account of the phenomenon of “Poujadism”. This was a petty-bourgeois uprising that allied itself, in its beginning and at local level, with the communists, until it degenerated towards near-fascism. In their relations with the intermediate classes, history shows that the communists must proceed with great care and not lose concentration; but also that these classes are real and can potentially have a self-conscious beneficial development. The account is written from a somewhat sectarian point of view.

[Pictures: Pondoland Revolt, taken by Eli Weinberg; Govan Mbeki]

Click on these links:

Peasants' Revolt, C8, Chiefs in the Saddle, Govan Mbeki (5708 words)

Citizen & Subject, C8, Linking the Urban and the Rural, Mamdani (7236 words)

The case-history of Poujadisme, Foster (1714 words)